SFPOA drops lawsuit seeking to block release of officer personnel records

San Francisco’s police union on Friday dropped a lawsuit seeking to block the release of police discipline records in cases involving shootings, deaths and serious misconduct.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association filed suit last month seeking a court order directing The City and its agencies to “refrain from enforcing or taking any steps to enforce” Senate Bill 1421, a state law that took effect Jan. 1, “with respect to records created prior to” that date.

SB 1421, introduced by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, makes public previously confidential personnel records on misconduct including police shootings, excessive use of force incidents resulting in death or serious injury, confirmed cases of sexual assault and lying by officers.

However police unions throughout the state have filed legal challenges to the law, arguing that it should not apply retroactively to records dating before it took effect.

After the lawsuit was filed a stay was imposed prohibiting the police department from releasing records. However that stay was lifted on Friday after the union moved to drop its case.

“We believe all police agencies should fully comply with the eligible requests for records,” the union said in a statement. “Our concern was strictly limited to protecting the privacy rights of officers for records created prior to the effective date of SB 1421. The District Court of Appeal for San Francisco is addressing the issue in a different case and we will respect that decision.”

“The reality is that any officer with a sustained complaint of sexual assault, or lying in an official capacity, has likely been removed from the San Francisco Police Department due to its robust discipline process. Rightly so,” the union said. “Rightly so. Additionally, our department and the San Francisco Police Commission publicly release information on critical incidents and serious uses of force on a regular basis. None of this will change as a result of SB 1421.”

The order to vacate the stay issued by Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman means that police are now authorized to release all records in question regardless of when they were created.

“We’re happy to see the records released so we can get answers for our families,” Kathleen Guneratne, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, said in a statement. “It’s time for police unions to stop filing frivolous lawsuits and let the law take effect.”

Also on Friday, an appeals court in California ruled that six Contra Costa County agencies must release police conduct records created before the start of the year, if requested.

Those six agencies had also sued to block the release of records created before Jan. 1. Absent a ruling by the California Supreme Court, the ruling Friday night is final, Guneratne said.

“In our opinion, we welcome it because it really answers a call we have raised for clarity for other trial courts across the state,” Guneratne said.

San Francisco Police Department officials said they have a backlog of public records requests right now because many of those received since SB 1421 took effect were “extremely voluminous,” but that they expect to begin releasing records shortly .

“The San Francisco Police Department has made extensive efforts to increase transparency and trust with the communities we serve and will continue these efforts under the provisions of SB 1421,” department spokesman Officer Robert Rueca said in a statement.

City Attorney’s Office spokesman John Cote said in a statement that Skinner has “stated clearly that this law was intended to open up all responsive records – from the past and future alike. There’s nothing in this law that limits it only to future records.”

Correction: This story has been corrected to indicate that the SFPOA moved to drop its lawsuit prior to the judge’s order to vacate the stay and not after, as was indicated in a previous story.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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