Despite a new state law requiring police to release misconduct records, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department refused to send any to the American Civil Liberties Union, according to a newly filed lawsuit.
It was the only one of nearly 400 law enforcement agencies to not send any records at all when they were requested, the nonprofit said. Some agencies fully complied and others only sent some records.
The ACLU first requested records from LASD with a letter dated Jan. 1 — the same day California’s Right to Know Act went into effect. It requires law enforcement to release records on misconduct, from sustained findings of dishonesty and sexual assault to records on police shootings and uses of force.
On Jan. 24, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order essentially blocking the release of those records. But nearly two months later, after that order was lifted, the department continued to deny the records.
Several documents included in the court filings show LASD officials and the ACLU sending letters back and forth for several months.
The department’s ultimate reasoning for the refusal was that the request was “too broad in scope,” according to the ACLU.
LASD officials have not responded to KTLA requests for comment.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three people with family members killed by L.A. County deputies: Demetra Johnson, Vinly Eng, and Zachary Wade.
All three of those fatally shot were unarmed and the county has reached million-dollar settlements in each case — even as the department continues to withhold records related to the killings.
Eng’s sister, Jazmyne, was fatally shot on Jan. 4, 2012 by deputies responding to a Rosemead psychotherapy treatment center. They were called to help staff hold her involuntarily for inpatient care.
She was fired at within 12 seconds of visual contact, according to the ACLU.
Nephi Arreguin, Wade’s nephew, was in his car in Cerritos and likely sleeping when deputies approached him and shot him shortly after, the nonprofit said. Deputies suspected of him of burglary and authorities claimed he tried striking a deputy with the vehicle.
Meanwhile, Johnson has struggled to get answers about how her 16-year-old son, Anthony Wade, was fatally shot by deputies on Feb. 4, 2018 in the South Los Angeles neighborhood of Westmont. He was previously identified by KTLA as Anthony Weber.
“He had no gun, nothing to threaten them. It has been more than a year, and I still don’t have answers,” Johnson said in a news release from the ACLU.
The department has long alleged her teenage son was armed with a gun when he was killed. But no firearm was ever found.
Wade was shot several times in the upper body after deputies spotted him and thought he had a handgun tucked into the waistband of his pants, authorities said. L.A. County Sheriff’s Capt. Christopher Bergner later told reporters the teen was reaching down toward his waistband for the supposed gun just before he was shot and killed.
Sheriff’s officials said they believe someone removed the firearm from the scene. At protests near the site of the shooting a week later, loved ones and neighbor expressed disbelief at the allegation.
“The gun that they were chasing him for holding and shot him for holding, somebody took that same gun from him?” said Cliff Smith, a South L.A. resident. “To make themselves the target?”
The slain teenager’s father said at the time he had contacted the state attorney general and wanted to be present for his son’s autopsy. “If I could just get a fair and impartial investigation — that’s what I want,” John Weber said.