A California appeals court on Thursday rejected a police union’s request to stop the public disclosure of an independent consultant report on the 2012 fatal shooting by Pasadena police of an unarmed black teenager.
The three-judge panel ruled that a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge was right to previously decide that the report about the killing of Kendrec McDade should be made public but went too far in redacting portions that he decided were confidential under state law.
The appeals court ordered Judge James C. Chalfant to change his order to allow more portions of the report to be made public, including the consultant’s recommendations for the Pasadena Police Department.
Associate Justice Jeffrey W. Johnson wrote in the court’s published opinion that the judge had largely followed proposed redactions by the city of Pasadena that protected criticism of the Police Department rather than confidential personnel information about the officers.
The decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeal is the latest in a series of legal cases that test how much the public should be allowed to know about police officer conduct and oversight. A group of state laws known as the Peace Officers Bill of Rights gives confidentiality protections to officer personnel records in California.
Thursday’s ruling was a victory for Pasadena activists, including the Pasadena chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, who, along with the Los Angeles Times and McDade’s mother, sought disclosure of the report. The Pasadena Police Officers Assn. fought to block the report’s release by the city.
“Today’s Court of Appeal opinion nails the city of Pasadena for using the police officers’ privacy rights to suppress criticism of the police administration,” said attorney Dale Gronemeier, who is representing McDade’s mother and the NAACP. “The killing of Kendrec McDade was unjustified and the city has resorted to a coverup to suppress the information in the [consultant’s] report that undoubtedly shows how wrong the shooting was.”
A Pasadena spokesman said officials are still examining the opinion. An attorney for the union said a decision had yet to be made on whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
The report written by the Office of Independent Review Group was produced last year after the consultant examined two Police Department investigations into the shooting, one criminal and one civil. Portions of the report released during the legal battle show that the consultant considered the killing “troubling” and said the shooting was preceded by tactical mistakes by the officers.
McDade, 19, was shot by Officers Jeffrey Newlen and Matthew Griffin, who are white, as he ran from police on Sunset Avenue after dark. The district attorney’s office found that the two officers reasonably believed McDade was armed with a gun based on false information from a 911 caller, who reported that his laptop had been stolen. The crime turned out to be a simple theft by another young man who was with McDade. Officers believed both men were armed based on the false report. One officer said he saw McDade’s hand at his waistband during the pursuit, according to a district attorney’s report.
Pasadena paid about $1 million to settle wrongful-death suits brought by McDade’s parents.
The Pasadena police union went to court to block the city from releasing the consultant’s report, arguing that doing so would violate the privacy rights of the officers and that the report is a personnel record.
The appellate panel disagreed.
The justices said Chalfant should not have redacted portions of the report that analyzed the Police Department’s response to the shooting and its handling of the investigation as well as the consultant’s reform proposals.
“There can be no legitimate dispute that the report is a public record,” Johnson wrote in the opinion. “The information and analysis contained in the report is precisely the sort the disclosure of which will promote public scrutiny of and agency accountability for specific uses of deadly forces.”