The Los Angeles Police Department routinely violates the civil rights of Angelenos. They kill, beat, and maim, of course, but also conduct countless racist pretextual stops of drivers and bicyclists. They’re allowed to do this by the LA City Council, and without good information about what they’re up to it’s not easy for Angelenos to control them.
But they also routinely violate the California Public Records Act. The details range from egregiously obvious to subtly technical but in every case the goal, and for the most part the actual result, is to keep public records out of the hands of the public. They have been sued repeatedly and successfully for this over the last five years.1 To my knowledge they’ve never prevailed in a public records case.
LAPD’s violations are expensive.2 Since 2016 the City of Los Angeles has paid out at least $1,377,224 to settle CPRA suits against the police department only.3 Given the number of pending cases this figure is likely to top $1.5M by the end of 2021. The fact that settlement payments come from the City’s general fund clearly facilitates LAPD’s strategy of denying access to records until a suit is filed.
This post is about a confidential memorandum from LAPD Constitutional Policing director Lizabeth Rhodes to Police Commission ED Richard Tefank about a request made by Hamid Khan of Stop LAPD Spying under the California Public Records Act. It’s also about a series of violations of LAMC 49.5.5 by Rhodes and LAPD officers Marla Ciuffetelli and Bryan Lium based on their biased handling of various requests for records and a complaint against all three of them that I filed this morning with the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. If you don’t want to read the whole thing here are the two main documents involved:
But late last year they settled a major CPRA case with the ACLU and part of the agreement required the Department to adopt a policy stating explicitly that LAPD employees, both sworn and nonsworn, were subject to discipline for willful violations of the law. And since they will no longer produce records in response to my requests I’ve been using the time I would have spent reviewing and writing about their records to file complaints against them instead.
You want to know how angry the LAPD is at me? Well, they are so angry that Chief Michel Moore, who apparently reads my blog obsessively but fails to understand most of it, wrote me a really aggressive, really disrespectful letter about how freaking mean I am to everybody and they’re not going to work very hard on my requests for public records going forward.1 No, really, read the letter! Cut through all the nonsense in there and all it really says is that they’re going to continue not filling my requests and lying about the reasons. But of course they’re doing that anyway, so it’s not much of a threat.
But let’s talk about why Moore is so angry at me! Start with the quality of my requests, and remember, this is Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore speaking: you frequently submit CPRA requests to the Department that are complex, vague, and/or overbroad, which create considerable burdens for the Department, and which significantly constrain the ability of some of the Department’s staff to fulfill their other work responsibilities and efficiently serve other members of the public.
UPDATE: This story is about my attempt to get copies of 24 episodes of an LAPD podcast. LAPD has so far refused to produce them to me but I independently found a way to download them from the Department’s podcast host. I uploaded all 24 to the Internet Archive and you can get copies at this link.
This is a story about two things. First, yet another instance of the Los Angeles Police Department violating the California Public Records Act in yet another completely novel way.1 Second, about a new tactic I thought of to enforce CPRA compliance by the City of Los Angeles in general and LAPD in particular, that I am trying out for the first time.
I mean, the headline says it all. If you ever make a request for public records involving emails from LAPD their NextRequest platform will tell you:
Please be advised that with regards to requests for Department e-mails, the Department only has access to e-mails from January 1, 2016 to present. E-mails that were sent or received prior to 2016 are not available to be queried or otherwise retrieved. When requesting e-mails, please be as specific as possible as to time frame, subject matter, key words, etc. that will enable the Department to conduct a thorough search for responsive records.
And LAPD has lied to me so often, so thoroughly, and so needlessly, that for a long time I just assumed that they were lying about that also and didn’t think much of it. But at some point I started to wonder, so I made a request for public records relating to the statement, and, amazingly, they produced a whole set of emails about it!1
And it appears to be true that they no longer have any LAPD emails from prior to January 1, 2016. They’re just gone. The date, by the way, is when LAPD switched from Groupwise to Outlook for email. According to LAPD Info Tech officer Javier Macias:
Groupwise/Retain emails are no longer available as that email server is out of service. Our IT staff and vendors attempted for 4 months to revive this server without any success and we no longer can retrieve any data from it. Only Dept emails on the Outlook e-discovery server are available from 1/1/2016 to present.
About two months ago, on May 7, 2020, the incomparable Lexis-Olivier Ray alerted me to the fact that, from his putatively safe haven in Simi Valley,1 Los Angeles Police Department Commander Timothy Scott Harrelson had just tweeted triumphantly about an LAPD raid on a “luxury apartment” Downtown due to “illegal cannabis sales.”2 But maybe you heard that cannabis is now legal in California? So this is essentially an arrest for tax evasion. Which is not something that ought to be at the top of any law enforcement priority list in the middle of a pandemic, right?3
So I thought I’d look into the circumstances, and how better to do that than using the California Public Records Act?! There’s a problem, though, and that is the sad but true fact that the Los Angeles Police Department has completely stopped responding to my requests.4 When they first stopped I invented a few pseudonyms to make requests under, and this worked for a while.5 But then I started to file lawsuits over some of my pseudonymous requests so they caught on. Soon, I believe, they started tracking my pseudonyms as they identified them6 and then refusing to respond to those requests.
On January 13, 2019 I asked the Los Angeles Police Department for emails between CD13 staffer Dan Halden and any LAPD employee from January 1, 2016 through December 31, 2018. Yesterday, eight months later, they produced emails from October and November 2018 with the promise of more to come. How we got to this point is the subject of today’s post.1 Here’s what the request said exactly:
Per my rights under the California Public Records Act, please provide all correspondence between anyone who works in the Los Angeles Police Department AND email@example.com, for the time period of January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2018. Correspondence is defined as all emails, texts or other communications.
To be honest, when I made this request in January 2019 I was expecting LAPD to refuse to produce the records on technical grounds,2 And on January 18, 2019 they did exactly that. They gave two separate and mutually contradictory reasons for refusing to produce.
First they told me that “[y[our request does not describe the records sought clearly enough to permit my staff to determine whether any responsive documents exist.” This claim is based on the CPRA at §6253(b), which requires of requests that they “reasonably [describe] an identifiable record or records”. LAPD’s second reason for refusing to produce was that it would be too much work:
A search of email communications and correspondence for “anyone who works in the Department” would be unduly burdensome for the Department as interpreted in the “public interest” provision of section 6255 of the Act, and would require a separate search of each individual email account of approximately 14,400 Department email accounts.
The City of Los Angeles is notorious for ignoring its duties under the California Public Records Act. Among City agencies, the LAPD is probably the worst at responding to requests in a timely, comprehensive manner. One of the worst aspects of CPRA is that filing a lawsuit1 is the only recourse if an agency refuses to comply. This is the strategy being pursued by the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition.2
So anyway, my own CPRA experiences with LAPD confirm this general impression. For instance, on February 10, 2015, I sent them this:
I’d like to request a list of all active stay-away orders for the Hollywood Entertainment District or maybe you could suggest documents I could request that would allow me to assemble such a list myself? I’m interested in how many there are and what crimes were committed by the people subject to them.
I won’t bother you with a detailed timeline of all my ignored follow-up inquiries and their occasional non-responsive answers to them, but in more than 20 months after my making this request they still had supplied no records in response.3
Well, as you may be aware, I’m presently working through a theory on whether Los Angeles Municipal Ethics laws, specifically LAMC 49.5.5(A), can be used to force the City to comply with CPRA without having to go to court. A description of this project can be found here. Now, LAMC 49.5.5(A) states:
City officials, agency employees, appointees awaiting confirmation by the City Council, and candidates for elected City office shall not misuse or attempt to misuse their positions or prospective positions to create or attempt to create a private advantage or disadvantage, financial or otherwise, for any person.
This morning our faithful correspondent rode the good old Red Line to the South, to the East, to the Civic Center, to the good old LAPD Discovery Section, where he was privileged to scan maybe a thousand pages of emails between various LAPD luminaries and the BIDs. There’s some serious and important stuff in there, and you’ll be reading about a lot of it here. But there’s also some silly stuff, and we’re breaking out a couple of the goofiest for you here tonight.
First we have this little gem, where some lady named Valorie Keegan, who is the current vice chair of the Hollywood Police Advisory Board but beyond that even the Google doesn’t seem to know exactly what she does, emails a link to our humble blog straight to LAPD Deputy Chief Beatrice Girmala! And which article is it a link to? It’s this old crowd pleaser about Pete Zarcone and the appearance of corruption at the LAPD. Valorie even admits that our conclusion is true. How’s that for validation from the top?! Chief Bea didn’t seem to have much to say back to Valorie, but if you look at the detailed summary at the top of the email, you’ll see that Chief Bea forwarded the email to someone. Our next task? Find out who! Maybe our readership isn’t 92% Kerry Morrison and her lawyers. Maybe we’re a big hit over at 100 W. First Street as well!