Police Abuse

When Even Prosecutors Can't Be Informed About Corrupt Cops, We've Got a Problem

California's shielding of police misconduct affects criminal cases.


Lisa F. Young / Dreamstime.com

One would think that letting prosecutors know which police officers have histories of misconduct would actually be beneficial to putting criminals behind bars. If prosecutors knew about problems with an officer's history, they'd be better prepared for a possible attack on his or her credibility if it comes up in a courtroom.

But in California, thanks to laws that treat police officers' personnel records like sealed secrets, police are able to resist (so far successfully) efforts to let prosecutors know when they've got a potentially dirty officer. The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department put together a list of 300 of its own deputies that have records of misconduct. The union that represents them has so far used the courts to stop the LASD from passing those names along to prosecutors.

As the Los Angeles Times notes, this is much bigger than just concealing information from prosecutors. My lede paragraph above is wrong in another way: Because police personnel records and reputations are so thoroughly hidden by law in California, defendants and defense attorneys are far less likely to even know a cop's background to even bring it up in the courtroom. If the Sheriff's Department passes these names along to the prosecutors, they would be duty-bound to inform the defense of any information that could be relevant to the case, like, say, an officer with a record of dishonesty or violence on the job.

So this fight to conceal police officer work history is fundamentally a deliberate effort to deprive criminal defendants of potentially important information that could affect the case. Even prosecutors and defenders have to get special court orders to get information from individual police records.

The police union complained that revealing the information would "draw unfair scrutiny on deputies whose mistakes might have happened long ago." First of all, that sounds like the kind of thing that a jury should get to decide is still relevant, not law enforcement. Second, man, wouldn't it be great if you or I could make the same argument? But no, how many news stories do we see or read about a person arrested for a crime where the police have passed along to the media the suspect's entire criminal record, including mistakes that might have happened long ago?

Right now prosecutors seem to have either informal agreements with police departments to get information about bad officers, or prosecutors find out when officers themselves have been defendants in criminal cases or their behavior shows up in news articles. But several law enforcement agencies, besides the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department are looking to make a more formal arrangement to pass along information to prosecutors. Good for them for at least taking a stab at being more transparent internally about police misconduct.

A judge initially ruled that LASD could only pass along the names of problem officers when there's a pending case where they might testify. But even that was too much for the union, who wanted a full hold on the transmission of any names, and this request was granted. The lawyer for the sheriff's department thinks the case might have to go all the way to the state's Supreme Court to be resolved. This should not come as a surprise. The Los Angeles Times had to go all the way to the California Supreme Court to get law enforcement agencies to cough up the names of officers who were involved in shootings.

Related, we can head over to Chicago to see what happens when a police officer's lengthy record of misconduct complaints is public, including a case (where he was lead detective) where the city ended up paying $750,000 to man wrongly convicted of murder. The officer was recently promoted to commander! Wait, that's awful. Let's just spin it as proof that California doesn't need to conceal its officers' histories of misconduct if nobody's ever going to hold them accountable anyway.

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62 responses to “When Even Prosecutors Can't Be Informed About Corrupt Cops, We've Got a Problem

  1. Cmdr. James Sanchez has been a subject of at least 90 formal complaints since joining the force in 1985…. Most of those complaints alleged excessive force or improper searches.


    Also – another good article (and Alt-Text) from Scott in my opinion.

    1. Charles,


      You’re welcome

      1. Oh man, you finally got me to look as there is nothing else to look at…

        Through the grey mists I can see humanoid shapes frolicking on the shore; death and rebirth, death and rebirth, on and on and on — until the long cold dark shatters souls and splinters the pillars of heaven.

          1. 10/10

          2. It’s even got Gale Boetticher in it, before he was shot in the head.

          3. lol.

          4. That’s a good one. Would on the blonde wife.

      2. Thank you kindly, Mainer2.

        I see several familiar names there.

      3. Glibertarians.com: A site so awesome the members still come to Reason.com for content ideas and to beg for more members.

        1. I actually don’t think there is anything wrong with that, sharing ideas is a perfectly reasonable thing. I wish them well, but they should get better site design if they want to move this beyond just the people who moved from here.

          1. My complaint is that most of the content feels very blog posty, and general.

            1. Media has lost the war on information peddling, you are witnessing the death throes now.

        2. I saw more intelligent looking content on there in about twenty minutes of perusing than I’ve seen in these parts in the last few months.

          I couldn’t find a method on there to donate money yet, but if the webmasters create one I would certainly do so.

          1. Will you move there permanently and never come back? Pleasepleasepleaseplease?????

            1. No, but I do expect to be spending a lot more time on there.

              1. Well damn.

          2. So it’s already Tulpified, is your point.

            1. If you think that I’m Tulpa, everybody is Tulpa.

          3. Glibertarians.com: Mike M. approved!

        3. “Glibertarians.com: A site so awesome the members still come to Reason.com for content ideas and to beg for more members.”

          Correction on assclown troll comment: Glibertarian.com, a site whose members still TRY to post on H&R and actually could if the server didn’t take a major dump every 5 fucking minutes. Fuck off, tard.

          1. Uh oh, I hurt somebody’s feelings. šŸ™

            1. No, you aren’t capable of that, Would you like some lotion for that butthurt?

              1. lotion for that butthurt

                Why in the name of… well anything… would I be butthurt? I just think it’s funny to see the foot-stompers and harrumphers still kicking around. It is a bit tiresome though to keep seeing advertisements for another website though. I wonder if the Reason webfolks would consider it spam if marked as such.

            2. Spark, do you think he cares whether you like him or not and why?

              BTW, did I see you at the parade sporting a Roger Goodell clown shirt?

              1. did I see you at the parade sporting a Roger Goodell clown shirt?

                As much as I’m a fan of the Pats, displays like parades and such are too dumb for me. And I’m not really emotionally invested in the Brady controversy one way or the other.

                1. We agree on the parades and Brady – notwithstanding the silly post I submitted on the day after the Super Bowl.

    2. This is stuff I like because you ain’t getting much of this in other publications.

    3. Regarding the photo, I thought it was the guy taking pictures outside a police station…

    4. So you’re saying Sanchez is Dirty?

      1. +1 rusty trombone

  2. So that’s what they mean by “sanctuary city.”

  3. OT

    NH gov just signed Constitutional Carry.


    1. NH Governor Chris Sununu

      Son of former governor John Sununu. I agree with what he did here, but the “legacy” politicians are making me wonder why we don’t just go back to a monarchy already.

      1. a monarchy where the loser is beheaded.

    2. There is quite a lot I like about New Hampshire, except the lengthy periods of cold.

      1. So waiting periods are considered constitutional carry now? Jesus even that term has lost meaning.

    3. As it’s joining Vermont and Maine, I take it that New England will soon become the murder capital of the world.

    4. Ok, finally, an actual libertarian moment.

    5. So when CC is the law is both states, and I cross the state line with a legal but unlicensed concealed weapon, will I still be committing a federal offense?

      1. federal? don’t know but probably.

      2. You’re probably committing a federal offense right now and don’t even know it.

        1. Man, you sound so cyn….(checks handle)….never mind.

  4. Ah, pubsec unions, successfully turning criminal matters into a employee/employer disputes.

  5. Let’s just spin it as proof that California doesn’t need to conceal its officers’ histories of misconduct if nobody’s ever going to hold them accountable anyway.

    But withholding the records saves time.

  6. Second, man, wouldn’t it be great if you or I could make the same argument? But no, how many news stories do we see or read about a person arrested for a crime where the police have passed along to the media the suspect’s entire criminal record, including mistakes that might have happened long ago?

    These days they’ll use something that happened in high school against someone in their 40s.

    1. With anything even vaguely sex related it is a life sentence. Some poor 19 year-old girl sneezes on a minor and is a convict for life.

    2. ….and they report it as if the cop who chased/beat/shot the citizen knew all that history in the moment. And the cop defenders will buy into it. Of course it was OK officer friendly beat up THAT guy, he’s a sleaze bag.

  7. The system really seems to emphasize convictions as a metric as well. Which doesn’t seem good in any way. Whenever elections come up for DAs I always see billboards or advertisements stating that they had a 95% conviction rating, which doesn’t say anything at all about how many correct convictions there were. And with the system as it is now, I can only imagine that I would consider a large portion of those convictions unjust.

    1. Whenever elections come up for DAs I always see billboards or advertisements stating that they had a 95% conviction rating

      I would take that as an argument AGAINST voting to re-elect them. I really can’t see any way an honest DA (oxymoron, I know) could get a conviction rate that high in a system where the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is on them.

      Either there’s some shenanigans going on there, or they’re only pursuing cases that are a slam dunk.

      1. This is why when I help write the Constitution for the 2nd American Republic, we’re gonna have a clause that says officers of the court are barred from other political office for 10 years after they leave their post. You can helps see justice is done, or run for political office, but not use one as a springboard to the other.

  8. OT, and file under: why Trump gets reelected

    Walking Dead t-shirt pulled because it’s racist. It’s the eeny-meeny-miney-mo quote from Negan before he bashed in the skulls of a white country boy and an asian. But it was once a racist rhyme so this is why we can’t have nice things.

    No shit, this is really happening.


    1. I’ll link to my response to it in the other thread.

      And add that it’s fucking retarded, for a host of reasons:

      1. As you point out here, the people killed in the scene this is referring to was a ginger and an asian.
      2. The busybody who complained claimed that “”The graphic has a large American baseball bat, wrapped round with barbed wire, and covered with blood. This image relates directly to the practice of assaulting black people in America.” No, it doesn’t, you limy fuck. If it was intended to refer to “the practice of assaulting black people in America,” it would be a picture of a noose, not a picture of Lucille.

      Fucker clearly doesn’t even watch TWD and has no idea what the reference is about but couldn’t wait to jump on the OUTRAGE train despite not having a fucking clue what the fuck he was getting outraged about. Typical SJW.

      1. This might be dumber than the “Fire & Blood” t-shirt scandal with that one teacher that one time.

        Though I think the teacher was forced into a psych eval, so that still reigns supreme in the intersection of derp and t-shirts.

  9. The look on that cop’s face in that picture is really creepy. Was that a still from a gay porno? NTTAWWT…

    1. Fun fact: Whenever I search for photos of “police abuse” on this stock art service, it does bring me back a bunch of pictures of cop-themed male strippers. I have thus far resisted actually using any of them.

      1. Sure you have. *twirls tonfa* Good article.

  10. Good old corruption. Where would we be without it? Of course corrupt people want to protect corrupt people. Years ago I ran into a list of steps people do to avoid admitting they are corrupt/guilty. 1.) I didn’t do it. 2.) I did it but everybody does it. 3.) I did it but somebody else is worse than me. 4.) something about “Nothing happened here folks, now move along”, and unfortunately I have forgotten the rest.

  11. That picture looks like a Daddy Bear gay porno cover.

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