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New State Laws Unseal Internal Investigations and Police Disciplinary Records

California is generally viewed as the most progressive state in the nation. However, the state has developed a reputation for being secretive with information about police misconduct and the use of force. Thankfully, the California State Legislature took active steps to remedy this problem. On September 30th, 2018, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 1421 which broadens disclosures under the California Public Records Act (CPRA), unsealing some internal investigations and police disciplinary records. The Governor also signed Assembly Bill 748 which increases the public’s access to video from a police officer’s body-worn camera.

Are These Statutes Helping California Citizens Combat Police Misconduct?

From the beginning, police discipline in California has always been shrouded in secrecy. However, since Senate Bill 1421 took effect on January 1st, 2019, law enforcement is now required to release records and information when certain incidents take place and inquiries are made to the CPRA.

Members of the criminal justice community are pleased with the changes being made in California. By receiving greater access to police disciplinary records, it is easier for negative trends within the system to be spotted and addressed. According to University of Nebraska Criminal Justice Professor Samuel Walker, “It’s very good that the public knows about these things and as more and more records are released we will get a better picture of the patterns; what are some of the recurring problems?”

While only a month has passed since these changes were made, many police officers are now being held accountable for their actions. For example, Officer Natalie Rafferty was recently notified of her termination by the Rio Vista Police Department. An internal investigation found that she had falsely accused Katheryn Jenks, a 56-year-old woman, of biting her and her partner, rookie Officer Man Ly.

She also disobeyed orders to pursue only misdemeanor charges against Jenks and proceeded to file a felony resisting arrest count. Records also reveal that she allowed her police K-9 to exit the police car and severely bite Jenks’ arm.

The records released by the Rio Vista Police Department are among the first in California to reveal disciplinary action taken against a police officer for violating use-of-force rules and for being dishonest. For many decades, these records were kept confidential and remained out of the public eye. As more information about police misconduct becomes public, California citizens will likely increase their demands for wholesale criminal justice reform.

If you believe that you are the victim of police misconduct, then the Law Offices of Braid Pezzaglia will work hard to hold the negligent officers accountable. For more information about how Senate Bill 1421 or Assembly Bill 748 could affect your case, contact us today at (408) 650-8955 for a free initial consultation.