Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley appears to have done an about-face on her office’s transparency policies and is now withholding reports on officer-involved shootings that her office considered public eight months ago.
The document in question is a district attorney’s report – sometimes called a findings letter – that includes details of the incident, the account of separate reviews by police and district attorney’s investigators and a legal explanation of why the officer is not being charged with criminal conduct. These letters are issued only if the district attorney does not charge a police officer with a criminal offense – for example, Nancy O’Malley’s office filed a criminal complaint against Johannes Mehserle rather than issue a findings report.
On November 16, I submitted a request under the California Public Records Act for all the findings letters produced by the Alameda County DA for officer-involved shootings in 2010. The next day, I received a response indicating these records are exempt from disclosure under California Government Code section 6254(f). In plain English, O’Malley’s office considers these reports exempt from public disclosure because they are investigative reports prepared by a law enforcement agency.
In April, eight officer-involved shooting reports prepared by the Alameda County district attorney were released to me in response to a public records act request. There was no mention of any investigative exemption for the documents released to me, although incomplete reports for three incidents were withheld because of the investigative exemption.
District attorney’s reports on police shootings are critical documents for journalists and citizens seeking information about police activities, and are generally available through the state Public Records Act. Earlier this year, I obtained hundreds of pages of district attorney’s reports from Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties as part of a reporting project for Colorlines and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. The reports I obtained were essential for my investigation of Fresno Police Department officers involved in multiple shootings.
Closer to home, a November 2009 report by Nancy O’Malley’s office helped provide background on the Eriberto Perez-Angeles and Omar Daza-Quiroz, the two officers who shot and killed Derrick Jones on November 8th.
Other than the response to my request, the Alameda County district attorney has yet to respond to repeated request for information about this apparent policy change. Assistant District Attorney Micheal O’Connor said the matter was under review as of yesterday afternoon.