Although the California Supreme Court ruled recently in Long Beach Peace Officers Association v. City of Long Beach that the names of police and other peace officers who fire their weapons on duty are presumed to be matters of public record, newspapers and others are meeting abiding resistance to disclosing them. To take two examples, the resistance may come from the officers’ employers, as with the City of Salinas, which contends that there have been specific threats against the officers—evidence of which the high court said may justify withholding of shooters’ names—or from the officers’ unions, as with the Palm Springs Police Officers’ Association, which contends that the high court’s ruling does not apply to a request by the Palm Springs Desert Sun at all.
That newspaper, as reported by staff writers Colin Atagi and Brett Kelman, asked Palm Springs for the names of its officers who discharged their weapons from January 1, 2009 to the present, a list which might show multiple incidents involving a particular officer still on the force. The city said it was willing to disclose the names, but the POA yesterday obtained a temporary restraining order and is seeking a permanent injunction to block release by the city, arguing several points, including that the Long Beach decision applied only to officers currently under investigation, not to past incidents; that release of shooters’ names must be bargained with the union as a working condition; and that the officers were crime victims (or else they would not have fired their weapons).
Meanwhile in Salinas, the Desert Sun’s sister Gannett newspaper, the Salinas Californian, was among those who have been rebuffed by the city in their requests for the names of officers involved in the fatal shootings of four Latino men in the last 80 days, the latest occurring yesterday. As reported by Californian staff writer Allison Gatlin, City Attorney Christopher Callihan is justifying the nondisclosure by citing the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Long Beach case that names could be withheld to protect officers’ safety if specific evidence of a threat to that safety could be produced.
Officer safety has been of particular concern in Salinas in the weeks following Hernandez’s and Mejia’s deaths.
Protesters threw bottles, bricks, sticks and rocks at officers as they responded to a deadly shooting May 21, the night after Mejia’s death, at Del Monte and Mae avenues.
The protest started peacefully but turned violent when an officer, struck in the head with a bottle, had to be hospitalized. The officer was attempting to perform CPR on 23-year-old Constantino Garcia who was fatally wounded as he stood in his front yard watching the riot.
Also of concern for the city are the number of death threats officers have received in the wake of the Hernandez and Mejia shootings, Callihan wrote June 10 in response to various media outlets’ requests.