ACLU Sues Fresno County Sheriff’s Office for Violation of California’s Public Records Act

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FRESNO – The law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson, representing the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, filed suit against the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office for its failure to comply with a public record request seeking information regarding use of force, discharge of firearms, sexual assault, and dishonesty by its officers. The complaint seeks immediate disclosure of all of the requested public records.

In January 2019, a new law (SB 1421) recognized California citizens’ fundamental right to access information about instances where law enforcement personnel shoot, kill, or greatly injure members of the public, or engage in serious misconduct like evidence tampering. California law previously shielded these records from the public, but SB 1421 obligates law enforcement agencies to promptly disclose qualifying records when requested by a member of the public.

Immediately following SB 1421’s passage, the ACLU requested that the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office disclose its documents on these subjects.

More than two years have passed, and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office has produced documents for only a handful of incidents, even though it acknowledges that many more exist. The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office also improperly charged the ACLU thousands of dollars for processing its request.

“The current lawsuit continues the ACLU’s work to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding the abuse of power by law enforcement officers,” said Allyssa Victory, criminal justice attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “When officers abuse their power, victims, their families, and the public have the right to know.”

“Today’s lawsuit is a critical step in ensuring the public’s right to transparency from its government,” said George Fatheree, a partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson and co-chair of the firm’s Combatting Systemic Racism Task Force. “Making these records public will help police departments improve their officer training and avoid hiring officers with histories of misconduct.”

The filed complaint can be found here.

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