A dispute has broken out between Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and the union representing the department rank-and- file over a list of about 300 deputies with histories of dishonesty and other misconduct.
Amid growing public scrutiny over police misconduct, McDonnell wants to give the names on the list to prosecutors, who are required by law to tell criminal defendants about evidence that would damage the credibility of a law enforcement officer called as a witness. But McDonnell’s efforts have ignited a fierce legal battle with the union, the Los Angeles Times reported this morning. The list is so tightly controlled that it can be seen by only a handful of high-ranking sheriff’s officials. Not even prosecutors can access it.
The dispute, which the California Supreme Court is expected to decide next year, is playing out in a state with some of the nation’s strictest secrecy laws on police misconduct. California is among 22 states that keep officer discipline from the public, but it is the only one that blocks prosecutors from seeing entire police personnel files.
The sheriff’s department’s roster of deputies was compiled in 2014 under McDonnell’s predecessor, interim Sheriff John Scott, to keep track of officers with histories of misconduct that might affect their credibility in court, The Times reported. The list has evolved over time, and last fall the department notified several hundred deputies that their names were on the list and offered them the chance to object if they believed there had been a mistake.
Documents reviewed by The Times offer the first public glimpse of deputies whose misconduct the Sheriff’s Department has decided should be reported to the courts.
The deputies have been identified as potential witnesses in more than 62,000 felony cases since 2000, according to a Times analysis of district attorney records. In many of those cases, the deputies’ misconduct would probably have been relevant in assessing their credibility.