The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has continued to fail to uphold transparency policies regarding deputy shootings since Sheriff Robert Luna took office, according to an analysis by LA Public Press. 

In May of 2021, then-Sheriff Alex Villanueva introduced policies to require the release of video of deputy shootings and the names of the officers responsible within 30 days of the incident. That information has been disclosed within that time frame for just 5 of 25 shootings during Luna’s term. 

A shooting that occurred on March 30th, 2024 is still within the bounds of that deadline. 

The Sheriff’s Department said in a statement to LA Public Press that “Sheriff Luna has strengthened accountability measures and brought increased transparency to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” but did not address why the name disclosures were late. 

Recent state law changes and court rulings have set firm boundaries on how much time a law enforcement agency can take to release information related to shootings. California’s Right to Know Act amended the penal code in January of 2019, mandating that policing agencies make records available for when a firearm is discharged; when a use of force resulted in death or great bodily injury; when an officer was found to have engaged in a sexual assault; when an officer was found to have been dishonest. Another 2018 law requires the release of videos of deputy shootings within 45 days. 

This new legislation bolstered a 2014 ruling from the California Supreme Court, which declared that police agencies must reveal the names of officers responsible for shootings unless there is specific evidence the disclosure would pose a safety threat. General concerns, the court said, does not justify withholding names. 

However, the Sheriff’s Department has not complied with the law since its adoption. 

Analysis from the LA Times found that between 2018 and 2020, the Sheriff’s department never released the names of deputies involved in shootings on its own. Furthermore, a November 2020 report from the County Office of the Inspector General found that more than 70% of the public records requests citing the new law were pending more than 180 days after they were received. The report also found that the agency was denying valid requests and refusing to assist the people making the inquiry in identifying responsive material. 

The Check the Sheriff coalition, which includes members of the ACLU of Southern California, Black Lives Matter – LA, Centro CSO, and the National Lawyers Guild – LA, sent a letter to the  LA County Board of Supervisors in May 2021 decrying then Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the department’s repeated impediments to transparency around these department records, and expressing support for a motion to increase the public’s access to them.  

Then-Sheriff Villanueva introduced a policy of releasing the names of deputies who participated in shootings, as well as video, within days of the letter’s delivery to the Board of Supervisors. Even though he introduced the policy, the department under Villanueva’s administration still made the majority of disclosures more than 6 months after the shooting had occurred. 

“As families, we have already been through decades of not getting our family’s records. To have 25 shootings and only 5 recognized under the 30-day policy is unacceptable,” said Helen Jones, a member of the Check the Sheriff coalition. Jones’ son, John Horton, was found dead in Men’s Central Jail on March 30, 2009. Initially, the department said he hanged himself, but evidence of a physical assault led the coroner to rule the cause of death as ‘hanging and other undetermined factors.’

“Those other 20 families [whose relatives were shot during Luna’s administration] are stuck in time. I know what it feels like when you know nothing and have no answers, it’s unacceptable.”

Under Sheriff Luna, shooting disclosures are almost always late. Nearly 30% of all deputy shootings in 2023 were disclosed more than 2 months after the 30-day disclosure deadline had passed. Another third of disclosures were made more than 2 weeks after the deadline. 

“I am hopeful that the Sheriff will abide by his campaign promises and continue to make the necessary efforts to be transparent and accountable to the constituents of LA County,” County First District Supervisor Hilda Solis, who represents much of East LA and the San Gabriel Valley, told LA Public Press. 

The only video released on time in 2023 was of the killing of Niani Finlayson. The shooting was covered extensively by local, national, and even international media, and is the subject of a $30 million civil rights lawsuit against LA County. 

“They felt they had a gotcha moment… because she was holding a knife for self-defense. They thought they could prove it was justified,” said Raquel Derfler, co-chair of Cancel the Contract Antelope Valley, a member organization of the Check the Sheriff coalition. “If it’s taking a long time, it’s because there is something problematic to the department on the video.” 

Villanueva said in an emailed statement that he was distraught by the Luna administration’s failure to adhere to 30-day disclosures, despite often failing to meet them himself – something he did not acknowledge in his response. 

“My administration overcame many technological issues to create a website capable of delivering true transparency to the community. There are times when the needs of the investigation call for a delay in releasing certain information, but those times are rare and should be utilized only when imperative to the investigation. As a community member, I am saddened by the regression and mismanagement I currently witness occurring daily within the Department,” Villanueva wrote.

The Sheriff’s Department did not acknowledge that it has failed to uphold the previous policy of 30-day disclosures. 

“The Department has improved the efficiency and speed in which deputy-involved hit shooting information is released on our public Transparency Page. Homicide Bureau will typically post the summary of the incident within 10 days and post a Critical Incident Briefing (Video) within 30 days from the day of the incident, well within the 45-day requirement of SB 1421 & SB 748,” LASD said in its statement.

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