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Police Department Was Not Required To Disclose Confidential Records To The Subject Officer Prior To Further Interrogation
In December 2017, a citizen filed a complaint against officers from the Oakland Police Department (Department), alleging that the officers violated the citizen’s rights while conducting a mental health welfare check. The Department’s internal affairs investigation included an interrogation of each of the accused officers. The Department’s investigation cleared the officers.
Following the Department’s investigation, the Oakland Community Police Review Association (OCPRA), a civilian oversight agency with independent authority to investigate claims of police misconduct, conducted its own investigation into the citizen complaint. Before the OCPRA’s interrogations of the officers, counsel for the officers demanded copies of all “reports and complaints” prepared or compiled by the Department’s investigators pursuant to Government Code Section 3303(g), a provision within the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act (POBR). Section 3303(g) provides that a public safety officer shall have access to a tape recording of his or her interrogation “if any further proceedings are contemplated or prior to any further interrogation at a subsequent time. The public safety officer shall be entitled to a transcribed copy of any notes made by a stenographer or to any reports or complaints made by investigators or other persons, except those which are deemed by the investigating agency to be confidential.”
The OCPRA agreed to provide the officers with recordings and transcribed notes from their prior interrogations during the Department’s investigation but refused to produce any other materials. After interrogating each officer, the OCPRA completed its investigation and determined that the officers knowingly violated the complainant’s civil rights.
The officers and their union filed a petition for writ of mandate, alleging that the City of Oakland (City) violated their procedural rights by refusing to disclose the requested reports and complaints prior to the officers’ subsequent interrogations.
The trial court noted that the Fourth District of the California Court of Appeal examined a similar issue in Santa Ana Police Officers’ Association v. City of Santa Ana (Santa Ana), and held that the POBR requires agencies to disclose complaints and reports to officers after an initial interrogation and “prior to any further interrogation.” Relying on Santa Ana, the trial court granted the petition and ordered the City to disregard the officers’ interrogation testimony in any current or future disciplinary proceedings. The City appealed, and the First District of the California Court of Appeal reversed and remanded the matter to the trial court for further proceedings.
The Court of Appeal held that the plain language of Section 3303(g) only requires disclosure of tape recordings of an officer’s interrogation prior to any subsequent interrogation of the officer. The statute does not specify when an officer’s entitlement to the reports and complaints arises but does grant an agency the ability to withhold these materials on confidentiality grounds under certain circumstances, including if disclosure would otherwise interfere with an ongoing investigation. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal held that the stenographer’s notes, reports, and complaints should be disclosed upon request, including prior to a subsequent interrogation unless the investigating agency designates the material as confidential. The court noted that the agency can also de-designate a record previously deemed confidential when the basis for confidentiality no longer exists, such as at the end of the investigation.
The Court of Appeal also concluded that mandatory disclosure of complaints and reports prior to any subsequent interrogation of an officer suspected of misconduct undermines a core objective of the POBR – maintaining the public’s confidence in the effectiveness and integrity of law enforcement agencies by ensuring that internal investigations into officer misconduct are conducted promptly and fairly.
The Court of Appeal disagreed with the Santa Ana decision, reversed, and remanded the matter to the trial court to determine whether the City had a basis for withholding the requested reports and complaints due to their confidential nature.
Oakland Police Officers’ Association v. City of Oakland, 2021 WL 1608876 (Cal. Ct. App., Apr. 26, 2021).
This decision creates a split of authority between the First and Fourth Districts of the California Court of Appeal regarding an agency’s duty to disclose investigation materials before a subsequent interrogation of the subject officer. LCW attorneys can help agencies navigate conflicting case laws decided under the POBR, including disclosure requirements during an ongoing personnel investigation.