Crime & Justice

Police must reveal names of officers in shootings absent threats, court rules

At a news conference in front of Long Beach police headquarters,attorney Brian Claypool demonstrates what he describes as Long Beach police officers wrongfully shooting 35-year-old Doug Zerby. LA's district attorney said they mistakenly believed he was holding a handgun instead of a water nozzle.
At a news conference in front of Long Beach police headquarters,attorney Brian Claypool demonstrates what he describes as Long Beach police officers wrongfully shooting 35-year-old Doug Zerby. LA's district attorney said they mistakenly believed he was holding a handgun instead of a water nozzle.
Corey Moore/KPCC

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The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that law enforcement agencies must release the names of officers involved in shootings when no specific threat to their lives can be proven. The ruling is a defeat to an officers' union that had sued to block such disclosures.

In its 6-1 opinion, the state’s high court said the officers' names are public record and are subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act. It ruled the names of officers are not protected under a blanket or catchall protection exemption in the state's public records law.

The case stems from a 2010 shooting in Long Beach. Two police officers shot and killed 35-year old Doug Zerby, an unarmed man. Zerby was holding a garden hose nozzle that officers mistook for a gun.

After the shooting, the Los Angeles Times asked the Long Beach Police Department for the names of officers who had been involved in police shootings over the last five years.

The city decided to comply but was sued by the Long Beach Police Officers Association, which argued that disclosure would threaten the safety of its members.

The city notified the LBPOA that it would have to release the names of the officers unless there was some type of court injunction.

During court arguments in March, LBPOA attorney James Trott said the state’s Public Records Act allows for privacy exemptions for officers.

The Los Angeles Times argued the public has a right to know the identities of the officers involved shootings.

Generally, the Los Angeles Police Department releases the names of officers involved in police shootings after 72 hours unless there is a specific threat to the officer's safety, such as gang retaliation. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department does not release the names of deputies involved in shootings.