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City of Eureka v. Superior Court (Thadeus Greenson)

California Court of Appeals, First District, Fifth Division

July 19, 2016

CITY OF EUREKA, Plaintiff and Appellant,
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF HUMBOLDT COUNTY, Defendant and Respondent; THADEUS GREENSON, Real Party in Interest and Respondent.

         Superior Court of the County of Humboldt, No. JV140252, Christopher G. Wilson, Judge.

          Cyndy Day-Wilson, City Attorney, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

          Mary Blair Angus, County Counsel, for Defendant and Respondent.

          Paul Nicholas Boylan, for Real Party in Interest and Respondent.

          Jones, P.J.

         The issue in this case is whether a video of an arrest captured by a patrol car’s dashboard camera is a confidential “personnel record” under Penal Code sections 832.7 or 832.8.[1] On the record before us, the answer is no. We conclude the juvenile court properly determined the arrest video is not a personnel record protected by the Pitchess statutes. (See Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531 (Pitchess).) We therefore affirm the court’s order requiring the City of Eureka (City) to release a portion of the video to local reporter and real party in interest, Thadeus Greenson.


         Arrest, Charges, and Internal Affairs Investigation

         In December 2012, Eureka Police Sergeant Adam Laird and other Eureka police officers arrested H.M. (the minor). Sergeant Laird chased the minor, who “was pushed to the ground, fell to the ground, or just gave up and laid on the ground.” Another police officer arrived “in his patrol vehicle with its in-car video equipment activated[.]” The patrol car’s mobile audio video (MAV) recording system produced several videos of the arrest.[2] The prosecution filed a Welfare and Institutions Code section 602 petition against the minor, but later withdrew it.

         A citizen lodged a complaint regarding the officers’ “handling of the minor” and the Eureka Police Department conducted an internal affairs investigation. The prosecution charged Sergeant Laird with misdemeanor assault by a police officer without lawful necessity (§ 149) and with making a false report (§ 118.1). Both the prosecution and defense hired experts to review the evidence against Sergeant Laird. After reviewing the evidence - including the arrest video - the experts determined Sergeant Laird did not use excessive force during the arrest. The prosecution dismissed the charges against Sergeant Laird in January 2014.

         Greenson’s Request for Disclosure of the Arrest Video

         In July 2013 and January 2014, Greenson wrote articles in two local newspapers about the arrest and subsequent litigation. In August 2014, Greenson filed a California Public Records Act (Gov. Code, § 6250, et seq.) request with the City seeking disclosure of the arrest video. The City denied the request, “citing discretionary exemptions for personnel records and investigative files.”

         In November 2014, Greenson filed a request for disclosure (form JV-570) of the arrest video pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 827, which authorizes public disclosure of confidential juvenile records under limited circumstances. Greenson averred the video “formed the basis” for the charges against Sergeant Laird, but the prosecution “later dismissed the charges with little, if any, explanation. [Sergeant] Laird’s defense... was an allegation that he’d been singled out for arrest by the... Police Department for exercising his First Amendment free speech rights and that the [police department] deliberately withheld exculpatory evidence from prosecutors.” According to Greenson, “the public has a right to know exactly what happened” during the minor’s arrest “to evaluate the performance of both its police officers and prosecutors. The public’s only avenue to that knowledge, and the only thing that will allow the public to make that evaluation, is the video [of the] arrest.”

         The Humboldt County Probation Department (the County) objected, claiming Greenson failed to demonstrate good cause for disclosure under Welfare and Institutions Code section 827. As the County explained, “[p]ublic dissemination of the video is not necessary to facilitate public scrutiny” of Sergeant Laird’s conduct because Greenson had “already obtained court records and other public documents describing the events depicted by the video and ha[d] previously published details of the incident.... Under these circumstances, release of the video would serve only to prejudice the minor by exposing his image, his actions, and his juvenile record to widespread public scrutiny.” The County also noted Greenson had not served the police department with the disclosure request. The City also urged the court to deny Greenson’s request. It argued the video was a police officer “personnel record” and “[d]isclosure... would require a successful Pitchess [m]otion, ” which Greenson had not filed. The City also claimed disclosing the video could be detrimental to the minor under Welfare and Institutions Code section 827.

         At a late January 2015 hearing, the court directed Greenson to serve the police department and the City with the disclosure request and continued the matter to late February 2015. Before the February 2015 hearing, Greenson filed a reply offering additional information about the criminal case against Sergeant Laird and claiming the case “called into question” the conduct of the “entire [police] department.” According to Greenson, the public had “a right to evaluate the conduct of its officers and prosecutors” and needed to know why criminal charges were filed against Sergeant Laird when “experts determined [his] use of force was justified[.]” Greenson also argued releasing the arrest video would not harm the ...

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