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T. D.P. v. City of Oakland

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division

July 17, 2017

T. D.P., Plaintiff,
CITY OF OAKLAND, et al., Defendants.


          LAUREL BEELER United States Magistrate Judge.


         This is a civil-rights suit under the Fourth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. It is more specifically an excessive-force and officer-involved-shooting (OIS) case. It grows from a November 2015 incident in which Oakland police officers fatally shot the plaintiff‘s decedent. The plaintiff has asked the defendants to produce various categories of information, such as complaint histories for the relevant officers, training material, text messages, and social-media posts. The defendants do not deny that some of this material must be produced. They do argue that the plaintiff‘s requests are excessive, in several ways, and should be limited. This dispute can be resolved without oral argument. See Civil L.R. 7-1(b). The court reaches the following conclusions.[1]


         Civil discovery is bounded primarily by procedural Rule 26. Under that rule:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party‘s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties‘ relative access to relevant information, the parties‘ resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). "The relevance standard is extremely broad, especially in civil rights excessive force cases." James v. Hayward Police Dep't, 2017 WL 2437346, *1 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 27, 2017) (Illston, J.) (citing Soto v. City of Concord, 162 F.R.D. 603, 610 (N.D. Cal. 1995)). This court too, in this case, has expressed its understanding that police personnel files are generally discoverable in such cases, and are usually covered by a protective order.[2]

         Throughout this order, the court has mostly addressed only those specific requests that are discussed in the parties‘ joint letter. The language of the requests themselves is sometimes turbid, making it hard to grasp exactly what is being sought. The court has thus stuck closely to the discussion in the joint letter.

         1. Request #4 - Prior Complaints

         1.1 The Request and Dispute

         The plaintiff calls this a request for "complaint, " "disciplinary, " and "misconduct histories" for all "involved officers."[3] The defendants call this a request for "prior complaints." The plaintiff also requests (for seven years preceding the incident) documents "concerning contacts with and/or procedures concerning" a number of topics.[4]

         The defendants allow that "personnel records are routinely produced."[5] They argue, however, that the production should be limited. They say that the production should "relate directly to the issues of this case."[6] The defendants would thus produce only "complaints relating to firearms, officer involved shootings, truthfulness or any issues regarding report writing or credibility."[7] The plaintiff argues that this production should not be limited to OIS and firearm incidents because (in their view) discoverability turns on whether the force used was excessive, not on the type of force that was used.[8]

         1.2 Holding

         The court holds as follows. The defendants must produce anything related to complaints or "misconduct" in excessive-force cases. They must produce anything concerning "'shoot/don‘t shoot training" or "any . . . retraining." This would encompass general use-of-force training; that is to say, it is not limited to only deadly-force training. Training on "bias" and "arrest procedure" must also be produced. The parties also seem to agree that material involving "truthfulness, " "veracity, " and "report-writing" should be produced.

         Material relating to "detentions" and "detention procedure" requires better specificity. Insofar as "detention" in the plaintiff‘s requests means pre-arrest detentions (say, in the manner of a Terry stop), this material must be produced. To the extent that "detention" refers to post-arrest detainment (such as confinement in jail), this requests exceeds what is proportional to the needs of this case; such material need not be produced.

         The defendants need not produce material related to "discourtesy" or "professionalism and decorum."

         2. Request #7 - "Training Documents Beyond Use Of Deadly Force"

         This request seeks training materials on 21 topics.[9] Most of this is discoverable. Indeed, the defendants have agreed to produce most of the information sought by this request, [10] and the court concludes that the defendants are mostly correct in their view of what can and cannot be discovered here. Consistently with its disposition of Request #4, above, the court holds that the defendants must produce the requested training material on the following topics:

a) arrest procedure;
b) arrests;
c) detention procedure;[11]
d) detentions;11
e) use of force, including deadly force;
f) firearms;
g) "shoot/don‘t shoot" or similar training;
h) perception/reaction or psycho-physical issues in connection with use of firearms or critical incidents;
i) use of cameras and other recording devices;
j) officer-involved-shooting investigation;
k) internal-affairs investigation;
l) homicide investigation;
m) summoning and/or provision of ...

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