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October 29, 2019

Suit Filed on Behalf of Relatives Unlawfully Denied Records on Fatal Shootings

LOS ANGELES — On January 1, a new law went into effect giving Californians more access to law enforcement officer records than they had in 40 years.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California, one of the key sponsors of the law, immediately sent out requests to nearly 400 law enforcement agencies throughout the state seeking records of police shootings, other serious uses of force, and sustained findings against officers of dishonesty and sexual assault.

Only one agency denied the request in its entirety saying it was "too broad in scope" — the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.

Today, the ACLU Foundations of Southern and Northern California, and the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP filed a lawsuit against LASD charging that it violated California's Right to Know Act, also known as SB 1421.

The suit was filed in Superior Court in Los Angeles on behalf of three individuals — Demetra Johnson, Vinly Eng, and Zachary Wade — all of whom had family members killed by LASD deputies. To this day they've not received vital records on the deaths of their loved ones and on the deputies who pulled the triggers.

Johnson's son, Anthony Weber, was killed in the Westmont neighborhood on February 4, 2018 by deputies who said he had a gun in his waistband. No gun was ever found.

"My son Anthony was 16 years old when he was shot by the deputies for no reason," said Johnson. "He had no gun, nothing to threaten them. It has been more than a year, and I still don't have answers. We deserve to see those records, not just for my family, but because it will help change the sheriff's department."

Eng's sister, Jazmyne Eng, was shot and killed on January 4, 2012 at a psychotherapy treatment center in Rosemead. The center called the LASD to assist in holding her involuntarily for inpatient care, but within 12 seconds of visual contact, a deputy shot Jazmyne with a Taser and another shot her with a gun.

Wade's nephew, Nephi Arreguin, was killed on May 7, 2015 in Cerritos. Arreguin was in his car, possibly sleeping, when deputies approached, suspecting him of burglary. Shortly thereafter, Areguin was shot — there is a dispute on whether he was just sitting in the car when he was shot or driving toward a deputy.

"In passing SB 1421, the California Legislature recognized that the public's right to know how a law enforcement agency responds when their officers kill a member of the public, or commit serious misconduct, is necessary to hold police chiefs and sheriffs accountable for the policies and practices of their departments," said Peter Bibring, director of Police Practices of the ACLU SoCal. "Much as they may want to, the L.A. Sheriff's Department cannot avoid transparency and accountability by refusing to follow the law."

The Right to Know Act provides public access to three categories of law enforcement officer records:

  • Uses of deadly force
  • Sustained findings of sexual assault
  • Sustained findings dishonest in the reporting, investigating, or prosecution of a crime

Under the law, law enforcement agencies must answer a request for records within 10 days. The agency can ask for an extension of an additional 14 days, but by then must produce the records or explain why they are not making them available.

The ACLU SoCal did not get complete compliance from all the police and sheriff's departments in the state when requests were sent out at the beginning of the year. But the LASD was the only agency that provided no records.

The lawsuit asks that the LASD be forced to follow the law and provide all records that are lawfully requested.

Read the lawsuit here:

RALLY: There will be a press conference and rally Wednesday afternoon in support of the lawsuit. Speakers will include Demetra Johnson, mother of the slain Anthony Weber. More details of this event will be coming later today in a media advisory.