Landmark Lawsuit Settlement Defies Misinformation Campaign by Police Lobbying Group
LOS ANGELES — A landmark settlement of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the American Civil Liberties Union defies a misinformation campaign by police lobbying groups over a 2019 state law on officer shootings.
The law, known as AB 392, made a vitally important change in the standard for police use of deadly force, saying it could be used “only when necessary in defense of human life.” But according to the lawsuit, the state’s largest police lobbying and special interest group — the Police Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) — undermined the law’s implementation by falsely declaring it was not a significant change in use of deadly force standards.
The police department in Pomona, California, which had several deadly police shootings as of when the ACLU SoCal lawsuit was filed in 2020, was one of many in the state that adopted the PORAC stance, the lawsuit stated. It and the City of Pomona were the defendants named in the lawsuit, but the settlement sends a clear message to other police departments throughout the state that have been overly reliant on PORAC and other sources of misinformation.
“This settlement affirms that AB 392 did heighten the legal standard for deadly force, limiting its use to only when necessary to defend human life, when officers cannot safely use any other resource or technique instead,” said Eva Bitrán, staff attorney with the ACLU SoCal. “Police special interest organizations that set out to undermine this critical change in law have compromised public safety by confusing officers about the crucial question of when they are permitted to shoot and kill.”
Shortly after AB 392 was signed into law, PORAC’s president sent an email to its members — including the Pomona Police Officers Association — claiming that AB 392 does “not significantly impact” law enforcement actions. The Pomona Police Department used this email to train its officers on the new law. A sergeant on the force then sent out the message, “FYI from PORAC. Nothing has changed.”
But AB 392 is vitally significant in that it changed the threshold for when officers can use deadly force.
The 2020 lawsuit was filed on behalf of members of a Pomona coalition, Police Oversight Starts Today, including Gente Organizada, a community-based, nonprofit social-action organization. It became involved in efforts to hold police accountable because of the Pomona Police Department’s history of violence against young people.
“We need city leaders to listen to and implement the community’s vision for public safety, not to police officers who are beholden to corrupt special interests,” said Jesus Sanchez, co-founder and executive director of Gente Organizada.
The misinformation was also spread by Lexipol, a private police consulting company that issues ready-made policy documents to police departments. A Lexipol webinar sent to subscribers — including not only the law enforcement department in Pomona, but also Pasadena, Riverside, Pacifica, and numerous other California cities — flatly stated that the legal standard for police use of force under AB 392 “is the exact same thing we’ve had for the last 50 years.” The webinar, used by police for training, stated that the new law did not establish a “necessary” standard.
Lexipol deleted in multiple spots the word “necessary” when quoting the law in the boilerplate use of force policy it sells to subscribing police departments. The Pomona Police Department adopted and maintained this policy for a year after the law took effect.
The Pomona Police Department has agreed to take several actions outlined in the settlement agreement, including:
- Train officers that AB 392 “creates a higher standard for the application of deadly force in California” that the law established a “significant change in use-of-force threshold,” and that “it is the intent of the Legislature that peace officers use deadly force only when necessary in defense of human life.”
- The department agrees to not use any communications from PORAC for training purposes in the future.
- In investigations into officer-involved shootings and deaths, the department agrees to “consider whether officers evaluated and used other reasonably available resources and techniques […] in determining whether deadly force was necessary.”
Mike Suarez, a member of the Police Oversight Starts Today coalition of community activists, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “This settlement shines a light on how police associations undermine both state law and local efforts for police accountability,” he said.
The settlement agreement can be read here:
A timeline and repository of documents illustrating how police special interest groups blocked implementation of AB 392 in Pomona and across the state are here: https://aclusocal.org/gente-timeline
The 2020 ACLU SoCal and ACLU lawsuit can be accessed here: https://www.aclusocal.org/sites/default/files/aclu_socal_pomona_20200731_complaint.pdf