LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a $185,000 settlement Tuesday with a New York law school that sued the sheriff’s department alleging a failure to adequately respond to a request for public records. The lawsuit was brought against the department after former Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s administration refused to release the requested records.
The board’s action specifically ordered that the settlement funds come directly from the sheriff’s department’s budget.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law filed its lawsuit in 2019, accusing the sheriff’s department of failing to adequately respond to a request for public records involving the agency’s use of “predictive policing” software. According to the lawsuit, the sheriff’s department paid more than $7.5 million in 2014-15 for such programs, which are designed to identify “locations where crimes are likely to occur.”
The center submitted its records request to the agency in June 2016, asking for “10 targeted categories of public records relating to the LASD’s evaluation, purchase and use of predictive policing technologies.”
“After providing a partial response to the Brennan Center’s request, the LASD claimed multiple deadline extensions before eventually ceasing communication with the Brennan Center,” according to the lawsuit. “As a result, more than two and a half years after the Brennan Center first made its request to the LASD, several categories of the original request still remain outstanding.”
Last year, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled in the favor of the center, and set a schedule for the sheriff’s department to disclose the requested records.
The parties subsequently entered settlement negotiations, reaching the resolution that went before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
A staff report presented to the board stated, “Due to the high risks and uncertainties of litigation, a reasonable settlement at this time will avoid further litigation costs. The full and final settlement of the case in the amount of $185,000 is recommended.”
The settlement amount includes attorney’s fees and costs, according to the staff report.
Prior to the board’s vote, the sheriff’s department blasted the action with a statement on Twitter, saying the county has refused to give the agency funding to respond to increased public-records disclosure requests that were expanded by Senate Bill 1421. That law, which took effect in 2019, makes public records relating to peace officer use-of-force or misconduct reports, including sexual assault or dishonesty.
The sheriff’s department “requested funding and personnel to comply with SB1421 on six occasions, all of which were denied by (the county CEO),” according to the agency. “Yet this morning (the board) will vote to take money out of our already defunded budget for (the lawsuit settlement).”
The board on Tuesday also adopted an ordinance that will require the sheriff’s and probation departments to “proactively” post online “non-confidential peace officer personnel records” that were ordered to be made public by SB 1421.
The ordinance requires the disclosure of applicable records on a publicly accessible website, along with posting legal justification for any withholding of such records. It also requires that peace officers who discharge a firearm at another person be publicly identified within 48 hours.
While the board approved the ordinance, its implementation is contingent on funding being provided to “fully staff” the county counsel’s office, which will oversee the process. It is also contingent on the county counsel’s office obtaining “the required access to the departments’ records.”