Submitted by Linda Sutter – March 31, 2021
The First Amendment Coalition (FAC) today sued the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office over its failure to comply with public records requests seeking information about deputy misconduct and serious use of force.
The lawsuit comes after FAC attempted to pull back the veil of secrecy on deputies’ most violent interactions with the public and any instances of serious misconduct made disclosable under the state’s 2019 landmark transparency laws.
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office responded to multiple records requests with delays and denials, without providing sufficient justification required by the California Public Records Act, FAC’s lawyers say in the suit filed in Ventura County Superior Court.
“The lawsuit continues FAC’s work across California to enforce the public’s right to know about policing in their communities,” said FAC Executive Director David Snyder. “Unfortunately, the public has largely been left in the dark about the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, and that needs to change.
”FAC’s transparency efforts in Ventura County go back to January 2020. FAC requested records for all of 2019, the year California Senate Bill 1421, or the “Right to Know Act,” and a companion statute covering audio/visual recordings of critical incidents took effect. More than a year later, the sheriff has produced just a few documents. Subsequent public records requests — covering a total of four years — have resulted in unlawful delays and denials, FAC’s lawyers said in the suit.
Contributing to the lack of transparency in Ventura County, a Superior Court judge issued an injunction, saying SB1421 did not apply to records created before Jan. 1, 2019, which the sheriff’s office cited in refusing to disclose records to FAC. That ruling — an outlier contrary to established law — was overturned by an appellate court earlier this month. Yet the sheriff still has not released those records to FAC.
FAC is represented by Executive Director David Snyder, Litigation Director Glen A. Smith and Legal Fellow Sherene Tagharobi. Dean Morehous, Ryan A. Lewis and Alicia Ginsberg of the law firm Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders are co-counsel.