Court rules the names of officers involved in shootings are public

June 1, 2014
Two officer shortly before they shot andkilled carlos Mejia

Two officer shortly before they shot and killed Carlos Mejia.

The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that in most cases police departments must divulge the names of officers involved in on-duty shootings. [KXBW]

In the past, departments claimed officer safety as a reason for withholding names. In a 6-1 decision, the court ruled that a public records act request by the Los Angeles Times that sought the names of two Long Beach police officers involved in the 2010 fatal shooting of a man holding a garden hose was valid.

In Salinas, which has a police department with a policy of not releasing the names of officers involved in shootings, there have been three officer fatalities this year. Two have resulted in claims against the department.

In each case, Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillinhas said the officers were justified because their lives were in danger.

On March 20, officers shot and killed Angel Ruiz, who was armed with an Air soft pellet gun outside a restaurant on Constitution Boulevard.

On May 9, Osman Hernandez was swinging a lettuce knife around in the air when police shot him in the head outside a busy shopping center on East Alisal Street. Police said Hernandez, who worked as a lettuce cutter for Salinas Valley Farms, failed to obey their commands.

On May 20, Carlos Mejia, 44, of Salinas, was armed with gardening shears when he was followed by police down North Sanborn Road and died in front of several witnesses, including one witness who was recording with a camera. Police said he had threatened to kill a woman and they believed he could harm bystanders.

After a video of the May 20 shooting was placed on YouTube, a small riot and protest broke out near the site of Mejia’s death. Constantino Garcia, 23, a bystander, was fatally shot in the melee. A rioter then threw a bottle at an officer attempting to give Garcia CPR, injuring the officer.

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Police departments need to be hiring people who aren’t trigger-happy killers and knuckle-dragging apes.

A protest and riot breaking out due to a YouTube video. Haven’t I heard that some where before?

I wouldn’t mind a few million of my tax dollars going to fund research into a true “Stun” weapon. The police need something better than the choice between a tazer (may or may not work), and a 9mm that kills. Maybe if there’s two officers, one should have the beanbag shotgun and the other his pistol? Try the beanbag first then the 9mm.

I am not convinced that the equipment involved is the problem. The use of any weapon poses dangers under the right circumstances as does the use of force without any weapons at all. It is the policies of the enforcement agency and the level of vetting, training and supervision of the enforcers. We need to stop viewing all behavior that challenges authority as a threat to public safety and to stop responding to it as if it is.

Yes, caution is needed in many circumstances, but an automatic assumption that force is the go-to response needs to end and some reasonable level of judgment needs to be put in play. Obviously, for this to work, there also needs to be a culture change (difficult at best) in the LEO community for reasonable judgment to exist.

Stop hiring only people with aggressive psych profiles and don’t disqualify those with high IQs (as at least one agency back in New England does.) Stop training them to think of force as the primary means of dealing with those who don’t automatically submit and train them to recognize and account for disabilities that can slow or prevent desired responses to requests/commands (such as deafness, retardation, medical conditions, etc). Stop training them to regard common citizens as threats until proven otherwise and do a better job of training them to recognize real threats so that they are more comfortable making that distinction. Do a better job of enacting reasonable laws that don’t treat minor crimes that aren’t inherently dangerous like major ones that are. Toughest of all, reduce the pressure to protect fellow LEOs when they abuse their power or behave as nothing more than badged gang members.

No, not all officers or agencies have all these problems. But the trend seems to be in that direction and the Feds are encouraging it with programs that militarize the police. (“War on Drugs,” “Free Speech Zones” for protestors, etc.)