Appeals court asked to decide officer-identity case

Victoria Kim (Los Angeles Times) | January 27, 2012
Echoing arguments that have repeatedly been made in Southern California courts in recent years, a city, its police union and a newspaper sparred before an appellate panel Thursday over whether the name of an officer involved in a fatal shooting was public information.

In arguments before the 2nd District Court of Appeal, the city of Long Beach and the Long Beach Police Officers’ Assn. asked justices to overturn a Los Angeles County Superior Court ruling that the city must respond to a newspaper’s request for the officers’ identities. They each argued the names were protected personnel information and that releasing them would jeopardize officer safety.

Similar arguments have been made unsuccessfully in recent years by unions representing the Pasadena police and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, in cases seeking to bar the naming of officers who had shot and killed people.

The Los Angeles Times filed a public records request in the Long Beach case after the December 2010 shooting of a man holding a garden hose nozzle, which officers mistook for a gun. The paper also asked for names of all officers involved in shootings since 2005.

The 2010 shooting sparked criticism and widespread media coverage but was found to be justified by the district attorney’s office. Names of the officers involved in that shooting were made public last November in a district attorney’s letter detailing the findings of its investigation. The letter concluded that Officers Victor Ortiz and Jeffrey Shurtleff had acted in self defense and in the defense of others in the shooting, noting that the nozzle was “black and brass colored” and “quite similar to the physical appearance of an actual firearm.”

An attorney for The Times contended Thursday that Long Beach and the union, although separate parties to the lawsuit, were “colluding” to skirt the city’s obligation under public records laws and indefinitely keep secret the identities of law enforcement officers who had exercised lethal force.

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