The City of Santa Clara is doing a complicated dance around police records, refusing information that the public has a right to, and publishing information it’s legally bound to keep confidential — and has given out that confidential information twice in the last six months.
The City refuses to provide arrest records that the California Public Records Act explicitly states must be made public, including name, description, arrest details, bail, current location and outstanding warrants. This information is published on the Police Department’s arrest log on the City website, so refusing to provide it later when requested also defies common sense.
Santa Clara faces a lawsuit over its refusal to provide arrest information; one that it has a good possibility of losing, judging by the outcomes of almost identical lawsuits.
At the same time, in October 2020 and again in April, City Hall gave out unredacted records about 2011 and 2017 police calls to a City Council Member’s address. The Council Member has been repeatedly attacked by Mayor Lisa Gillmor and her allies and accused of being a 49er ally, although he campaigned against Gillmor’s stadium-building referendum (Measure J) in 2010.
The records request was first made on Oct. 20, 2020 and the unredacted call reports — which were subsequently sent to at least one of the Council Member’s endorsers — were delivered around Oct. 28, a week before the election.
This is a quick turnaround for Santa Clara PD, but redacting police reports is routine business. The PD redacts the Police Blotter items that appear in The Weekly and on Silicon Valley Voice.
It appears that the same unredacted reports were sent out a second time in late April, in response to a request that was made on April 20. The City’s PRA log shows the request as still being open.
The calls concerned allegations of domestic violence, but nobody was arrested or charged. On such calls the bar for a non-arrest is high. In Santa Clara County, domestic violence arrests aren’t discretionary if there’s evidence of violence, regardless of whether there are visible injuries.
“Officers never ask the victim if they want the alleged accuser arrested,” said SCPD Assistant Police Chief Wahid Kazem to The Weekly. “If there is no injury, a supervisor must visit the scene for a review before a non-arrest is allowed.”
After going through the entire domestic violence protocol, the police made no arrest on either call and there were no further reports.
But that didn’t stop the story from being blown into a “where there’s smoke there’s fire” narrative and widely distributed by the youth soccer-allied unregistered political committee Stand Up For Santa Clara — a group that reliably promotes the Mayor’s agenda —and on accused sex offender Robert Haugh’s blog.
Now City Hall is trying to balance these two contradictions: refusing to provide arrest records that have already been published, and at the same time revealing information about a police call with no arrest that should have been redacted.
As far as the arrest information it won’t give out, City Hall has issued a statement to the effect that its interpretation of the PRA doesn’t require disclosure.
As far as the release of the unredacted records go, the City asked for the records to be destroyed and plans to send new ones — after the records have been circulating for six months.
“Upon discovery of the inadvertent release, the SCPD reached out to the requestor and respectfully asked that the unredacted documents that were released be destroyed,” said the City in a statement. “The requestor was advised that the City was preparing properly redacted and code-compliant documents that would be sent as soon as they were ready.”
The private information has been shared publically.
However, this isn’t the only time the police department’s failure to follow procedure has put the City in the liability zone.
An Asian American police officer who is suing the City for discrimination was told that he wasn’t being promoted because he made a co-worker “feel unsafe” when he stood next to her while she completed some work for him.
The officer hadn’t heard about the complaint before he applied for the promotion, and Police chief Patrick Nikolai told him that no investigation had been done — against department policy.
And the City may be facing another police records lawsuit.
In April, a New York public interest law firm requested published arrest logs from December 2020 through mid-February. They received the answer: “The records requested are exempt from disclosure as confidential criminal history information and cannot be disseminated.”