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Oakland Police Officers’ Assn. v. City of Oakland (CA1/1 A158662 4/26/21) POBRA

By April 26, 2021Uncategorized

This appeal concerns the meaning of certain requirements described in section 3303, subdivision (g) of the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act (Gov. Code, § 3300 et seq., POBRA), mandating the disclosure of complaints, reports, and other materials to a peace officer under investigation for misconduct. In December 2017, a citizen filed a complaint against officers from the Oakland Police Department (Department), alleging that the officers violated the citizen’s rights in various ways while conducting a mental health welfare check. Following an internal investigation, the Department cleared the officers of misconduct. The Oakland Community Police Review Agency (CPRA), a civilian oversight agency with independent authority to investigate claims of police misconduct, conducted its own investigation.
Before the CPRA’s formal interrogation of the officers, counsel for the officers demanded copies of all “reports and complaints” prepared or compiled by investigators pursuant to section 3303, subdivision (g). The CPRA refused to disclose these materials. Based on its investigation, the CPRA determined that officers knowingly violated the complainant’s civil rights by entering the residence and seizing property without a warrant, and then actively concealed this violation from investigators.

The officers and their police union filed a petition for writ of mandate alleging that the City of Oakland (City) violated their procedural rights by refusing to disclose reports and complaints prior to holding the supplemental interrogations. The Fourth District Court of Appeal previously considered the same issue in Santa Ana Police Officers’ Association v. City of Santa Ana (2017) 13 Cal.App.5th 317, 328 (City of Santa Ana), holding that POBRA requires the disclosure of such materials after an initial interrogation and “ ‘prior to any further interrogation.’ ” Feeling constrained by City of Santa Ana, the trial court below granted the petition and ordered the City to disregard the interrogation testimony in any current or future disciplinary proceedings against the officers.

We conclude that mandatory disclosure of complaints and reports prior to any subsequent interrogation of an officer suspected of misconduct is inconsistent with the plain language of the statute and undermines a core objective under POBRA—maintaining the public’s confidence in the effectiveness and integrity of law enforcement agencies by ensuring that internal investigations into officer misconduct are conducted promptly, thoroughly, and fairly. Under our reading of section 3303, subdivision (g), an investigating agency’s disclosure obligations should instead be guided by whether the agency designates otherwise discoverable materials as confidential. While confidential materials may be withheld pending the investigation—and may not be used as the basis for disciplinary proceedings absent disclosure—nonconfidential material should be disclosed upon request. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment and remand the matter for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.