Union fights release of 2012 shooting report
Pasadena police ask appeals court to back confidentiality in Kendrec McDade shooting case.
More than three years after two Pasadena police officers fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, a state appeals court heard arguments this week from the police union, which is trying to block release of an independent report on the killing.
Portions of that report released during the legal battle called the slaying “troubling ” and said the shooting was preceded by tactical mistakes.
For about two hours Wednesday, a three- judge panel from the 2nd District Court of Appeal questioned an attorney for the Pasadena Police Officers’ Assn. as well as lawyers representing those who want the report released, including the Los Angeles Times and the teen’s mother.
Richard Shinee, an attorney for the union, told the justices that the two officers involved gave voluntary statements to criminal homicide investigators. But, he said, the department used those statements in a subsequent personnel review.
“The chief of police relied on those statements to decide if they violated [ administrative] policy,” Shinee said.
The independent consultant’s report, which was conducted for the city, used the private personnel information, so the entire report should be withheld from the public, he said.
The report has been kept
secret since it was completed last summer. The Pasadena police union representing Officers Jeffrey Newlen and Matthew Griffin, who shot and killed Kendrec McDade on March 24, 2012, sued to block the report’s release. The union contended the assessment of the officers’ actions was legally protected personnel information.
But during oral argument, the justices questioned the notion that any information collected and put into a personnel f ile is prohibited from disclosure.
Justice Jeffrey Johnson wondered whether the phone book would get protection if it was put into an officer’s personnel f ile. He suggested that under the union’s argument, no shooting investigation should be public.
Presiding Justice Frances Rothschild said it would be a stretch to withhold the entire report, noting that the privacy protection is for officers, not an entire department.
The appellate case stemmed from a ruling in November when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant decided that most of the independent consultant’s report could be made public, with limited redactions. The police union then f iled a petition with the appellate court to stop the release.
Kelli Sager, representing The Times, told the justices that only records generated for the specific purpose of appraisal or discipline constitute personnel records and the report was neither. She warned that the department could simply “sweep up everything ” into personnel files.
The case illustrates the growing divide between police unions and the public when it comes to officer accountability. Sager said that given the national climate, the public has more interest than ever in police officers’ use of deadly force.
“We are talking about a young man shot eight times,” she told the justices about McDade.
McDade was being pursued by officers on Sunset Avenue when Griffin, in a police car, cut off his path with the vehicle and, seeing McDade’s hand at his waistband, shot him, according to prosecutors.
Newlen, chasing on foot and believing his partner had come under f ire, shot the teenager as well.
The Pasadena Police Officers’ Assn. included significant portions of the report in legal papers f iled with the appellate court.
The report by the Office of Independent Review con- sulting group found Griffin and Newlen made faulty tactical errors, including a lack of communication between the officers, their decision to enter a narrow alleyway and put themselves in a vulnerable position, and closing their distance on a suspect they believed was armed based on a false 911 report.
“They repeatedly made tactical decisions that were not congruent with principles of officer safety,” the report concluded, according to excerpts contained in the union filing.
Such tactical mistakes by officers putting themselves in a position of danger led to “the eventual perceived need to use deadly force,” the report said.
The report called certain maneuvers by Griffin “troubling,” and concluded the off icer made a “potentially disastrous mistake” when he got out of the patrol car without putting it in park. Newlen separated himself from his partner to chase McDade, even though department policy suggests that officers stay together during foot pursuits, the report stated.
Both officers were cleared of wrongdoing in the Police Department’s internal review and by the L. A. County district attorney’s office. Pasadena paid about $ 1 million to settle wrongfuldeath suits brought by McDade’s parents.
KENDREC MCDADE was 19 when he was fatally shot in March 2012.