Oakland Police Officers' Ass'n v. City of Oakland

Decision Date26 April 2021
Docket NumberA158662
Citation63 Cal.App.5th 503,277 Cal.Rptr.3d 750
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties OAKLAND POLICE OFFICERS’ ASSOCIATION, et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. CITY OF OAKLAND, Defendant and Appellant.

Barbara J. Parker, City Attorney, Ryan Richardson, Special Counsel, Jennifer Logue, Supervising City Attorney, Hanson Bridgett, Adam Hofmann, San Francisco, for Defendant and Appellant.

Rains, Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver, Zachery A. Lopes, Pleasant Hill, and Timothy Talbot for Plaintiffs and Respondents.

Liebert Cassidy Whitmore, J. Scott Tiedemann, Alex Y. Wong, Los Angeles, for League of California Cities and Los Angeles County Police Chief's Association as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.


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,1 § 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, 219 Cal.Rptr.3d 919 ( 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.

A. The Investigation

A welfare check conducted by officers in December 2017 resulted in a citizen complaint alleging an unlawful search and seizure, excessive use of force, harassment, discrimination, and property damage. On the date in question, Officer Doe 1 and Officer Doe 2 responded to the citizen's residence after a report was made that the citizen had been drinking, was suicidal, and was armed with a firearm. Smelling alcohol on the citizen, the officers handcuffed and conducted a body search, confiscating a weapon. Officer Doe 2 then asked the citizen for permission to check if anyone was in the residence. The citizen consented, and Doe Officer 2 did a quick protective sweep, finding no one inside. While Officer Doe 1 placed the citizen in a patrol vehicle, Officer Doe 2 re-entered the residence. Officer Doe 2 then exited the residence and asked the citizen about the presence of a weapon. After the citizen refused to disclose the location of a weapon, Officer Doe 2 entered the residence for a third time, locating and confiscating a weapon.

Officer Doe 3, Officer Doe 4, and a fifth officer arrived after the citizen had been placed in the patrol vehicle. A mobile crisis team also arrived and placed the citizen on a psychiatric hold pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 5150. After the citizen was transported, Officer Doe 1 prepared a search warrant and affidavit to search the residence in accordance with Welfare and Institutions Code section 8102.2 The Doe Officers and an additional officer conducted a search of the residence and confiscated a number of items.

As part of the Department's investigation, internal affairs took the citizen's statement and reviewed existing body worn camera footage and relevant documents. The Doe Officers were separately interrogated by the Department in April and May of 2018. The Doe Officers were cleared of any wrongdoing by the Department in June 2018. However, investigators noted two areas of concern. First, Doe Officer 2 should have waited for a third officer to arrive before conducting a protective sweep of the house. Second, a search warrant should have been obtained prior to searching the citizen's residence and seizing a weapon. The Department recommended training for certain of the officers involved.

In September 2018, the CPRA notified each of the Doe Officers that they would be re-interviewed concerning the same December 2017 incident. Prior to these supplemental interrogations, counsel for the Doe Officers sought discovery of relevant reports and complaints under POBRA and the City of Santa Ana decision.3 Although the CPRA agreed to provide recordings and transcribed notes from the prior interrogations conducted by the Department, it refused to produce any other materials and insisted that the Doe Officers either sit for further interrogations or face possible punitive action.

All four Doe Officers submitted to further interrogations in November 2018. Based in part on those interrogations, the CPRA found that the Doe Officers had violated the citizen's civil rights and recommended discipline. Specifically, the CPRA concluded that the Doe Officers knowingly violated the citizen's Fourth Amendment rights by re-entering the citizen's residence without a warrant or the existence of exigent circumstances. The CPRA also found that the Doe Officers gave misleading statements to investigators, omitted material details, and worked together in an attempt to conceal their misconduct. The agency sustained multiple findings of misconduct against certain Doe Officers and recommended that the Department implement a number of changes to its policies regarding searches and seizures.

B. Trial Court Proceedings

Oakland Police Officers’ Association and the Doe Officers (collectively, petitioners) filed the instant action in January 2019, claiming that the City violated the officers’ procedural rights by refusing to disclose all relevant "reports and complaints" prior to subsequent interrogations by the CPRA. Petitioners sought a writ of mandate ordering the City to comply with section 3303, subdivision (g), destroy any recordings of the unlawful interrogations, and cease any disciplinary proceedings against the Doe Officers. They further requested a declaration that the Doe Officers’ statutory POBRA rights had been violated and sought civil penalties with respect to those violations.

While these proceedings were pending in the trial court, the parties agreed to the following stipulated facts:

(1) "The interviews of Officer Doe 1, on or about November 14, 2018, Officer Doe 2, on or about November 13, 2018, Officer Doe 3, on or about November 9, 2018, and Officer Doe 4, on or about November 13, 2018, were ‘further interrogation[s] under the meaning of Government Code section 330[3](g)."

(2) "Prior to these further interrogations, counsel for Officer Does 1 through 4, Justin Buffington, requested that [City] turn over reports and complaints as discussed within Government Code section 330[3](g) and Santa Ana Police Officers Association v. City of Santa Ana (2017) 13 Cal.App.5th 317 ."

(3) "Before those further interrogations, and at the time of Justin Buffington's requests for reports and complaints, the City was in possession of reports and/or complaints as discussed within Government [C]ode section 330[3](g)."

(4) "On November 5, 2018, Anthony Finnell sent an email to Justin Buffington and Joan Saupe, which stated, ‘Upon the advice of counsel, the CPRA denies your requests for "reports and complaints" and will not produce said material. (See Pasadena Police Officers Association v. City of Pasadena, 51 Cal.3d 564, 273 Cal.Rptr. 584, 797 P.2d 608 (1990).) Mr. Finnell's email also set a schedule for three officers to be interviewed and stated, ‘Refusal to submit to the interviews may subject your clients to punitive action. ( Gov. Code sec. 3303(e).) "

(5) "On November 6, 2018, Mr. Buffington sent an email to Mr. Finnell, which stated, ‘The Pasadena case only applies to pre-interrogation...

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