The Civilian Oversight Commission unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday calling for Sheriff Alex Villanueva to actively share with the District Attorney’s Office a “Brady” list of deputies whose alleged misconduct could impeach their credibility as prosecution witnesses.
“We want that list to be turned over to the district attorney now so that wrongful convictions and Brady violations don’t occur, or at least we do everything we can within our power to stop them as soon as we can,” said COC Commissioner Sean Kennedy, a former public defender and the executive director of the Center for Juvenile Law & Policy at Loyola Law School.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1963 in Brady v. Maryland that prosecutors must disclose material exculpatory evidence to defendants prior to trial. Failing to disclose such information is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions, which can then lead to lawsuits and expensive litigation and settlements.
“There are deputies on that list whose testimony is never going to be believed by a jury, it’s that serious, and that person should not be a deputy sheriff,” said Commissioner Robert Bonner, a former U.S. attorney. “This also goes to the state of the discipline system in the Sheriff’s Department.”
The list of roughly 300 deputies whose personnel files contain findings of serious misconduct was initially compiled by interim Sheriff John Scott in 2014, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In 2016, then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell sought to turn the list over to the D.A.’s office to give prosecutors a heads-up that some deputies might be less than credible.
A 2017 review by The Times estimated that deputies on the list were identified as potential witnesses in more than 62,000 felony cases since 2000.
The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs sued to prevent the list being turned over, arguing that it was the product of a flawed and potentially biased disciplinary process. In August of this year, the California Supreme Court ruled that the names of deputies on such a list could be shared with prosecutors without violating state laws that protect some personnel information as confidential.
“The department does not violate (state law) by sharing with prosecutors the fact that an officer, who is a potential witness in a pending criminal prosecution, may have relevant exonerating or impeaching material in that officer’s confidential personnel file,” wrote Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
An ALADS statement in reaction to the ruling expressed the union’s disappointment in the ruling, but stressed that it did not allow the “wholesale release” of the list. Union officials said they would meet with department staffers to work on a policy to address the issue.
Villanueva, who has called the compilation a “fake list,” said in a statement of his own following the ruling that the department would handle disclosure to the District Attorney’s office on a case-by-case basis.
“Since the official Brady list is a product of the District Attorney’s office, the Sheriff’s Department will not be maintaining `a list’ of potential Brady material, but will provide all information required to the District Attorney’s office on a case-by-case basis.”
Villanueva said at the time that department representatives would sit down with District Attorney Jackie Lacey to work out an “an effective, efficient, transparent and open process for turning over the information.”
Where that discussion stands is not entirely clear.
The COC resolution “strongly recommends that the LASD develop a custom, policy and practice of actively maintaining a Brady list which should be shared, to the full extent permitted by law, with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.”
The COC cited another portion of Cantil-Sakauye’s opinion, which stated, “Law enforcement personnel are required to share Brady material with the prosecution. The harder it is for prosecutors to access that material, the greater the need for deputies to volunteer it.”
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