A hearing on an initial bid by the union representing rank-and-file Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies to keep the results of an in-progress internal inquiry into the alleged dissemination of photos from the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash sealed was postponed Wednesday, according to an attorney for the county.
Lawyer Andrew Baum said the hearing on the request by the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs for a temporary restraining order to protect the deputies’ privacy was not heard because of concerns by the Los Angeles Superior Court for the safety of judges and employees in the midst of ongoing protests stemming from the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
ALADS brought a petition against the county and Sheriff Alex Villanueva on May 29, then filed additional court papers Monday asking for a temporary restraining order, which was to be the subject of Wednesday’s hearing.
Baum said the hearing could now be held as early as Thursday.
According to the ALADS court papers, the state Supreme Court has recognized that the confidentiality privilege affords peace officers a “strong privacy interest” in their personnel records and that “the damage caused by unlawful disclosure of confidential information is immediate.”
Once such information is in the public domain, there is no practical way to unwind that harm, according to the union.
But according to Baum, the deputies’ privacy will be protected.
“ALADS’ application (for a TRO) focuses exclusively on the privacy rights of the underlying officers,” Baum says in his court papers. “But the redaction of all personally identifiable information will ensure the officers’ privacy rights are not impacted at all.”
In a sworn declaration filed in opposition to the TRO, Villanueva called the ALADS move “premature” and said the LASD is continuing its investigation.
“I do not anticipate the investigation will be completed within the next 30 days due to all of LASD’s resources at this time are diverted toward recent county and national emergencies specific to the COVID-19 pandemic and the current civil unrest, which have presented numerous challenges to the investigative team,” according to Villanueva.
Villanueva added that while the LASD is “committed to investigating and resolving this matter quickly, it will not do so at the expense of a complete and proper review of the facts and personnel involved in this incident.”
Villanueva announced in March that an internal affairs investigation was taking place into the conduct of eight deputies who allegedly took photos at the crash site and shared the images within and, in one instance, outside the department.
ALADS’ court papers say Villanueva made two statements in May promising to release the results of the internal investigation, including the following on May 20:
“It’s an active investigation, it’s near its conclusion. We’re going through the final stages and once the information is developed and it’s done and all the decisions have been made, we’ve dotted our `I’s’ and crossed our `T’s,’ we’re going to make the entire investigation public so everybody can read it for themselves. And we’ll post it online.”
ALADS, as the employee organization recognized by the county to represent deputies in all matters regarding working conditions, is “beneficially interested in the enforcement” of the sheriff’s duty to refrain from releasing the confidential personnel information of the peace officers represented by the union, according to the petition.
Bryant, 41, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others were killed Jan. 26 when their helicopter crashed into a hillside in foggy weather in Calabasas.
An attorney for Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, is asking LASD to give the “harshest possible discipline” to those who distributed the photos, the petition states. She filed a legal claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — against the department earlier this month.
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