The ACLU took a roundabout route Friday in opposing the Pomona Police Department’s deadly force policies, filing a taxpayer lawsuit arguing that the department violates California law in myriad ways.
The taxpayer action was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court Friday morning by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and the national ACLU.
At the heart of the suit is a law that went into effect Jan. 1 — the California Act to Save Lives, or AB 392 — stating that lethal force by law enforcement is justifiable only “when necessary in defense of human life,” altering, according to the plaintiffs, what had been for police officers their authority to kill.
The suit says officers shot and killed three people since the law went into effect and that the department is simply refusing to implement the new rules. The lawsuit charges that the police department unlawfully used public funds and employee time in adopting policies and training protocols that were “designed by police lobbying groups” — and that conflict with the new state law.
“Many police departments in California, prompted by police associations and special interest groups, have not only refused to accept the new law, but also used taxpayer dollars to spread the myth that `nothing has changed,’ the ACLU said in a statement.
The lawsuit is the first in the state concerning alleged police defiance of the new law.
“Police lobbying groups shouldn’t have the power to direct public resources in a way that undermines community safety,” said Eva Bitran, staff attorney for the ACLU SoCal.
One of “the main proponents of the misinformation campaign,” she said, is the Peace Officers Research Association of California, PORAC, which Bitran described as a ”powerful special interest and lobbying group that leverages immense financial resources to influence candidates and legislation.”
The lawsuit asks the court to approve an injunction to halt use of Pomona Police Department funds, resources, and employee time in instructing officers that the new law does not establish a “necessary standard for deadly use of force.” Other requests include an injunction barring the use of materials from PORAC and other organizations that misrepresent the new law.
The suit states that Pomona Police Department officials took their marching orders from PORAC to actively oppose AB 392 when it was being considered. “They used department resources to further the mission, even sending out messages on city letterhead. When AB 392 ultimately passed, PORAC began a campaign to undermine it,” it says.
Three days after the signing of the new law, PORAC’s president sent an email to members, including the Pomona Police Officers Association, claiming that AB 392 does “not significantly impact” law enforcement actions, said the ACLU statement.
The Pomona Police Department, in the spirit of that opposition, deleted in multiple spots the word “necessary” — “the new law’s single most vital change” — in its stated policy regarding the state penal code, according to the ACLU. The department’s training center also instructed supervisors to review with employees PORAC’s content on AB 392 that denied any change to the legal standard for deadly force, it said, adding: “A sergeant forwarded the directive with the note: `FYI from PORAC. Nothing has changed.”’
There was no immediate comment from PORAC or the Pomona Police Department.
The ACLU said it was filing the suit on behalf of members of a Pomona coalition, Police Oversight Starts Friday. It includes plaintiff Gente Organizada, a community-based, nonprofit social-action organization that became involved in efforts to hold police accountable “because of the Pomona Police Department’s history of violence against young people,” the ACLU said.
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: