Lawsuit - Photo courtesy of Castleski on Shutterstock

The ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the American Civil Liberties Union announced a settlement Tuesday of a lawsuit in which a nonprofit organization sued the city of Pomona in a complaint that alleged police lobbying groups had created a misinformation campaign over a 2019 state law on officer shootings.

AB 392 mandates that deadly force can be used only when necessary in defense of human life. But according to the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, the state’s largest police lobbying and special interest group, the Police Officers Research Association of California, undermined the law’s implementation by falsely declaring it was not a significant change in use of deadly force levels.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of members of 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 alleged history of violence against young people, according to the ACLU.

“We need city leaders to listen to and implement the community’s vision for public safety, not to police officers who are beholden to corrupt special interests,” said Jesus Sanchez, co-founder and executive director of Gente Organizada.

An attorney for the city of Pomona could not be immediately reached for comment on the settlement.

The police department had been involved in several deadly shootings when the lawsuit was filed in July 2020 and was one of many departments in the state that adopted the PORAC stance, the lawsuit stated. While the department and the city of Pomona were the defendants named in the lawsuit, the settlement sends a clear message to other law enforcement agencies statewide that have been overly reliant on PORAC and other sources of misinformation, according to the ACLU.

“This settlement affirms that AB 392 did heighten the legal standard for deadly force, limiting its use to only when necessary to defend human life, when officers cannot safely use any other resource or technique instead,” said Eva Bitran, a staff attorney with the ACLU SoCal. “Police special interest organizations that set out to undermine this critical change in law have compromised public safety by confusing officers about the crucial question of when they are permitted to shoot and kill.”

The PPD has agreed under the settlement to train officers that AB 392 creates a higher standard for the application of deadly force in California and that the law established a significant change in use-of-force threshold, according to the ACLU.

The department also agreed to not use any communications from PORAC for training purposes in the future and that during investigations into shootings and deaths involving officers, the department will consider whether officers evaluated and used other reasonably available resources and techniques in determining whether deadly force was necessary, according to the ACLU.

Shortly after AB 392 was signed into law, PORAC’s president sent an email to its members, including the Pomona Police Officers Association, claiming that AB 392 did not significantly impact law enforcement actions. The PPD used the communication to train its officers on the new law, according to the ACLU.

But AB 392 is significant in that it changed the threshold for when officers can use deadly force, according to the ACLU.

The alleged misinformation was also spread by Lexipol, a private police consulting company that issues ready-made policy documents to police departments, according to the ACLU. A Lexipol webinar sent to subscribers, including Pomona and numerous other California cities, stated that the legal level for police use of force under AB 392 was no different from what the standards were for the last 50 years, the ACLU stated.

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