Supreme Court rules Eureka police arrest video should be available to public

By Cassandra Stone | Nov 17, 2016

EUREKA -- According to a ruling by the California Supreme Court, police arrest videos must be made available to the public and cannot be considered part of confidential officer personnel records.

The video at the center of this case depicting the arrest of a suspect who was also a minor showcased excessive force allegations against an arresting officer.

The court's ruling may end more than two years of litigation between the city of Eureka and the North Coast Journal, which initially granted public access to the video in question. The city is also now held liable to cover the cost of attorney fees incurred by the Journal.

In July, the First District Court of Appeals denied attempts made by the city of Eureka to prevent the video's release, citing special protections afforded to police officer personnel records. The city responded by requesting the Supreme Court remove the ruling from public record, which would not affect the current ruling but would prevent the decision from influencing similar rulings in the future. 

After months of deliberating, the Supreme Court denied the city's request, allowed the decision to stand and authorized public release of the video. 

"We are pleased with the ruling in the city of Eureka," Rashida Grinage, coordinator for the Coalition for Police Accountability, told the Northern California Record. "Every jurisdiction should be concerned with video footage policies."

The arrest of the 14-year-old suspect at the center of this case occurred in December of 2012. Footage of the arrest was captured on a dash-mounted camera in the responding officer's patrol car. One of the arresting officers, Sgt. Adam Laird, was accused of using excessive force and was subsequently charged with assault.

"These dashboard cameras produce the kind of media attention that we've never really had on a consistent basis," said Grinage. "Obviously, this case can now be included in that, as well."

Laird defended himself in court by arguing that he acted reasonably, and that his fellow officers withheld evidence of his innocence because he felt he was unpopular in the police department. All criminal charges against Laird were dismissed after prosecutors failed to prove their case, and Laird officially retired from the Eureka Police Department after settling a suit he brought against the city.

The American Civil Liberties Union's California affiliate, the California Newspaper Publisher's Association, and Humboldt Center for Constitutional Rights Executive Director Jeffrey Schwartz and Californians Aware all joined in support of the Journal to let the Supreme Court's decision stand.

"This is just another example of why strong civilian oversight is imperative to ensure public engagement with police accountability," said Grinage.

Currently, the Coalition for Police Accountability is working to get measure LL passed in Oakland, which seeks to set a judicial precedent by creating a police commission with the authority to discipline officers in cases of police misconduct like the one alleged in Eureka. 

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American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California California 1st District Court of Appeal California Supreme Court

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