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OPD, ACLU in disagreement over releasing documents from Occupy Oakland raid and protest

on November 9, 2011

The Oakland Police Department may have an ongoing legal battle with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California regarding public documents from its raid of the Occupy Oakland encampment and its response to protests that evening.

The day after the raid, the ACLU and the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild submitted a public records request to the OPD, asking for documents relating to the use of force by police during the October 25 raid of the Occupy Oakland encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza, as well as during the downtown demonstration that night.

On November 4, OPD’s Chief of Staff, Chris Bolton, denied the ACLU’s request to access to 12 of 16 public documents.

The department did release information about its citation procedures, as well as the names of the incident commanders for the morning raid and evening demonstration, its mutual aid policy, and a response stating OPD did not employ medical personnel during the raid.

However, OPD refused to give the ACLU information pertaining to: the dispersal orders; the names of the officers who approved the use of chemical agents, batons, and sound and light devices; documents about the use of less-lethal weapons; force logs, incident reports, and the operations plan; and all records of police communication and all individual officers’ logs and notes.

In an e-mail to the ACLU and NLG that was made available to the media, Bolton stated those documents would not be released because they pertain to an open investigation.  Bolton cited state Government code 6252 (f)—which exempts law enforcement from releasing public documents that are a part of an ongoing investigation—as the reason for not handing over the records to the ACLU and NLG.

The ALCU disagrees with the OPD’s reason for not releasing the documents. According to a letter to the department from the ACLU on Monday, OPD is not exempt from releasing these records because its crowd control policy requires it to do so. “Because the records we seek were prepared pursuant to routine OPD reporting procedures and not for law enforcement purposes … they must be disclosed,” Linda Lye, the staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California wrote in the letter to OPD.

Bolton did not rule out that more public records may be released in the future. “This is not a completed or all inclusive response as the department is under significant demand due to recent events,” Bolton wrote in an e-mail to ACLU and NLG.

Peter Scheer, the Executive Director of First Amendment Coalition, a non-profit that offers free legal consultations for journalists, activists, academics and the general public, said that the police and the ACLU may be headed to court.

“In this case, only a court can resolve the issue,” Scheer said.  “If the police sticks by their interpretation, unless they change their mind, the only way they are going to release the records is if the court orders them to.”

The OPD did not respond to e-mails seeking comment.

You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here. 

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