Judge finds Sacramento sheriff violated public records act, orders release of deputy records

A judge has found that Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones’ office violated the state Public Records Act and must comply with requests under a new state law for disciplinary records of deputies accused of dishonesty, sexual assault or uses of force that killed or seriously injured citizens.

The tentative ruling by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steven M. Gevercer follows the filing of a lawsuit against Jones in January by The Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times after the sheriff’s office refused to provide records dating back five years under SB 1421, a law that took effect Jan. 1 requiring release of such documents.

Jones argued that he did not want to release records that were generated prior to the implementation of the law until a court had decided whether they were covered under SB 1421. Lawsuits over the matter have been filed throughout the state since passage of the law, but an appeals court ruled in March that the law could be applied retroactively.

Following that decision, Jones said his office would comply and begin releasing the records.

Since then, however, Jones’ office has released only one set of disciplinary records – a 10-year-old case that resulted in the dismissal of a deputy.

Bee attorney Karl Olson argued in a court filing that “what has happened in this case has been anything but ‘prompt,’ ” and noted that months have gone by with only one set of documents being released.

“Delays of more than four months before an agency even starts to release records defy the command of Government Code 6253(b) that agencies ‘shall make the records promptly available,’ ” Olson wrote.

“The Sheriff’s Department did not comply with the PRA,” the judge declared in his ruling, which takes effect if the county does not file an objection by 4 p.m. Thursday.

Gevercer noted that the county has not opposed The Bee’s petition seeking an order for the release of the records, and ordered that Jones’ office “shall produce the requested documents forthwith.”

The sheriff’s office did not comment on when it might release more than the single case made public so far.

“The Sheriff’s Office began identifying and compiling releasable records in May of this year,” spokeswoman Tess Deterding wrote in an email response to The Bee. “Some of those records have already been released. Additional records will be released as they are compiled and reviewed.”

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Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.