Stephon Clark pictured the day he died, March 18, 2018
Photo: The Root File Photo

A new California law that went into effect on Jan. 1 makes it possible for the public to get records on law enforcement officers that up until now were kept secret by their departments. Now that those agencies are required to give that information up, the American Civil Liberties Union is taking full advantage—starting with eight high-profile shootings that happened within the state in the last 10 years.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that SB1421 requires departments to release the records of any officers who have shot or seriously injured someone, committed sexual assault or been found to have acted dishonestly. Those records that are required to be released include any internal investigations, criminal investigations and disciplinary actions involving the officers.

There has already been some pushback from law enforcement, but that is to be expected. Up until now, those records had been kept confidential based on a law passed 40 years ago. One police union in San Bernardino County has already filed a lawsuit, arguing that the new law should not apply to records from before 2019.

In response to the law going into effect, the ACLU is seeking records from BART police regarding the shooting death of Oscar Grant 10 years ago; Sacramento police regarding the March 2018 shooting of Stephon Clark; Stockton police for the 2010 shooting of 16-year-old James Rivera Jr.; San Francisco police for the 2012 shooting of 15-year-old Derrick Gaines; Richmond police for the 2014 shooting of Ricardo Pedro “Pedie” Perez; Oakland police for the 2015 shooting of Richard Hester Perkins; Pittsburg police for the January 2018 shooting of Terry Amons Jr.; and Hayward police for the November 2018 shooting of Augustin Gonsalez.

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Kathleen Guneratne, an ACLU attorney who filed the requests on behalf of family and friends of the victims, told the Chronicle on Wednesday “These families deserve to know the truth. They deserve to know how the police were investigated, whether the officers previously had sustained findings of misconduct.”

It will be interesting to see if this new transparency law will have any impact on the number of police shootings going forward.