On Tuesday, more than 300 Los Angeles police officers who handled sensitive assignments notified the city that they will file a negligence lawsuit against it for putting their lives in danger by releasing department photographs along with images of thousands of other cops under the state’s public records law.
The government claim, which is necessary in California before filing a lawsuit against the city, asks for compensation since the Los Angeles Police Department allegedly released their personal information in a “negligent, inappropriate, and malicious” way.
An activist group published those photos online last month alongside those of 9,000 other LAPD officers. In order to protect the police and their work, the claim blacks out their identities.
One of three lawyers defending the police, Matthew McNicholas, said, “The City of Los Angeles’ reckless revelation of the undercover officers’ names does irreparable damage to these individuals – their life, career, and ongoing investigations are at stake.”
The City of Los Angeles and the LAPD owe their workers a duty of care and should have taken reasonable precautions to prevent incidents like this one from occurring. They must answer for the havoc they’ve caused with their carelessness.
McNicholas told reporters first thing on Tuesday that he knew numerous undercover operations had failed when the pictures were made public. He said that multiple undercover LAPD officers had been threatened, but he would not elaborate on the nature of those threats.
In response to a public records request from a journalist working for the non-profit journalism organization Knock LA, the LAPD disclosed the officers’ photos and background information.
The activist group Stop LAPD Spying Coalition used the photographs to create a publicly accessible database dubbed “Watch the Watchers,” which includes the names, ethnicities, ranks, hire dates, divisions/bureaus, badge numbers, and photos of all LAPD officers.
In the month following the site’s introduction, department heads admitted that they had accidentally made public undercover officers’ images as part of a disclosure mandated by the California Public Records Act.
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Attorneys Greg Smith and Jacob Kalinski, representing McNicholas, claim that the LAPD’s constitutional policing director authorized the release without Chief Michel Moore’s apparent knowledge, and that the city “ultimately incorrectly included undercover active-duty police officers and officers with prior undercover assignments.”
Lawyers representing the police argue the publishing of the images jeopardized not only the officers’ lives (some of them are undercover in other states as part of task teams) but also the lives of their families. McNicholas stated that some law enforcement personnel had relocated their families to safer areas.
According to McNicholas, some of the officers who signed on to the allegations were concerned that they would be punished by the LAPD for participating in the lawsuit. He promised that a list with all 321 officers’ names and assignments would be turned over anonymously.
He claimed that in recent weeks, he had received hundreds of Phone calls from concerned police who wanted to know if the department would ensure their safety. If these things keep appearing online, he said, “Would the city give a service or money to scrub from the internet?” I don’t know what the city is willing to do, and that’s my answer,” she continued.
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McNicholas said he was still figuring out how they planned to remove the affected officers’ online profiles and images.
At a press appearance in a Beverly Hills hotel, he warned that “in the age of 1s and 0s, that is going to be incredibly tough.” Yet, “doing nothing is not a viable choice.”
Moore claimed he didn’t find out about the photo leak until a reporter contacted him about it last month. He also assured people who were photographed that he had taken measures to ensure their safety.
“We erred in the sense that there are images that are in there that should not have been in there,” Moore said in an interview at the end of last month. The proverbial “boat” is long gone.
A message left at Moore’s office without an immediate response.
The assertion made on Tuesday uses a broader sense of “undercover” than is often understood. McNicholas stated that it is unknown how many cops work undercover, as some have been doing so for years while others only do so on a sporadic basis.
The union’s lawsuit has been labeled a “attack on people’s rights to access” information by Hamid Khan, coordinator of the Stop the LAPD Spying Coalition. While the organization ultimately seeks to do away with all forms of law enforcement, it has advocated for “radical openness” in the meanwhile.
Both Moore and Lizabeth Rhodes, head of the LAPD’s Office of Constitutional Policing, have been named as targets in a formal complaint filed by the union. Moore has requested that the inspector general take over the probe into the data leak to prevent any appearance of bias.
Last week, Mayor Karen Bass demanded a “exhaustive accounting” for what led to the leak, calling it “an intolerable breach that put the lives of our officers and their families at risk” in a tweet.