Berkeley City Council supports release of police records after Berkeleyside, ACLU sue city

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The Berkeley City Council unanimously endorsed the retroactive release of police records under SB 1421 as requested by Berkeleyside and American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California in their recent lawsuit against the city of Berkeley, as first reported by Berkeleyside.

According to Mayor Jesse Arreguín, the council met in closed session Thursday afternoon to discuss “significant exposure to litigation” one day after Berkeleyside and the ACLU filed the lawsuit against the city in the Alameda County Superior Court. Arreguín presented a statement on the session’s outcome in a subsequent council special meeting. He confirmed that the council voted unanimously that SB 1421 applies retroactively, siding with the Berkeleyside and ACLU claim.

Berkeleyside and the ACLU argue in the suit that SB 1421, a recently passed state bill, authorizes members of the public to receive certain police records — including those related to on-the-job sexual assault and use of firearms by officers — through a California Public Records Act request. Both organizations had separately filed requests in early January for a number of formerly confidential documents, some dating as far back as 1999. 

The requests were met with resistance, however, when the city of Berkeley’s attorney Farimah Brown informed the organizations that the city regards SB 1421 as not applicable to any records from before Jan. 1, 2019 — the day the law went into effect. Both organizations dispute this claim and are now suing the city over its failure to provide the requested records, among other allegations.

“(The City Council) met and gave direction to interpret the applicability of Senate Bill 1421 to existing records to pre-dating 2019,” Arreguín said in his statement after the closed session.

Sophia Brown-Heidenreich is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sophiabrownh.