ACLU Files Tax Suit Against Police in Southern California Over Fatal Shootings

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Three fatal shootings by police in Southern California violated a state law that says police should only use deadly force when there is an imminent threat to life according to a complaint filed Friday.

The lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union claims the Pomona Police Department followed a misinformation campaign by police lobbying groups and has modeled its trainings and policies on an assumption that the law did not change the way police are to use deadly force.

Assembly Bill 392, known as the California Act to Save Lives, was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in August 2019. The law requires officers to consider nonlethal alternatives and narrows the definition of imminent harm to one that “must be constantly confronted.”

The ACLU was one of the main sponsors for AB 392 and was the group’s highest lobbying priority. Other supporters included the California Conference of the NAACP, Courage Campaign, League of Women Voters and a host of labor unions. Most of the state’s largest law enforcement groups remained neutral on the bill, while Black Lives Matter pulled its support in opposition to amendments that it claimed went soft on law enforcement.

The ACLU sued the city of Pomona, its police department and the chief of police on behalf of a community watchdog group based in Pomona as well as a resident. The ACLU claims the Pomona Police Officers Association (PPOA) followed the lead set by the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), a lobbying group who have opposed police accountability and criminal justice reform in California.

“Police lobbying groups shouldn’t have the power to direct public resources in a way that undermines community safety,” said ACLU attorney Eva Bitrán in a statement.

According to the complaint, Pomona officials allowed PORAC to sway how its police department interpreted AB 392 and implemented illegal training at the expense of taxpayer dollars.

“Disregarding the plain language of the bill and the Legislature’s clearly-expressed intent, PORAC began telling police throughout the state that AB 392 does not limit their legal authorization to use deadly force to only when ‘necessary,’” argues the ACLU in its 14-page complaint.

This past August, PORAC emailed Pomona police officials a legal analysis that was disseminated within the department. An officer forwarded an email to a colleague at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, with the note: “FYI from PORAC. Nothing has changed contrary to Media reports,” the ACLU says.

Officers also held a training on “deep fake news” according to the complaint.

In a statement, PORAC president Brian Marvel said neither his organization nor its respective unions do have a “blank check” to write any department’s use-of-force policies and without looking at Pomona’s policy it would be difficult to say if they are in compliance with AB 392 or not.

Marvel also noted PORAC has worked with the ACLU on previous use-of-force policy standards.

“I am disappointed to learn of these allegations after months of meetings with the ACLU and establishing what I believed to be common ground and goodwill,” Marvel said. “The complaint neglected to mention these cooperative efforts. This unprecedented effort to suppress the First Amendment rights of our organization and our members is ironic, given that the ACLU is purportedly dedicated to ensuring that all people are free to express themselves.”

AB 392 took effect Jan 1. Since then, Pomona police shot and killed a man who was wielding a sword in May, another man who is suspected of killing his mother in June and on July 5, a person in nearby Chino, according to the complaint.

While the ACLU notes the shootings are under investigation, it says the department is applying the wrong legal standard to evaluate those shootings and “to determine whether to take disciplinary or remedial action.”

The ACLU’s action — filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court — is a taxpayer action to restrain waste and illegal expenditure. The group seeks an injunction to stop the Pomona Police Department from wasting “employee time and department resources on the dissemination and purchase of materials addressing police use of deadly force that conflict with state law.”

An email to the city of Pomona was not immediately answered.

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