ACLU Sues L.A. Sheriff & District Attorney

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A criminal defense attorney claims in court that Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, Sheriff Leroy Baca and their offices unlawfully suppress evidence favorable to criminal defendants and cover up excessive-force complaints against deputies.
     Plaintiff Jeffrey Douglas sued Cooley, Baca and their offices in Superior Court. Douglas claims the defendants have violated the constitutional rights of “countless criminal defendants” by withholding evidence and failing to keep proper records of complaints against deputies.
     The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its landmark 1963 Brady vs. Maryland decision that prosecutors must disclose exculpatory evidence before trial.
     But Douglas says that Cooley unlawfully requires that exculpatory evidence be “‘clear and convincing'” before it is disclosed, and allows suppression of such evidence if it is related to a pending investigation, or if a deputy district attorney deems that it unlikely to affect a verdict.
     “Not only do these requirements that deputy district attorneys suppress favorable evidence lack any legal basis, but they are also expressly contrary to law,” the complaint states.
     Douglas also claims that Sheriff Baca fails to properly maintain inmate complaints against deputies for 5 years, as required by the penal code.
     “In the face of this unequivocal statutory mandate, an LASD [Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department] representative has testified in open court that respondents Baca and LASD have decided that, in the case of inmates in the Los Angeles County jails, they will simply ignore the requirements of the statute and instead file inmate complaints about deputies in only the inmates’ files, such that LASD simply cannot search for inmate complaints implicating specific deputies,” the complaint states.
     Douglas claims that policy results in “countless Brady violations,” and that defendants cannot get access to complaints, even though Los Angeles County “unquestionably has them.”
     Despite “countless instances of deputy-on-inmate physical abuse” in Los Angeles jails, victims of excessive force sometimes find themselves charged with assault so the department can cover up abuses, Douglas says.
     “Unsurprisingly, it is crucial to the defense in these criminal proceedings to determine whether any other inmates have filed complaints stating that the deputy or deputies involved have engaged in excessive force or complaints calling into doubt the credibility of the deputies involved,” the complaint states.
     “Failing to disclose exculpatory material has drastic effects on the integrity of the criminal judicial system. The policies and practices challenged in this petition prevent disclosure of evidence of complaints and other evidence pointing to a pattern of excessive violence by a particular deputy, so criminally charged inmates have little hope of acquittal despite their innocence, leading to wrongful convictions.
     “These miscarriages of justice are the inevitable effect of respondents’ failure to follow the statutory and constitutional disclosure obligations that govern criminal trial.”
     Cooley called the lawsuit “a blatant attempt to mislead the public and the court,” in an email to Courthouse News.
     “This office is confident that our Brady policy complies with the highest constitutional and statutory standards,” he wrote.
     Douglas is represented by ACLU attorney Mark Rosenbaum.
     He seeks writ of mandate and injunction for violations of due process and the state penal code.

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