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Police union sues activist over website that divulged identities of numerous undercover LAPD officers

An activist group created a searchable database of every police officer, including their name, rank and photograph.

(CN) — The Los Angeles Police Protective League filed a lawsuit Friday against an activist who tweeted out a link to a new website that divulged the identity of numerous undercover LAPD officers.

The tweet "represents a direct threat to the lives and wellbeing of LAPD officers," reads the complaint, filed in LA Superior Court, which asks for an injunction to take down the offending website.

The strange controversy began with a public records act request, filed by a reporter with the left-wing news site KnockLA, to obtain a roster of LAPD personnel listing names, ethnicity, gender, area, rank, year of hire, height and weight, along with "headshots," or photographs, of every officer.

The LAPD denied the request, and the journalist sued, with help from the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, an activist group dedicated to promoting "radical transparency" in local law enforcement. Eventually, the department gave in. The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition then used the records to produce a website called "Watch the Watchers" — a searchable database of every LAPD officer that includes their name, rank, serial number, photograph and work email.

"This website is intended as a tool to empower community members engaged in copwatch and other countersurveillance practices," the site reads. "You can use it to identify officers who are causing harm in your community. The website’s ease of use also makes it a political statement, flipping the direction of surveillance against the state’s agents. Police have vast information about all of us at their fingertips, yet they move in secrecy."

After the website went live last Friday, it quickly became clear that the department had made at least one serious mistake — it had released the information without first informing its rank-and-file officers. The police union claimed the department had made another, far more serious one: it had revealed the identities of undercover police officers.

"It became readily apparent that the Department had released, and not redacted, the names and photographs of officers engaged in sensitive investigative assignments, placing their lives and the lives of their families in extreme jeopardy and peril," the police union wrote in a letter to the police commission on Monday. "What we find ironic is that, apparently, the Department did redact the names and photographs of officers engaged in investigating alleged officer misconduct yet did not redact officers working sensitive assignments. Who made the decision to release information on those in sensitive investigative assignments and to conceal officers investigating officers?"

Police Chief Michael Moore had already apologized for the snafu, and said there would be an internal investigation into what went wrong. The LAPPL has since filed a formal complaint against the department.

The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition has defended the website. One of its leaders, Hamid Khan, told the LA Times on Tuesday, “What we are doing is, we are just flipping the camera on them and saying, ‘This is who you are, this is what you do, this is what you have done.'"

The police union's lawsuit is a curious one. It names as the defendant not the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, but a man named Steven Sutcliffe, whom the complaint accuses of threatening to pay a bounty for killing cops on social media.

According to the complaint, Sutcliffe tweets under the username, @killercop1984. The complaint points to a somewhat cryptic tweet published on Tuesday, in which Sutcliffe wrote: "We have now #published over 9000 names and head-shots of numerous regular and #undercover #LAPD officers on ⋊i ɘɿɔoq.ɔom online. A to Z. Let the games begin!! Remember, nobody pays more for LAPD head-shots than ⋊i ɘɿɔoq.ɔom Payback time!"

The police union, along with a trio of LAPD officers who are also named as plaintiffs in the suit, charge that the tweet, along with others, amounts to threatening the lives of officers.

"These posts represent a clear and direct threat to all officers whose pictures were placed on Sutcliffe's website," the complaint reads. "Not only is Sutcliffe liable for the extreme emotional harm he has caused plaintiffs, but injunctive relief to remove the threats against officers and to remove the database containing the photographs of all LAPD officers must be granted."

Sutcliffe says he played no role in creating the Watchers website or filing the public records act request.

Asked to comment on the lawsuit filed against him, Sutfcliffe said in an email: "It's full of lies, intentional omissions and half-truths. It is frivolous, malicious, vindictive, retaliatory and yet another weak attempt at view point discrimination and censorship by the LAPD, LAPPL, et al."

According to his website, www.killercop.com, Sutcliffe has a long-standing grudge against the LAPD, dating all the way back to 1995, when he says he was falsely detained and arrested after trying to report an assault on Venice Beach. According to the union's lawsuit against him, in 2001, he was sentenced to 46 months in prison to posting Social Security numbers, dates of birth and home addresses on the internet of some of his co-workers. There's no evidence that he's ever been charged with any crime relating to threatening a police officer.

Neither the police union nor the lawyer who filed the lawsuit immediately responded to requests for comment on this story.

The suit also seeks an injunction barring Sutcliffe from "posting or linking to any database containing photographs of plaintiffs or members of the LAPPL and mandating that Sutcliffe delete permanently and forever all photographs of plaintiffs and other members of the LAPPL in Sutcliffe's possession or control."

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Categories / Civil Rights, Government, Technology

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