The Southwestern Sun, the Southwestern College newspaper, is suing the community college district for refusing to release the internal investigation into a 2013 shooting on campus involving the district’s former police chief.
The lawsuit is yet another example of local media outlets filing suit against law enforcement agencies that fail to abide by Senate Bill 1421, a recently passed state law that requires law enforcement agencies to release disciplinary records and internal investigations into officer-related shootings, alleged sexual misconduct or officer dishonesty.
Unions representing law enforcement agencies have voiced concerns surrounding the release of this information, saying it allows the media to publicize serious discipline records of any officer currently in their possession, no matter how old those records are.
The Southwestern Sun lawsuit centers around reports of a shot fired by Southwestern College District’s former police chief, Michael Cash, in 2013. The shot nearly hit two district employees.
Cash was placed on administrative leave and in 2017 he abruptly resigned from the police force. Cash now serves as the police chief and public safety officer for the city of Guadalupe in Santa Barbara County, California.
According to the lawsuit, staffers at the Southwestern Sun tried to get the investigation of the shooting “but have been stymied at every turn by the district and its agents who refuse to disclose any substantive information regarding the shooting…”
Failing to do so, says the Southwestern Sun’s lawsuit, violates SB 1421 and keeps the facts from the public eye.
In a statement, District Superintendent and President Dr. Kindred Murillo says the district is not stymying any efforts by the Sun to report on the shooting but must balance the legality of what is disclosable under the law.
“Southwestern College does not oppose disclosure of the records,” wrote Dr. Murillo.
“We, however, believe the College is prohibited by law from disclosing these records without a court order determining that these records are in fact disclosable.
“A change in the law effective January 1, 2019, has created uncertainty statewide about the disclosure of police officer personnel records under the Public Rights Act and the state’s Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights (POBR) and related statutes.
“The College fully supports The Sun in its capacity as a newspaper serving the students, faculty, staff, and administration of the Southwestern Community College District. At the same time, the College has a duty to abide by the Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights regarding the confidentiality of police officer records.”
The editor in chief for the Sun, nor the paper’s attorney responded to calls for comment.