The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California is requesting public records regarding eight high-profile shootings involving local and regional police officers, the most recent being Agustin Gonsalez, the 29-year-old man who was killed by Hayward police officers on Nov. 15.
The family and friends of Gonsalez urged Hayward elected officials and the police department last week to release any information regarding the incident on O’Neill Avenue. Police confronted Gonsalez, who they believe was brandishing a knife, before shooting him 13 times. Police later discovered he was holding a razor blade.
Police Departments across the state, however, are not complying with SB 1421.
The impetus for the ACLU’s involvement comes after East Bay State Sen. Nancy Skinner’s legislation to bring transparency and accountability to police departments went into effect on Jan. 1. The law, Senate Bill 1421, requires police employee records and investigations into their conduct to be made public following cases when the officer shoots or kills an individual, or is found to be involved in serious misconduct. For decades, a tight lid has been placed on such information being released to the public.
However, police departments are not complying with SB 1421 and have routinely denied public records requests. Some law enforcement agencies argue the law is not retroactive, but only covers incidents after Jan. 1, 2019. A lawsuit by a San Bernardino police union is challenging SB 1421.
“These families deserve to know the truth and we want to help them get answers,” said Kathleen Guneratne, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “This law was passed to lift the veil of police secrecy. Transparency is critical in protecting people, especially those subjected to systemic harassment, violence, and brutality by police.”
Included in the ACLU’s batch of request is information on the officers involved in the 2009 killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland and Stephon Clark last year in Sacramento. Both incidents sparked large public protests in their respective cities.
The aftermath of the Gonsalez killing has ignited passionate public discourse during two meetings over the past month that is rarely seen in Hayward council chambers, and has shined an uncomfortable light on the City Council and Hayward PD.