As reported by Los Angeles Times, FOX LA, Audacy and other news outlets, nearly 700 undercover Los Angeles Police Department officers sued the City of Los Angeles on September 12, 2023, alleging their safety was affected by the release of department photographs and personal information earlier this year through the California Public Records Act. McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP, along with The Law Offices of Gregory W. Smith, LLP and Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver, PC, are representing the undercover officers in the lawsuit which demands accountability and safeguards.
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–Undercover LAPD officers’ names, photos, and other personal information were negligently released to the public, putting undercover officers’ lives and their investigations at risk; the lawsuit demands accountability and safeguards–
LOS ANGELES (September 12, 2023) – Trial law firm McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP, along with The Law Offices of Gregory W. Smith, LLP and Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver, PC, filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department on behalf of 691 LAPD undercover officers whose personal information was negligently released and subsequently posted on various websites.
“We tried to engage the City of Los Angeles to stanch the damage caused by their reckless production of undercover officers’ personal identities, but because of their failure to face responsibility and put the appropriate safeguards in place, we are now pursuing this through litigation,” said Matthew McNicholas, Partner at McNicholas & McNicholas, LLP. “To this day, criminal elements continue to use this information to track, follow, and harass these police officers. Their lives, careers, and ongoing investigations to protect the public are at risk, and we demand the City of LA take action.”
The case stemmed from two California Public Records Act (CPRA) requests made to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), which the LAPD had initially refused to comply with. The City of Los Angeles subsequently responded to these requests but incorrectly included sensitive information about active-duty undercover police officers and officers with prior undercover assignments in its disclosure.
The released information included crucial details such as officers’ names, photographs, email addresses, phone numbers, serial numbers, ethnicities, genders, ranks, and more. This data found its way onto the “Watch the Watchers” website, a searchable database established by the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, exposing sensitive information to the public. Chief Michel Moore stated he was unaware of the release, later issuing an apology and launching an investigation. It is believed that the commanding officer of constitutional policy and policing allowed the release to go forward without Moore’s knowledge.
Timeline / Background on CPRA Request
In October 2021, Ben Camacho, a freelance journalist, submitted a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request to the LAPD. The request sought the full current roster of LAPD officers, including each officer’s photograph, name, badge number, serial number, division, and sworn status. The LAPD did not comply.
In May 2022, Camacho sought a court order directing the LAPD to produce headshots of all officers. In September 2023, Deputy City Attorney Hasmik Badalian Collins signed a letter, settling the action with Camacho, by providing him with a roster of all active-duty LAPD officers and their photographs, except for any undercover officers. However, the letter did not define what undercover included, among other errors. Further, when the City of Los Angeles went to carry out the settlement, it incorrectly produced the complete roster of LAPD officers, including current undercover officers and officers with previous undercover assignments.
In December 2022, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition (Stop LAPD) sent another public records request to the LAPD requesting a current roster of all LAPD officers with information, including names, serial numbers, ethnicities, and ranks. The City of Los Angeles responded to Stop LAPD’s request by providing a full roster with the names, serial numbers, ethnicities, genders, areas, ranks, and year of hire for all active-duty police officers, and wrongly included undercover officers and officers with previous undercover assignments. This was the second breach by the City of Los Angeles.
In March 2023, all information gathered by Camacho and Stop LAPD was published on watchthewatchers.net, a publicly available website.
McNicholas & McNicholas, a Los Angeles-based plaintiff-trial law firm, represents clients in the areas of catastrophic personal injury, employment law, class actions, sexual abuse, and other consumer-oriented matters such as civil rights, aviation disasters, and product liability. Founded by a family of attorneys spanning three generations, McNicholas & McNicholas has been trying cases to jury verdicts on behalf of its clients for more than five decades.