KARK reports that the city of Little Rock is attempting to put under seal information about allegations of misconduct by police officers in the civil rights lawsuit over the shooting death of 15-year-old Bobby Moore in 2012.
Moore, suspected of breaking into cars at a west Little Rock apartment complex, was fatally shot by Officer Josh Hastings as he tried to drive away. He was charged with manslaughter, but the prosecution was dropped after two mistrials. Hastings was fired.
The family of Moore has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit. KARK says:
The city wants records of police officer discipline and citizen complaints, among others, to be shielded by a protective order. The city claims employee privacy interest, but the family of Bobby Moore argues Little Rock officials are trying to keep negative information out of public view.
This touches an old sore point — the legal means by which it is just about impossible to reach important information about police conduct. Under state law, personnel record release is severely restricted. Records of misconduct can be released only when it leads to suspension or firing. As I argued when the law was changed to allow this during Bill Clinton’s administration, this was an open door to cover up a pattern and practice of physical abuse by police officers, particularly in corrupt departments where supervisors would rarely discipline an officer for physical abuse of a suspect. So it is very difficult to know when an officer is repeatedly accused of physical abuse if cleared each time. One-on-one encounters in the dark of night with few or no witnesses rarely produce disciplinary judgments against officers, it’s safe to say. Benefit of the doubt goes to the officer who says the action was response to a threat. Which indeed might be true in most cases. But some officers leave the force with little record of a need to use force; others use it often.
Former Police Chief Lou Caudell made an important stride for the department when he set a policy that required an incident report on all use of force by officers and episodes when officers are in car crashes. These are not personnel records, but incident reports. And they can be interesting. I learned from an FOI request that an off-duty officer who shot into a car at Park Plaza that he believed to be backing up in a threatening manner had had to file 72 reports of use of varying degrees of force as an officer, plus several wrecks. Might such a record be a cause for some supervisory concern? I’d think so. He’s not involved in the Hastings shooting. But Hastings was fired, it’s safe to guess, on the totality of his record, not just failing to tell the truth about events the night of the shooting.
The city shouldn’t fight to protect secrecy for what limited records exist. They should be advocating more accountability for the police.