Assembly OK's California bill to make sex assault records of police be public even if officer quits

A California bill that would increase transparency surrounding police sexual assault investigations was passed almost unanimously on Monday by the state Assembly.

AB 1599, authored by Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo), will now move onto the Senate, and will be heard in Senate committees over the summer.

"The public deserves access to investigative records into sexual assault under color of law under tight parameters," Cunningham said in a statement. "AB 1599 will bring transparency to government and help restore the public trust." 

Under the historic SB 1421, authored by Nancy Skinner (D-Oakland), certain police misconduct records are allowed to be released to the public if an investigation results in a sustained finding. Those personnel records had been kept secret since 1968 prior to her law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

However, Cunningham noted that many police departments in California do not complete internal investigations if the officer resigns in the middle of it, thus making those records ineligible to be released.

If signed into law, Cunningham’s bill would close this loophole by making incomplete sexual assault investigation records due to an officer resignation eligible to be released.

The bill is supported by the ACLU, the California News Publishers Association, the California Public Defenders Association and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. The San Luis Obispo Tribune and the other California McClatchy newspapers have editorialized in support of the bill.  

The Riverside Sheriff's Association has formally opposed the bill, saying their members don't want "unsubstantiated allegations" to be made public. The union also noted that costs might increase up to $100,000 a year in "increased staff workload" for statewide agencies, like the California Highway Patrol and the Department of Justice to review and redact complaints. 

Cunningham previously told KTVU that he would work with police departments and listen to their concerns as the bill worked its way through the Capitol. 

Cunningham was inspired by the May 2018 sexual assault case investigation involving Paso Robles Officer Chris McGuire. The officer was accused by three women of sexual assault. But McGuire resigned from the department before the investigation concluded, and media outlets were rebuffed in their efforts to obtain investigation documents through Public Records Act requests because the investigation was never finished.