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    L.A. seeks dismissal of officers' suits over released photos

    By City News Service,


    Citing First Amendment grounds, the city of Los Angeles is seeking dismissal of two lawsuits collectively filed by hundreds of officers with sensitive assignments who allege their safety was affected by the mistaken release of department photographs in 2023 through the California Public Records Act.

    "The city acknowledges its error in producing these department photographs and even filed a separate suit for return of such photos," the City Attorney's Office states in its anti-SLAPP motion filed Tuesday with Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David S. Cunningham III. "However, the litigation privilege is absolute and applies even to malicious acts, a far cry from the City's inadvertence here. Thus, the complaints must be dismissed."

    The state's anti-SLAPP --Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation -- law is intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate those who are exercising their free-speech rights.

    The LAPD released the officers' images through the CPRA after a request by Knock LA journalist Ben Camacho. The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, an activist group, then put the photos and other information of about 9,000 officers into a publicly accessible database last March.

    The city also has filed a cross-complaint for indemnity against Camacho and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. The city initially refused to release the photos, but in September 2022, the city agreed to settle the lawsuit with Camacho by producing pictures of all full-time, active duty, sworn police officers, except for officers then working in an undercover capacity as of July 2022..

    "That communicative exchange inadvertently included some LAPD officers who were working in undercover capacities," according to the City Attorneys' Office's court papers. "Those officers, and hundreds of LAPD officers who had previously worked on ad-hoc undercover assignments but are currently working in public capacities, filed these suits a year after their department photos were released."

    The inadvertent photo production, "while regrettable, is not actionable," according to the City Attorneys' Office, which further argues that the photo production was related to the settlement of a CPRA suit and therefore constitutes First Amendment protected activity.

    Prior to the department making the photos available, the officers went to great lengths to keep their identities concealed, according to one of the two suits filed Monday on behalf of about 143 current or retired plaintiffs identified only as Jane and John Does.

    The officers serve in or were previously assigned to such units as the Major Crimes Division, the ATF Gun Violence Reduction Task Force, the Gangs and Narcotics Division and human trafficking, the suit states.

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    "Due to the photo release, plaintiffs now reasonably fear retribution from ... extremely dangerous criminals, which may involve harassment, intimidation, injury and death to themselves and their families," the suit states.

    The complaint alleges negligence, failure to perform a mandatory duty, for legal malpractice by the City Attorney's Office, invasion of privacy, public disclosure of private facts, negligent infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract.

    The plaintiffs have all performed undercover operations and/or plain clothes surveillance, according to the suit.

    The City Attorney's Office maintains no malpractice occurred because those who released the photos are not lawyers and there was no attorney-client relationship.

    A separate group of more than 700 officers has filed a similar lawsuit against the city. A hearing on the city's dismissal motion is scheduled March 22.

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