Smile: You’re On Candid Camera. What Happens When Alleged Officer Misconduct is Caught on Tape?

In Santa Ana Police Officers Assn. v. City of Santa Ana, the California Court of Appeal held that officers do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they conduct search warrants.  However, the Court also held that internal affairs investigators must provide officers with recordings of prior interrogations and other documents prior to a second interrogation.

The Raid, OIA Investigation, and Lawsuit:

In May 2015, two Santa Ana police officers participated in a search warrant of “Sky High Medical Dispensary.”  The officers cleared civilians from the premises and disabled the video surveillance system at the dispensary.

Unbeknownst to the officers, the dispensary owners had placed hidden cameras in the dispensary in anticipation that it would be raided.  The dispensary owner later released the recordings to media outlets, which went viral since it showed officers making jokes and eating snacks while conducting the search warrant.

A month later, the police department initiated an internal affairs investigation into each of the officers involved in the warrant.  Before the officers were interrogated, they each watched selected portions of the surveillance footage.  Their attorneys objected on the grounds that the officers had a reasonable expectation of privacy, and that the recordings were illegal.  The police department dismissed the objection, and ordered the officers to continue the interrogation or be disciplined for insubordination.

Later, the police department obtained more footage and notified the officers about a second round of interrogations. The officers’ attorneys raised their objections again, and demanded that the department provide recordings of the first round of interrogations before the department proceeded with the second round. The materials were not provided.

The officers then sued the agency for injunctive relief based on two grounds.  First, the officers claimed they had a reasonable expectation of privacy under the California Invasion of Privacy Act, and that such recordings could therefore not be used against them.  Second, the officers claimed that the agency violated the Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights (“POBAR”).  The lawsuit was dismissed by the trial court and the officers appealed.

Court of Appeals Decision:

The Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal of the officer’s invasion of privacy claim.  Even though the officers had not consented to being recorded and argued that they “they had let their guard down” because they did not think they were in public or being recorded, the Court held that officers could not have had an objective reasonable expectation of privacy while executing a search warrant inside a marijuana dispensary.

However, the Court of Appeal reversed judgment as to the officer’s POBAR claim.  The Court held that pursuant to Government Code Section 3303(g), the department was required to provide the officers copies of the first OIA interrogation before the second round of internal affairs questioning.

Takeaway:

This Court of Appeal decision provides all officers an important reminder that even when they believe that no one is watching or listening, officers conducting search warrants do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy from hidden surveillance devices.

This decision is also important for departments to remember that they must follow the several procedural requirements required by POBAR.  This includes providing officers with copies of recordings before each round of interrogations.

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