September 17, 2008
Via hand delivery and certified U.S. mail
Sheriff Gary Philp &
Records Supervisor Records Section/Division
826 Fourth Street
Eureka, CA 95501
Re: Request to inspect records pursuant to the California Public Records Act, Cal. Gov’t Code §§ 6250 et. seq.
This letter is regarding Undersheriff Mike Downey’s July 21, 2008 response to my June 2008 Request to Inspect Public Records. Mr. Downey’s response stated that “[i]n response to items 1, 2, 6, 10, 11, and 12, the County has been unable to locate responsive documents and as such cannot comply therewith.”
Requested items 1, 2, 6, 10, 11, and 12 refer specifically to: 1) documents setting forth guidelines, policies, practices, or standards that the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department [HCSD] has adopted and/or follows regarding homeless and/or transient persons; 2) documents regarding and/or generated by HCSD’s “illegal camping” operation as referenced publicly by Ms. Brenda Godsey, HCSD Public Information Officer, and; 3) records of communications on or sinceMay 12, 2006between your department and any Supervisor of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, any agent of any California State Park Service and/or Humboldt County Park Service, and any agent of Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services [“DHSS”] regarding homeless and/or transient people, people sleeping or camping outside, and/or people sitting on public sidewalks.
By its July 21, 2008 response, is HCSD claiming that it has had no communications (over a two year period) with the Board of Supervisors, the Park Service, or DHSS regarding homeless and/or transient people, people sleeping or camping outside, and/or people sitting on public sidewalks? Is HCSD asserting that it has no guidelines that aid in balancing the civil rights of people living in public with laws and customs of the State of California? no practices that address the civil rights of people living in public when housed people complain? Does HCSD assert that it has no procedures or practices that specifically address the needs, property, mental health, and precarious position of homeless and/or transient persons?
The request is clear, simple, and easy to understand. HCSD’s response, which fails to provide even its policy as to transient incidents, is a blatant disregard for the California Public Records Act, which requires “access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business” and declares that access a “fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state.”
According to Government Code §6255, the HCSD must justify withholding any record by demonstrating that the record is exempt under express provisions of the Califonia Public Records Act or that the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record.
At a minimum, given the intensely focused HCSD activity beginning May 12, 2008 in the Garberville/Redway area in relation to homeless and transient people, people sleeping or camping outside, and people sitting on public sidewalks, it has been reported that your department generated and has in its possession numerous disclosable public records specific to my June 2008 Request. Indeed, in the face of HCSD’s activity since May 12, 2008, it is arguably negligible to fail to maintain such records.
Judging only from Ms. Godsey’s public references to HCSD’s 3 or 4 day “‘illegal camping’ operation” in the Garberville/Redway area beginning on May 12, 2008, it is clear that there should be numerous records in your custody, responsive to my request, to which I am entitled.
I am informed and believe that HCSD deputies have hand-delivered packets containing documents (including a business card) related to local agencies and service-providers (including but not limited to DHHS) to persons who are homeless, transient, sleeping outside, and/or sitting on public sidewalks in the Garberville/Redway area who were contacted by your department on May 12, 2008 (as well as those contacted by your department subsequent to that date). It is incredulous for HCSD to claim 1) that there is no policy relating to identification of such persons and relating to the services being offered in the packet; and, 2) there are no records related to the packet’s named agencies or services or to any agreements, plans, or communications authorizing or relating to HCSD deputies handing out such packets.
Also, I am aware of incidents wherein pepper spray was used by HCSD deputies against animals accompanying persons who are homeless, transient, sleeping outside, and/or sitting on public sidewalks in the Garberville/ Redway area on or about May 12, 2008. Isn’t there some HCSD policy relating to treatment of animals? It is again incredulous that the HCSD has no record of the deployment of pepper spray, or to its interactions with animals accompanying people homeless, transient, sleeping outside, and/or sitting on public sidewalks in the Garberville/ Redway area.
I am informed and believe that HCSD has had meetings and other contact, since May 12, 2006, with members of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors (i.e. Former Supervisor Mr. Roger Rodoni) regarding persons who are homeless, transient, and/or sleeping outside. I have attached articles from February 19, 2008 and March 18, 2008 establishing that at least two such meeting recently occurred, and that HCSD was present.
Ms. Godsey publicly announced that at the start of HCSD’s “’illegal camping’ operation”, HCSD tactics (policy) included the following:
1) HCSD Animal Control Division accompanied HCSD deputies; and
2) Multiple social service organizations provided information for HCSD deputies to provide to folks who are homeless, transient, and/or sleeping outside; and
3) The State Park provided information and collaborated with HCSD deputies; and
4) Deputies obtained and carried free bus passes, Eureka Rescue Mission relocation information, drug and alcohol information, and public assistance (“financial aid”) information; and
5) Deputies contacted at lease 17 individuals to give them verbal and written notices regarding trespassing; and
6) Deputies brought empty garbage bags with them; and
7) HCSD arranged to drop refuse at specific locations for the Eel River clean-up crew; and
8) HCSD “put together a team” including deputies, Animal Control Division, and agents of the “Park Service”; and
9) Deputies gave information “provided by Social Services” (DHHS) to individuals identified by the deputy’s discretion; and
10) HCSD obtained and distributed (presumably upon discretion of deputies) free passes from Humboldt Transit Authority; and
11) Deputies took photos of people whom they contacted; and
12) Deputies made at least two arrests; and
13) Deputies claim that the two people arrested had been previously warned; and
14) HCSD planned “to begin at the old Ospry School near Highway 101 and work north along the Redwood Drive area;” and
15) “[A]rrangements had been made to leave full trash bags at the trailheads;” and
16) Deputies intended to confiscate “bigger items including bicycles, backpacks, and tents;” and
17) HCSD department intended to store personal property confiscated by deputies; and
18) HCSD had a “mechanism in place where [it] could transport [peoples’ belongings confiscated during the operation] off the property and then the owners of those things could claim them”...; and
19) HCSD had “been in contact with Social Services.”
Undersheriff Downey’s July 21, 2008 above-mentioned letter wholly fails to address requests 1, 2, 6, 10, 11, and 12, claim exemptions to any of those requests, or provide information pursuant to California Government Code §6253.1 regarding the numerous documents subject to my June 2008 request.
As you are likely aware, the HCSD is required and has failed to provide every document related to the matters enumerated above, and any other document “regarding or generated by HCSD’s ‘illegal camping’ operation (which began on May 12, 2008 according to Ms. Godsey) regardless of the format in which the information is stored. I specifically wish to note that information stored on a computer is as much a public record as a written page in a book or stored in a filing cabinet.
Also, the HCSD is required to provide and failed to provide “[t]he full name and occupation of every individual arrested by the agency, the individual's physical description including date of birth, color of eyes and hair, sex, height and weight, the time and date of arrest, the time and date of booking, the location of the arrest, the factual circumstances surrounding the arrest...” and “...the time, substance, and location of all complaints or requests for assistance received by the agency and the time and nature of the response thereto.” See California Government Code §6254(f)(1) and (2).
Furthermore, the HCSD failed to provide the requested documents related to homeless and/or transient people, people sleeping or camping outside, and/or people sitting on public sidewalks, including but not limited to:
-press releases and/or other media documents;
-inventories and/or lists of property and/or evidence confiscated;
-arrest logs (publicly displayed in HCSD’s office for a minimum time);
-operation action plans;
-reports of use of mace and/or pepper spray; and/or
-contact with agencies regarding services, options, complaints, reports, plans, materials referencing Pamlyn Milsap of Humboldt County Mental Health Branch of DHHS, other branches of DHHS, the Transportation Assistance Program, Veterans of California, Street Outreach Services, Healthy Moms, and clean and sober housing.
Should you contend that portions of any of the requested documents are exempt from disclosure, I again request that you expurgate only such portions as you establish are exempt by law and that you produce forthwith for inspection the remainder of the requested documents. See California Government Code § 6253(a). If you claim an objection to and/or assert any privilege against releasing any requested document, specify the particular request to which the objection or privilege pertains, and specify the particular ground/basis for your objection and/or assertion of privilege.
In the event that you are not in possession of any documents material to my request, please disclose the name and contact information of persons, organizations, and/or agencies that are or may be in possession of such documents.
I remind the HCSD that it is unlawful to delay or obstruct the inspection or copying of records. See California Government Code §6253(d). Denial of any request for records shall set forth the names and titles or positions of each person responsible for the denial.
Undersheriff Downey’s July 21, 2008 response to my June 2008 Request to Inspect Public Records specifically stated that “[t]his Office has located documents that it believes are responsive to requests 3,4,5,7,8, and 9 and agrees to produce the same upon receiving your payment for duplication costs.”
I have included payment as requested for the duplication costs as specified in the Undersheriff’s letter; however, I continue to seek a waiver of fees for further documents responsive to my Public Records request. Please call (707) 923-1984 in order to arrange a date and time for me to retrieve the documents. Undersheriff Downey’s letter failed to address my application for a waiver of fees in this matter, or explain the basis for its de facto denial. Given the clear oversight of the HCSD regarding the existence of numerous disclosable documents pertaining to my June 2008 Request, I anticipate that upon more careful consideration, the HCSD will find that there are more than 67 pages in its possession responsive to requests 3,4,5,7,8, and 9.
It is the HCSD’s burden to demonstrate that any record is exempt from disclosure, and you have failed to do so. See Braun v. City of Taft (1984) Cal.App.3d 322, 201 Cal.Rptr. 654.
Pursuant to my original June request and to California Government Code §6253.1, the HCSD has a legal obligation to:
1. Assist me in identifying records and information which are responsive to the request or to the purpose of the request, as stated; and
2. Describe the information technology and physical location in which the records exist; and
3. Provide suggestions for overcoming any practical basis for denying access to the records or information sought.
Kevin Mc Grath
cc: Humboldt County District Attorney, Paul Gallegos
Risk Management Division, County of Humboldt
Jay Moller, Attorney at Law