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Lawsuits reveal names of deputies in shootings

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department and deputies union contended that the identities of officers involved in shootings should be kept confidential.

January 29, 2011|By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times

Two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies whose names have been kept secret amid litigation over whether the identities of officers involved in shootings are public information have been named in separate wrongful-death lawsuits, records show.

Deputy Sergio Reyes fired two shots on July 5, 2009, killing 16-year-old Avery Cody Jr., who deputies said was armed with a .38-caliber revolver and turned and raised the gun at Reyes. Deputy Kevin Brown shot and killed Darrick Collins, who was unarmed, during a pursuit of robbery suspects on Sept. 14, 2009.

Reyes and Brown were named in court records in wrongful-death suits filed by the decedents' families against the county. Attorneys for Cody's family have contended in court papers that Cody was holding a cellphone, not a gun, when he was shot in the back. An attorney for Collins' children said the man was killed as a result of mistaken identity.

In a lawsuit filed by The Times to obtain the names of deputies involved in Cody and Collins' deaths and in a third shooting, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the deputies' union have contended that state laws protecting the confidentiality of police personnel records prohibit the release of an officer's name after a shooting. That suit remains pending.

In the third case, surrounding the fatal shooting of Woodrow Player Jr. on July 10, 2009, attorneys for the county have refused to identify the two deputies in the wrongful-death lawsuit, saying the officers faced "credible threats" from East Coast Crips gang members and that one of the officers is working undercover.

John Sweeney, the attorney representing Cody's family, said he obtained the names of Reyes and his partner, Deputy Dana Ellison, "through routine and perfunctory discovery" and that attorneys for the county never asked that the names be kept secret. Ellison did not fire any shots, and has been dismissed from the lawsuit. Attorney Brian Dunn, who represents Collins' family, also said the county did not raise concerns in Brown being named in court filings.

Richard Shinee, an attorney representing the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs in the litigation over the release of the names, said Friday that he was not aware that the deputies were identified in the civil suits. He said the names being made public in any manner would threaten the officers' safety.

"Consistent with our position in Superior Court, we believe the names should be protected and confidential, and a protective order should have been sought," he said.

An attorney representing The Times, however, said the family's cases illustrate why the officers' names should be released at the outset to inform the public about the circumstances surrounding an officer's use of force.

"There is no reason why the public should be kept in the dark about the identities of these officers when they're going to eventually be made public in a lawsuit," Kelli Sager said.

At least two other police unions and departments in the county have recently argued in court that the names of officers involved in shootings should be kept secret.

In one of those cases, a Pasadena police union sued the city to block the release of the names of two officers who fired 11 shots, killing a parolee armed with a gun. While that lawsuit was pending, attorneys for the city sought a protective order to keep the officers' names sealed in a federal wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the family.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick J. Walsh, in a hearing on the protective order, told attorneys he believed the public had a right to know the officers' identities, saying he couldn't "imagine another case where the public is more interested in and more entitled to know."

victoria.kim@latimes.com

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