By Sandra. G. Leon
The City of San Diego has changed its story as to whether any 911 calls exist in connection with the May 12th beating of an unhoused man in La Jolla.
Two SDPD officers approached Jesse Evans as he was standing among trees along the road in La Jolla. The officers accused him of urinating in public, although there was no evidence he had actually done so.
Evans walked away from the officers and told them to leave him alone, but the officers decided to drive their marked police pickup truck up the road to confront Evans.
“It’s up to you, I’m down for whatever!” one of the offices responded when his partner asked if they should engage Evans.
When one of the officers grabbed Evans in an attempt to detain him, Evans pulled away and again demanded to be left alone. The two officers grabbed Evans and the three of them fell to the ground.
The interactions turned into a wrestling match on the street when the officers used their fists to beat his face and body. The incident was captured on video by a motorists and posted on social media within minutes of the incident. Police later released videos from the officers’ body worn cameras, but no 911 calls were released.
Community leaders, including Reverend Shane Harris, President of People’s Association of Justice Advocates, called on the San Diego Police Department to releases police videos and 911 calls to thoroughly review the incident.
On May 25th, La Prensa San Diego Publisher Arturo Castañares filed a California Public Records Act (CPRA) request for any 911 calls related to the incident, and just two days later, the City denied the request after a decision was made to withhold any such calls and the request was closed.
“SDPD 911 Calls (Audio) – Withheld pursuant to Government Code sections 6254(f) & (f)(2); Haynie v. Superior Court, 26 Cal 4th 1061 (2001); and Government Code section 6255 [public interest in disclosure is outweighed by public interest in nondisclosure]. The person making the decision to withhold the records is Roxanne Cahill, Police Dispatch Administrator.”
The exemption claiming Section 6254(f) is a common defense used by public agencies to withhold documents or other public information but it only applies to elements created during an investigation, including reports, analysis, or other materials resulting from an investigation, not which existed before the incident.
In response to the general denial of the request, Castañares filed a lawsuit on May 28th to compel the release of any 911 calls being withheld, claiming that the City did not complete a “thorough search for responsive public records “, did not “produce all public records responsive to the CPRA request”, and “erroneously determined that an exemption applied to the responsive records”.
Before the City’s answer to the lawsuit was due, the City reopened the request and updated its response, this time claiming no such calls exist.
“The San Diego Police Department has determined that there are no 911 calls associated with the Evans incident therefore there are no responsive records to that portion of your request,” the City’s response read on June 29th.
A lawyer with the City Attorney’s office later contacted La Prensa San Diego’s attorney claiming the lawsuit is now “moot” but the case will continue as La Prensa seeks clarification as to why the initial response to withhold 911 calls was changed after the filing of the lawsuit to compel the release of the calls.
“This is the not the first time that the City has changed its response to one of our Public Records Act requests after we sued for compliance,” Castañares said. “I will continue to pursue these cases to enforce my constitutional rights to public records so that we can better inform our community,” he added.