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California Shield Laws Conceal Officer History and Internal Affairs Investigations

Thursday, November 17, 2016 10:40
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California has some of the worst shield laws in the country. These laws are written to indefinitely conceal officer records from the public view when officers are investigated for misconduct or disciplinary actions are taken against them.

Former police officer Noah Winchester was placed on indefinite leave from the San Mateo Police Department last October. Under California law, police chief Susan Manheimer is not legally permitted to say why.

However, 9 months later, the information was made public anyway. Attorney Steve Wagstaffe charged officer Winchester with raping five women while he was in uniform.

Explaining how he was able to speak about evidence of officer Winchester’s sexual assaults and other criminal acts while the police chief was legally prohibited from speaking about the very same evidence, Wagstaffe explained, “Chief Manheimer in the Winchester case was not able to say what I was able to say.”

This causes problems for departments who want to inquire into an officer’s history, and often leads to officers who were fired after committed criminal acts being rehired at another department, without the their new employer being aware of their history.

When the San Mateo Police Department hired Winchester, they had no idea about previous allegations of rape against him while he was a school cop at a community college near Sacramento.

“Had we had any knowledge of any sexual misconduct or allegations of sexual misconduct from anyone that we were doing a background [investigation] we would never have hired them.”

Winchester’s attorney Mike Rains thinks that these criminal acts should be kept under a tight seal, and that officers who commit criminal acts should continue to be protected by these shield laws.

“There is this movement to now make public the results of these investigations,” said Rains. “I have a real problem with that.”

Why would a defense attorney with an advanced university degree want criminally deviant officers to be protected from scrutiny and continue to be hired by other departments, perpetuating the cycle?

I’ll tell you why. Criminals in high places protect their own.

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