More than 300 undercover Los Angeles police officers filed legal claims against the city and police department Tuesday after their names and photographs were released to a technology watchdog group that posted them online.
The watchdog group Stop LAPD Spying Coalition posted more than 9,300 officers’ information and photographs last month in a searchable online database following a public records request by a reporter for progressive news outlet Knock LA. Hundreds of undercover officers were included in the database, although it's not clear exactly how many because the database doesn't specify which officers work undercover.
The officers were not given advance notice of the disclosure and the backlash has roiled the department. The inspector general is investigating Chief Michel Moore and the agency's constitutional policing director Liz Rhodes after an officers' union filed a misconduct complaint.
While the city attorney’s office determined the agency was legally required to turn over the records — which includes a photograph and information on each officer including name, ethnicity, rank, date of hire, badge number and division or bureau — under California law, exemptions are often made for safety or investigative reasons.
The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition opposes police intelligence-gathering and says the database should be used for “countersurveillance.”
Attorney Matthew McNicholas said 321 undercover officers filed legal claims, the precursor to a lawsuit, through his office and more are expected to come forward. The officers' names were not listed on the court documents.
“Only time will tell how many there are total,” McNicholas said Tuesday during a news conference announcing the filings.
McNicholas said his clients fear for their safety — as well as that of their families — and want to know whether the city will provide protection for them. He said he's aware of several investigations involving undercover officers, such as cases into gangs, drugs and sex traffickers, that have been stopped in the wake of the disclosure. He would not provide additional details.
Tuesday's claims follow separate lawsuits filed last month by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents the department's rank-and-file officers. The union has sued the police chief in an attempt to “claw back” the undercover officers' photographs and prevent further disclosure.
“We erred in the sense that there’s photographs that are in there that should not have been in there,” Moore told the Los Angeles Times,which first reported the disclosure. “Now ... that ship has sailed.”
Officer Jeff Lee, a spokesperson for the department, said the agency would not comment on the pending litigation.