By: Editorial Staff
A POLICE SERGEANT, who faxed allegations to a local high school that 24 students and a sheriff’s deputy were drug and alcohol abusers, is at the center of a open records dispute.
His action set off an investigation, the details of which are being kept from the public on the grounds that a police officer’s personnel file is private.
The Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise has gone to court to demand the investigation files in keeping with the state’s open records law.
The newspaper won a Superior Court order releasing the report, but the city of Hemet has appealed the decision, thereby delaying the release.
The probe involves Hemet police sergeant Chuck Steadman. The officer, who has two sons attending Hemet High School, has been waging a highly publicized campaign against drug use. The fax, sent on a police department machine, identified the suspected students and Riverside County sheriff’s deputy Bill Roach, who was accused of failing to take action against a drug-using student because the student had a picture of the deputy smoking marijuana.
His superiors cleared Roach of any wrongdoing, and he subsequently sued the city and Steadman for impairing his reputation.
The city released an index and a brief description of the 137-page investigation report, some of which already had been made public. The documents included newspaper clippings of the case.
The city’s attorney, Peter Ferguson, noted, however, that the release did not mean that he was waiving privacy privilege.
Press-Enterprise attorney Sharon Waters disputed in court that a police officer’s file was protected from public disclosure and said the city had a duty to investigate questionable conduct by its employees.
Hemet Police Chief Les Evanson did disclose that the probe of Steadman considered whether the use of a city fax violated policy and whether the deputy’s children furnished him with information that led to his accusations against the 24 students.