In Pierce v. County of Sierra (E.D. Cal., June 3, 2013, 2:11-CV-2280 GEB AC) 2013 WL 2421710, a Northern California federal court ruled plaintiffs do not have to use the Pitchess process to get a peace officer's personnel records related in a federal lawsuit. The case started when a deputy sheriff allegedly hit a motorcyclist with his patrol car. The plaintiff sued the deputy and the county for negligence.
Then, the plaintiff sent a discovery request for parts of the deputy's personnel file to find paperwork related to the deputy's initial hire, find out about drug and alcohol testing, and the IA investigation related to the crash. The County objected that the records were confidential peace officer personnel records under California Penal Code section 832.7. The Pitchess process that limits disclosure of peace officer personnel records is the product of statute in California. In many states, officers do not have these protections and their personnel records are more easily obtainable.
The Court decided the California Pitchess process did not apply in the federal action because the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure supersede the Pitchess process. Instead, the Court examined whether there was good cause to turn over the documents. The Court decided there was good cause because the records could shed light on whether the deputy was at fault and whether the County was negligent. Accordingly, the Court ordered the County to release the records, but ordered the parties to work out a protective order to limit the exposure of the deputy's records.