SD SPJ Urges Sheriff’s Department To Release Public Records

Today, board members of the San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists sent the following letter to Sheriff Bill Gore and Legal Counsel Sanford Toyen. We are troubled by the Sheriff’s refusal to release to KPBS journalists and the public information that is clearly public record under state law. The denials have forced KPBS to sue the department in order to obtain this information.


Dear Sheriff Gore and Mr. Toyen,

We applaud Sheriff Gore’s recent decision to not charge journalists and members of the public for redacting audio and video records requested under Senate Bill 1421. This change in approach suggests that you agree transparency is essential for gaining and keeping the public trust.

Yet, the handling of a recent records request raises concerns about your office’s commitment to these principles. For months, KPBS reporter Claire Trageser has been investigating how long it takes the Sheriff’s Department to respond to public complaints. She asked the department for this information after learning from a civil lawsuit that the Sheriff’s Department did not respond to a complaint about sexual misconduct by one of its deputies. That deputy, Richard Fischer, has since been charged with 14 criminal counts, and 21 women have filed civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct.

The Sheriff’s Department has repeatedly denied Trageser’s requests, forcing KPBS to sue to obtain these records.

The public interest in accessing this information is clear: a Sheriff’s deputy has been criminally charged for sexual assault, and members of the public have said their formal complaints went ignored.

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is troubled that the department is choosing not to release this information, even though state law says that “the time, substance, and location of all complaints or requests for assistance received by the [law enforcement agency] and the time and nature of the response thereto” are public information.

We respectfully ask that you release the records KPBS has requested. Forcing a news organization to sue to obtain records that clearly should be made public under the law doesn’t engender trust in law enforcement. Situations like this should not be met with secrecy, but rather a commitment to ensuring the public feels the department takes complaints — particularly complaints of criminal conduct — seriously.

Sincerely,

Board Members
San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists

DISCLOSURE: Neither SD SPJ Board Member Matthew Halgren nor SD SPJ Past President Claire Trageser participated in the crafting of this letter.

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The Walls & Windows of San Diego Journalism

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists wants to recognize the most helpful — and least helpful — public agencies and officials in 2018.

The Wall Award will go to the person or public agency that made it hardest for journalists to do their jobs in 2018, ignoring requests or otherwise compromising the public’s right to know.

The Window Award will go to the person or public agency that most prioritized transparency and the public’s right to know in 2018.

And our Sunshine Award will go to a journalist or community member who worked the hardest to make government more transparent and hold elected officials accountable.

Your nominations are key to our selection process. Stay tuned for event details and read up on last year’s winners here.

Click here to submit your nomination.

Civic Activist, Transparency Advocate Mel Shapiro Dies at 90

The San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists was saddened to learn about the passing of 90-year-old civic activist Mel Shapiro.

Shapiro was a source of accurate and reliable information for a generation of journalists in San Diego County, many of whom relied on his tips to develop watchdog stories.

A former New York accountant, Mel Shapiro moved to San Diego and advocated for better transparency by all agencies across the county. He was basically a professional seeker of public records and held officials accountable for not releasing critical information. His Twitter bio boasted that he had won two published appeals in his fights for government transparency.

In 1987, Shapiro’s efforts to uncover wasteful spending within the San Diego Housing Commission garnered national attention when he was featured in The Wall Street Journal. The evidence Shapiro uncovered eventually led to the firing of Housing Commissioner Ben Montijo.

Over  the years, Shapiro regularly worked behind the scenes and never sought out public attention or acclaim for his muckraking. But in 2012, he accepted SPJ’s Sunshine Award and in a city proclamation, was described as a “civic activist and watchdog possessed of much passion and purpose.”

San Diego is a better place because of Shapiro’s service. Rest in peace, Mel.

Ron Bonn, former SD-SPJ member and veteran journalist

Ron Bonn, a former member of the San Diego SPJ chapter board and a veteran journalist whose long broadcasting career included producing stints with such esteemed newsmen as Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw, has died. He was 88.

Bonn will be remembered as a passionate journalist who in his later years became an educator, passing on his journalistic knowledge to 400 University of San Diego students over the course of 10 years. In a farewell message he penned for the San Diego SPJ website in 2012 marking the end of his USD teaching job, he looked back on his 40-year career in TV news and said,” I understood that I had done what the Brits tell us to do: ‘Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.’”

Bonn won three Emmys during his broadcasting career and after retiring from television news, he co-wrote the book, “How to Help Children Through a Parent’s Serious Illness.” A prolific letter writer in his post retirement years, Bonn covered a broad spectrum of issues dear to him in his missives to the Union-Tribune,  from the National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment to the GOP tax reform efforts and sexual harassment.

SPJ was fortunate to have benefited from his years of wisdom and volunteer service. In that piece he wrote reflecting on his  teaching years, Bonn reminded so many of us why we crave journalism: “Perhaps the greatest single advantage of a career in journalism,” he mused, “is that you never stop learning.”