Undercover LAPD files claims in photo backlash

LOS ANGELES (AP) — More than 300 undercover Los Angeles police officers filed lawsuits against the city and the police department Tuesday over their names and photos. they were turned over to a technology watchdog group that posted them online.

The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition watchdog group released the information and photos of more than 9,300 officers last month to a searchable online database following a public records request by a reporter for the progressive news outlet Knock LA. Hundreds of undercover officers were included in the database, although it is unclear exactly how many because the database does not specify which officers work undercover.

Officers received no advance notice of the disclosure, and the backlash has unsettled the department. The inspector general is investigating Chief Michel Moore and the agency’s constitutional police director, Liz Rhodes, after a misconduct complaint was filed by an officers’ union.

While the city attorney’s office determined that the agency was legally required to turn over the records, which include a photograph and information about each officer, including name, ethnicity, rank, date of hire, number of License plate and division or office, under California law, exemptions are often made for security or investigative reasons.

The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition opposes the collection of police intelligence, saying the database should be used for “counter-surveillance.”

Attorney Matthew McNicholas said 321 undercover officers filed legal claims, the precursor to a lawsuit, through his office and more are expected to be filed. The names of the officers were not listed in court documents.

“Only time will tell how many there are in total,” McNicholas said Tuesday during a news conference to announce the filings.

The claims allege negligence and seek unspecified damages. The plaintiffs say they can no longer work as undercover officers and, in some cases, they may not be able to work in the police force in the future.

McNicholas said her clients fear for their safety, as well as that of their families, and want to know if the city will provide them with protection. He said he is aware of several investigations involving undercover officers, such as gang cases, drug and sex dealers, that have been stopped following the disclosure. He did not provide additional details.

Tuesday’s claims follow separate lawsuits filed last month by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file officers in the department. The union has sued the police chief in an attempt to “recover” the photographs of the undercover officers and prevent further release.

“We were wrong in the sense that there are photographs that should not have been there,” Moore told the Los Angeles Times, which first reported the disclosure. “Now… that ship has sailed.”

Officer Jeff Lee, a spokesman for the department, said the agency would not comment on the pending litigation.