Update: Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office released a statement on the matter Wednesday, saying:
“We always strive to balance the public’s right to know, the need to be transparent and an individual’s right to privacy. In this case, information from a database that’s required by law to be confidential was released erroneously, jeopardizing personal data of individuals across our state. No one wants to shield criminal behavior; we’re subject to the rule of law.”
BERKELEY — California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has been seen as a leader of the resistance to President Donald Trump and a champion of progressive policies.
But when it comes to policing the police some reporters say the attorney general may have credibility issues.
“It’s an inappropriate use of his office to threaten reporters,” said John Temple, the director of the University of California, Berkeley’s investigative reporting program.
UC Berkeley’s program has been working on stories about police corruption. Temple says after filing legitimate records requests they received criminal conviction records of 12,000 current, former and aspiring law enforcement officers from the state agency that keeps that information.
In a letter, Becerra’s office demanded Temple’s reporters not only not publish but destroy all the records they legally obtained.
“We certainly weren’t expecting that as a response because it seemed like such overkill for someone who’s supposed to be representing the interests of the people,” Temple told FOX40.
The letter threatens the Berkeley reporters with a lawsuit if they do not destroy their records.
It says the convictions “should not have been disclosed to anyone not authorized by statute to receive it.” It goes on to say the agency that released the records “is authorized to receive this information … You are not.”
“If the attorney general cracks down on these journalists that will be a First Amendment violation,” said attorney Mark Reichel.
Reichel says freedom of the press is hard to challenge in court, even if journalists have records that should be classified, as long as they don’t get them illegally. In this case, the Berkeley reporters did not.
“It’s very difficult for them to take them from you, to punish you for having them or to prevent you from publishing,” Reichel said.
“Which is basically an implied threat,” Temple said.
Temple says his team is not backing down. He says they’ll continue to investigate and publish names of officers who have been convicted of crimes.