By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The California Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that police departments in the state must as a general rule disclose the names of officers involved in shootings, despite claims by a police union that doing so would endanger their safety.
The court, ruling 6-1 in a case brought by union representing officers in the Los Angeles suburb of Long Beach, said that Californians' right to assess the actions of law enforcement outweighed the individual officers' right to privacy.
"In a case such as this one, which concerns officer-involved shootings, the public's interest in the conduct of its peace officers is particularly great because such shootings often lead to severe injury or death," Justice Joyce Kennard wrote in a 19-page opinion for the court's majority.
The case at issue before the court involved a December 2010 shooting by two Long Beach policemen who opened fire on an intoxicated man standing in his front yard after he pointed a garden hose spray nozzle at them. The man, 35-year-old Douglas Zerby, was struck multiple times and killed.
When a Los Angeles Times reporter sought the names of the officers involved, as well as the identity of all Long Beach officers connected to such shootings over the previous six years.
The Long Beach Police Officers Association went to court to bar release of the names on the grounds that doing so could lead to threats against them and the city joined in, arguing that it had a policy of reviewing such requests on a case-by-case basis.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that the city could not withhold the officers' names, a decision which was upheld on appeal and then appealed again to the state Supreme Court, which sided with the Times.
Attorneys representing the police union and Los Angeles Times could not immediately be reached for comment on the ruling.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Marguerita Choy)