Los Angeles sues journalist for disclosure of undercover cops

Los Angeles is suing a journalist and an anti-police watchdog group for releasing the names and photos of undercover cops — information obtained through a public files request.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of lawsuits involving the city, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) — the LAPD’s police union — after the City of Los Angeles and the Police Department inadvertently the names of over 300 undercover police officers were released in a public response.

In a statement to the Daily Dot, journalist Ben Camacho said the lawsuit was an example of LAPPL using the city to “do its dirty work.”

“The attempt to reclaim public records and fabricate this whole mess is very telling for the brains behind the city and LAPPL lawsuit. The photos are out there, they have to accept that,” he said.

According to the lawsuit, Camacho, who writes for progressive outlet Knock LA, filed a public records request in October 2021 to obtain an up-to-date list of LAPD names, ID numbers and other identifying information. Camacho also required headshots for any given officer.

In January last year, the LAPD gave Camacho a list of police officers but refused to provide photos of officers. Camacho then filed an injunction against Los Angeles in May 2022 for not providing the photos, and the two sides agreed to settle the dispute.

“The city agreed to provide images of all active-duty sworn officers available in the LAPD’s system, excluding images of officers working undercover, beginning July 3, 2022,” the lawsuit reads. “Camacho’s attorney agreed that any production of photographs or images would specifically exclude images of officers working in an undercover capacity.”

Camacho received a USB stick containing images of all active duty officers in September 2022 and was again informed by the city that “it does not include images of officers who were working undercover at the time the images were downloaded (late July 2022).”

However, the flash drive contained the photos of over 300 undercover LAPD officers, which the city didn’t realize until six months later, in March of that year. The names and photos of all 9,000 officers, information Camacho obtained from the city itself, were released to a database created by the anti-police spy organization Stop LAPD Spying Coalition.

The 300 undercover officers filed a lawsuit against the city and LAPD, calling the disclosure by their attorney “catastrophic negligence.”

Now, the city claims that because it inadvertently provided undercover officers’ names and photos, the photos and names are not bound by the same rules as intentionally released information, and is demanding the removal and return of the undercover officer’s information.

“Defendants were and are in unlawful possession of the flash drive and copies of the gutted photographs in violation of the city’s right to immediate possession, and upon the city’s request for the return of the property, the defendants unlawfully withheld that property and did not done to return said property to the city,” the lawsuit reads.

The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition said in a series of tweets that it “has the right to release public records.”

“This is an attack on the public’s ability to request, analyze and publish public records,” the group said calledadding it was “a new low”.


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*Initial publication: April 6, 2023 2:28 pm CDT

Jacob Seitz

Jacob Seitz is a freelance journalist originally from Columbus, Ohio, interested in the intersection of culture and politics.

Jacob Seitz

Jaclyn Diaz

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