The Californian’s occasional feature about roadblocks — either put up by public officials or that exist in the law — that get in the way during the quest for information.
Just what kind of conversations was a former acting police chief at the Kern High School District recording that landed him with four criminal eavesdropping charges?
The details may never be known publicly.
That’s because the Kern County District Attorney’s office denied The Californian’s Public Records Act request for the audio files that Dave Edmiston, the former police chief, made of his discussions with other officers in his department.
Even search warrant returns, which reveal what evidence has been collected in a case and are typically public record, have been under court seal.
“Law enforcement investigatory records are exempt from disclosure under Government Code Section 6254(f). This code section applies to district attorney case files … and continues to apply even after an investigation is closed,” the D.A.’s denial letter states.
So even after Edmiston pled no contest last month to one count of misdemeanor eavesdropping — with an arrangement that the sentencing be deferred and three other charges dropped if he keeps his record clean for one year — the records are not available to the public, said Supervising Deputy District Attorney Gregory Pulskamp.
“It’s not just our office policy, it’s following the structure of the law,” Pulskamp said, explaining that this type of exemption from the Public Records Act allows police to conduct thorough investigations without worrying that it could later be compromised.
“They don’t want a quelling sense during the course of investigation. They want somebody to have the confidence to investigate everything fully and completely without concern things will leak out publicly because a lot of times, you get sensitive and private information that could be very embarrassing,” Pulskamp said.
Nikki Moore, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, agreed that the denial seemed legitimate because distributing a tape of a conversation recorded surreptitiously would continue a violation of privacy.
“The whole purpose of eavesdropping statutes is to prevent that privacy violation,” Moore said.
Jerald Wyatt, a KHSD police officer, reported Edmiston for illegally recording him without his consent or knowledge. Although tapes haven’t been released, Wyatt’s lawyer said the conversations deal broadly with job performance and discussions about other officers.