ACLU Demands Killer’s Name

originally published at www.pressdemocrat.com

ACLU seeks name of deputy who fatally shot suspect June 1

By RANDI ROSSMANN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Published: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 12:52 p.m.

The refusal by Sonoma County sheriff’s officials to release the name of a deputy who shot and killed a man following a high-speed chase two weeks ago is being challenged by the ACLU.

The Sonoma County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has formally requested Sheriff Bill Cogbill release the name of the deputy, as well as other deputies present at the shooting.

Albert Mike Leday, Jr., 49, died June 1, after being shot while in front of Coddingtown Mall at Guerneville Road and West Steele Lane after leading deputies on a high-speed chase and crashing into a pole.

Sheriff’s officials said the deputy who shot him has not been identified because his safety could be in jeopardy. They have also refused to say if the deputy has been involved in any other shootings and how long he has been on the force.

Cogbill Tuesday held to that position, saying the department has information indicating a possible threat to the officer.

Leday was an ex-felon on parole for a burglary conviction with a record that included assault with a deadly weapon and two restraining orders.

Cogbill Tuesday said he had some ties to gangs, but a gang connection alone did not warrant withholding the deputy’s name, he said.

Three days after the shooting, Santa Rosa police officials leading the investigation said gang activity was not part of their concern for the deputy’s safety.

Cogbill said they’ve uncovered more information since that time.

“I believe it’s a viable threat and something we need to be concerned about,” Cogbill said.

Leday’s family Tuesday refuted reports that Leday had gang ties, his son said.

“He was an educated, well-spoken man who had zero ties to gangs,” said his son, Justin Leday, 25, of Santa Rosa.

The wait to find out more about why a deputy used lethal force against Leday, who was apparently unarmed, has taken a toll on his family, said Perla Rodriguez, 49, of Las Vegas, Justin Leday’s mother and Leday’s high-school sweetheart.

“I want answers, I need answers,” Rodriguez said. “I can’t rest, and believe me my son can’t rest.”

Steve Fabian, member of the local ACLU board, wrote to the sheriff on behalf of the agency, citing the public records act and asking for the information within 10 days.

Cogbill said he met with a county attorney Tuesday afternoon in light of the ACLU’s letter and confirmed that the Public Information Act allows a law enforcement agency to withhold a name when that person’s safety is in question.

“The law is pretty clear that if we feel there’s a viable threat to the person, then we can withhold the name,” Cogbill said.

Cogbill added that the decision to continue withholding the name was not influenced by the deputy’s record or time on the force.

“It has nothing to do with any past history or actions or who the person is,” Cogbill said.

If an investigation determines the threat isn’t real, he’ll release the name, Cogbill said.

Law enforcement agencies may be legally justified in withholding a name right after a shooting if there’s a “clear and direct threat” to the person’s safety, Terry Francke, general counsel with Californians Aware, a nonprofit public records group, told The Press Democrat last week. But Francke said there’s no legal basis to withhold that information indefinitely.

In prior cases involving deputies shooting a suspect, the release of names has varied.

It took two days for Santa Rosa Police and the Sheriff’s Department to release the names of two deputies involved in the March 2007 fatal shooting of Jeremiah Chass, a Sebastopol teenager.

It took two months for sheriff’s officials that same year to release the name of three deputies who shot and killed a man who wounded a deputy. Officials claimed it had taken that long to determine if there were credible threats against the three.

In the Leday case, deputies were called to a Larkfield apartment by a woman fearful of her ex-boyfriend. She told a dispatcher he’d recently assaulted her and was then armed with a knife.

When deputies spotted the man in his car, he led them on a chase from Larkfield to Coddingtown.

At the mall entrance, Leday drove into a light pole and got out of his car. Sheriff’s officials said he was seen reaching for something behind his back and that he wouldn’t follow commands to comply with deputies.

Deputies said they feared he had a weapon. One deputy fired three times, hitting Leday once.

He was apparently unarmed and no weapon was found in the car or at the scene.

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