City of LA sues journalist, watchdog group following release of LAPD info, photos

The city of Los Angeles has filed a lawsuit against a journalist and watchdog group, hoping to recover photos of police officers released last year, including some who work undercover.

The Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit names defendants journalist Ben Camacho of Knock LA and the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition. The suit states the defendants received the photos, names and work locations of 9,000 officers through a public record request.

In releasing the information, however, the city included photos and information of officers working undercover assignments, a release that police and city officials have dubbed a mistake.

"Defendants Ben Camacho, Stop LAPD Spying Coalition and (unidentified others) are willfully exposing to the public the identities of Los Angeles Police Department officers in undercover assignments on the website Watch the Watchers, despite knowing that they are not entitled to possess this information," the lawsuit brought Wednesday states. "The city seeks the return of these inadvertently produced photos to protect the lives and work of these undercover officers."

Following the photos' release, the officers' information appeared on a website named "Killer Cops," which allegedly offered a bounty to anyone that killed an officer, prompting a separate legal action by the union representing LAPD officers.

Reacting to the city's lawsuit seeking to recover the information, the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition stated on its Twitter page, "This is a new low. The city is suing community groups and journalists for publishing public records."

Also on Wednesday, Camacho said on Twitter that "Public records are for the public."


On Tuesday, undercover officers filed damages claims -- a precursor to a lawsuit -- against the city and the department over the photos' release.

Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Mayor Karen Bass declined to comment specifically on the newly filed city lawsuit against the coalition and Camacho, but she again criticized the release of the information on undercover officers as "egregious."

"As it stands now, law enforcement is down several hundred officers, and with retirements that can come in the next year, we are in a situation where law enforcement can lose a lot of its workforce," Bass said. "I'm very worried that with the officers that have been revealed, it might increase people leaving the department. So I have been very, very worried. I think this was an egregious mistake. I think we need to get to the bottom of how this happened and people need to be held fully accountable."

On his Twitter page, Camacho retorted, "@MayorofLA you asked again how it happened, I answered previously that they were physically handed to me, by your attorneys' staff, after a lawful CPRA (public records) request. Now that same attorney office is suing me? For handing me a flash drive? That I bought for y'all?"

Several local journalism groups have condemned the city for filing the lawsuit. 

The Los Angeles Journalists Coalition released a statement in part saying, "The City’s sweeping demand for censorship defies logic as well as the First Amendment. The City Attorney’s additional threat of law enforcement seizure sends a chilling warning to any journalist or individual who would lawfully use the Public Records Act to learn about their own government." 

The full statement is available to view online