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Placer County District Attorney refuses to release sex crime statistics

Information requested by The Journal late last year
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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The Placer County District Attorney’s Office has denied repeated California Public Records Act Requests made by The Journal requesting sex crimes statistics in Placer County. The information requested included data on the number of sex crimes forwarded to the district attorney’s office for review, number of cases prosecuted and not prosecuted, a breakdown of how the district attorney categorizes sex crimes and number of convictions from 2000-2012. In December 2011, The Journal requested the information because of the value to its readers of knowing these sex crime statistics in their county, including understanding issues of public safety and knowledge about how many cases public prosecutors are prosecuting with their tax dollars. The initial verbal request made by The Journal was denied in a letter written by Placer County Assistant District Attorney Jeffery Wilson dated Jan. 13. Although The Journal clearly did not request information on victims or that which is protected by attorney-client privilege laws, Wilson said he would not release the statistics because the public could misinterpret the raw data without an explanation for the decision in each case. He said the district attorney’s office could not reveal those explanations, either, without sharing information about victims or information protected under client-attorney privilege. In his letter he gave the following explanation: “The public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record. Release of the raw numbers could result in the information being misinterpreted by the public, unless explanations are provided for the decision in each case,” Wilson said. “An explanation of the reason of why a particular case was denied or prosecuted would require information that is protected pursuant to the statutes listed above.” After consulting with Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Association, The Journal wrote a Jan. 20 response to Wilson’s letter outlining the legal reasons the data on sex crime statistics is a matter of public record. Ewert said the district attorney’s office has failed to balance the public interest in nondisclosure against its interest in disclosure. “That is exactly what they are saying — the public can’t handle the truth and it’s nonsensical. That answer is nonsensical,” Ewert said. “It is just a statistical response and the public is entitled to know what the crime statistics in the community are.” Ewert also said that since the district attorney is an elected official, the public has a right to know how cases are being prosecuted. The Journal clarified that it was not asking for any information pertaining to victims or documents that are protected under attorney-client privilege. The district attorney’s office was asked to leave out any information of that nature and provide the rest, a practice specified under the California Public Records Act. The Journal also cited that the California State Constitution states (in article 1, section 3, subsection B2) that any statute, court ruling or other authority must be broadly interpreted if it furthers the people’s right of access and narrowly interpreted if it limits the right of access. Furthermore, data about sex crime statistics has already been made public through other documents, including arrest logs, jail booking, court proceedings and Megan’s Law. In a second letter dated Feb. 14, Wilson again stated said the district attorney’s office legal reason for denying the request was based upon Government Code section 6255, that the public interested served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosing the information. The public misinterpreting the data without explanations was again the reason stated in Wilson’s second letter to The Journal denying the release of the statistics. Ewert sais the public interest balancing test is being wrongly cited by the district attorney’s office. “He identifies the public interest in nondisclosure. He never identifies the public interest in disclosure and he never actually does the balance,” Ewert said. “He had failed to apply the law, and because he failed to apply, it he is in violation.” The Journal met with Wilson Tuesday. Wilson was asked if he had any further comment for a story on the offices’ denial of these statistics. As of Tuesday, Wilson said the district attorney’s office would not release the statistics on sex crime cases in Placer County and had no intention of doing so in the future. “He doesn’t intend to. It seems to me that is the most important part,” Ewert said. “The question in my mind and probably in the people that live in Placer County’s mind would be, why?” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com.