Domestic violence survivors on Monday sued the San Francisco Police Department for what they describe as repeated failures to provide victims with the documents they need to obtain restraining orders.
“We don’t know how many women have died as a result of SFPD’s failure to enforce this law,” said pro bono counsel Jeanne Finberg in a statement, “but we do know that women who cannot get orders for protection are in danger.”
The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, asks the court to compel the SFPD to properly comply with California Family Code 6228, which mandates police departments turn over incident reports within five to 10 days.
The 1993 law ensures that survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking, etc. are able to quickly obtain restraining orders.
Lawyers with Bay Area Legal Aid say this is not happening.
“Although the statute provides for production of reports within a maximum of 10 days,” the lawsuit states, “SFPD takes an average of 50 days to deliver the incident reports requested by attorneys for survivors.”
Moreover, the lawsuit charges that 75 percent of people in need of the incident reports are not represented by attorneys or advocates, making it even more difficult for survivors to obtain the documentation they need.
When the police department does turn over the reports, the lawsuit argues, the documents are so heavily redacted as to render them illegible.
Monday’s filing is the culmination of more than a year of pressure brought by advocates urging the SFPD to comply with the law. Fawn Jade Korr, a Bay Area Legal Aid attorney, said she first raised the issue with Chief Bill Scott in March of last year. She says Scott pledged to remedy the issue.
But Korr and other advocates say the situation has not improved. After advocates complained at a January 2019 Police Commission meeting, the SFPD held several working group meetings in which advocates and SFPD officials collaborated on a draft policy.
Yet, in the months since those meetings, Korr said that survivors and their representatives are still not receiving reports within the mandated time frame. “Just because we’ve had a meeting where we worked on compliance and we were at the table — that’s not compliance,” Korr told Mission Local on Tuesday.
In April, Korr and Finberg sent the SFPD a last-ditch letter that demanded the police department provide them with a plan that comports with the law. If the department did not do so by April 29, they vowed to file suit.
Korr said police department did not respond to the letter, so they sued.
One of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, Lina Lu, asked for the necessary reports in March 2018, but only received one of three documents she needed to obtain a restraining order. The lawsuit says that 410 days lapsed between the time Lu asked for the files and the petition’s filing.
Another plaintiff, Alexandra Anderson, a domestic violence survivor, in February 2018 requested from the SFPD the files she needed for a supervised visitation hearing for her children. She received the reports 15 days after the request date, causing her to miss the deadline to submit evidence to the court, the lawsuit alleges.
“We should have sued last year,” Korr said. “We wanted in good faith to come to the table and not litigate, [but] at this point we feel we needed to file suit finally.”
SFPD spokesman David Stevenson deferred commentary to the City Attorney’s office.
“The City works every day to counter domestic violence. We take it very seriously,” said John Coté, a spokesman for the City Attorney’s office. “The San Francisco Police Department is committed to taking appropriate steps to provide survivors of domestic violence with incident reports so survivors can seek legal protections. We’re still waiting to be served with this lawsuit. We will review it thoroughly and respond appropriately in court.”