Lawsuit Accuses L.A. Police of Withholding Documents on Mapping of Muslim Communities

Thursday, July 28, 2016
Muslim woman leaves Masjid Omar ibn Al-Khattab mosque in Los Angeles (photo: Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images)

By Matt Reynolds, Courthouse News Service


  LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Muslim advocacy group claims the Los Angeles Police Department refuses to hand over documents related to an abandoned and controversial plan to map Muslim communities in the city.


The LAPD announced in late 2007 that it had ditched the plan to map Muslim communities as part of the department's counterterrorism efforts against Islamic extremism.


The change of heart came after opposition from several groups including Muslim Advocates, the ACLU of Southern California, the Islamic Shura Council and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who said the plan amounted to religious profiling.


Now in a lawsuit filed on Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Muslim Advocates says that since 2013 it has requested email records so it can dig deeper into the department's plans for the program but has been blocked at every turn by LAPD officials who claim that producing the records would be unduly burdensome.


Muslim Advocates president Farhana Khera said in a telephone interview that she wanted a better understanding of what the LAPD was thinking when it created the program and who the department was "talking to."


Khera cited another case claiming that religious profiling of law-abiding Muslims by the New York Police Department in Hassan v. City of New York.


In that case, Khera said, it turned out the department had been working with the CIA.


"In our view, they were essentially non-responsive to the request when we believe they do have documents about this program and we're seeking to really get a full understanding of what the Los Angeles Police Department had put together," Khera said.


Officials with the city and LAPD declined to comment on the lawsuit, stating that they could not comment on pending litigation.


According to the 28-page complaint, the LAPD over the years has "offered evolving justifications for its refusal to produce records."


At first, the department said no email records for the period between 2001 and 2010 exist even though, the group says, Deputy Chief Michael Downing told the U.S. Senate Committee in October 2007 that the LAPD had planned an initiative with "an academic institution to conduct an extensive 'community mapping' project."


A report by the Los Angeles Times in November 2007 revealed that the department planned to work with the University of Southern California's National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events.


Downing also told the committee that the department had been in talks with the Muslim community over an 18-month period.


Muslim Advocates contend that the outreach efforts must have created some documentation.


LAPD also told that group that remarks about the program were "'derived from non-department related news articles'" even though Downing was the source of the comments, the group says.


After several months of back and forth, the LAPD produced "only a handful of emails, without attachments, from a time period well after the program's end," Muslim Advocates says.


Of 4,500 post-2010 emails, the department released only five pages, the group adds.


"The LAPD continues to refuse to disclose remaining records stored on email archives (from the critical period during which the program was conceived and organized), falling back on an argument that it would be too burdensome to search for these records — even though the LAPD concedes that it has been able to search these archives in the past for the LAPD's own purposes," the July 25 filing states.


Muslim Advocates says the LAPD's "arguments are not credible" and that under the California Public Records Act the department is required to search for the requested records and "assist a requestor like Muslim Advocates in overcoming any practical barriers."


"The LAPD has refused to do so," the group says in its complaint.


The group says that their records request "relates to the public's strong interest in understanding the proposals, viewpoint, and methods of law enforcement agencies and officials that engage with Muslim communities about public safety."


It wants a judge to order the LAPD to comply with state public records law.


Muslim Advocates is represented by Karen Henry of Davis Wright Tremaine.


The law firm did not immediately respond to requests for interviews by telephone and email.


To Learn More:

Trump and Cruz Want Muslim Neighborhoods in U.S. “Patrolled and Secured” by Law Enforcement (by Vivian Salama and Jonathan Lemire, Associated Press)

Civil Liberties Group Sues Fed over Counter-Terrorism Program Seen as Damaging to Muslims (by Dustin Volz and Mark Hosenball, Reuters)

Muslim Surveillance Lawsuits Settle with No NYPD Admission of Wrongdoing or Damages Paid, Just a Promise to Stop Spying (by Tom Hays, Associated Press)

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