Probe: January 31, 2001

January 31, 2001

QUESTION: It's almost Valentines' Day but the Christmas decorations are still up on Main Street in El Centro. Can you find out why and when the city plans to take them down? — Dispirited, El Centro

By the time you read this, the Christmas 2000 garlands and baubles should be down and packed away for next year, promised city of El Centro Public Works Director Steve Hogan.

Hogan agreed to have the workers in his department remove the decorations although it is not really his department's job.

Traditionally, the Chamber of Commerce pays for the holiday decor and city firefighters put it up and take it down.

In case you haven't noticed, El Centro firefighters have been busy this holiday season putting out fires. They had a couple of big ones, at The Salvation Army Thrift Store and Fox Theater.

QUESTION: I am a correctional officer. I got into an argument with my girlfriend last July. I started throwing her clothes out in the yard. She called 911.


All of a sudden there were cops at my house. My girlfriend told them I didn't hit her. The cops decided to arrest me anyway.

I got mad and started cussing. They filed charges against me, including "obstructing a police officer" and "domestic violence." I swear I didn't touch her.

I almost lost my job!

Can you tell me how to file a Freedom of Information Act request? I need a copy of the 911 tape and the police report to give my attorney. — In-trouble, Imperial

A Freedom of Information request won't do you any good in this case. That's a federal law and it covers only federal agencies.

Since your beef is with the Imperial Police Department, your right to obtain the records is provided under Section 6253 of the California Government Code. It's part of the California Public Records Act.

Getting police records is a bit tougher than getting a City Council agenda. Some information may be exempt.

But the law says when a specific document is not exempt, the public agency must make the document "promptly" available.

It also allows the public agency to charge you for making copies of the materials.

Write a letter to the agency citing the government code. Be specific so the agency can find the information you need.

If you don't get the material, you can take the agency, in this case, the Imperial police, to court. If the department loses it must pay your legal fees.

To ensure the cops don't shine you on (or dump your letter in the waste basket) send copies to the city attorney and the City Council. At the bottom of your letter write: "cc (copies) to city attorney — City Council."

The best (and possibly cheapest) solution would be to have your attorney write the letter for you. He may be able to get the information with a phone call.

He knows how to write the letter and public officials tend to pay more attention when they get a letter on a lawyer's stationery.

FAMILY SUPPORT UPDATE — Finally a January child support check came in for the El Centro family that has been on short rations since November.

Deputy District Attorney George Holbrook said the check can be picked up Monday. That makes three checks in two weeks. It may be enough to catch up on the rent.

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