District attorney's office keeps tabs on questionable cops

District attorney's office keeps tabs on questionable cops »Play Video

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — There is a secretive and controversial list of police officers kept by the Kern County District Attorney's Office with the names of cops found to have serious credibility issues.

It's called the Brady list.

An officer can land on the list if he or she has been convicted of a crime, falsified reports, lied to superiors, used excessive force or other misdeeds.

"Fortunately, the Brady lists don't tend to be very big in most jurisdictions," said Kern County Assistant District Attorney Scott Spielman.

How many cops in Kern County are on the Brady list?

"It varies," said Spielman, who is the keeper of the list. "At any given time, it can have names added to it, it can have names taken off of it. People may no longer be officers, so they may not be testifying."

Cops on the list are commonly referred to as "Brady cops."

In a 1963 case known as Brady vs. Maryland, the Supreme Court ruled that evidence affecting the credibility of a police officer as a witness may be exculpatory and should be given to the defense - hence the term Brady cops, referring to officers who have been dishonest.

But, the names of officers on a Brady list are not made public.

And, while many of these officers are fired from their particular agency, not all of them lose their job. Some Brady officers are still working, for example, at the Kern County Sheriff's Office.

"I don't have any Brady officers that I've kept since I've been the sheriff for seven years," said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood. "But, prior to that, there are people here who are Brady officers."

Youngblood said he can't fire these officers, because they've been disciplined prior to him becoming sheriff.  

The Bakersfield Police Department also has a zero-tolerance practice for dishonest cops, said police spokesman Sgt. Joe Grubbs. Currently, it has no officers with Brady issues, he said.

"The only time that a Brady issue would be of material issue to us is if we kept the officer employed who has lied," said Grubbs.

Officers with credibility issues present a host of problems not just for their departments, but for prosecutors. A Brady officer testifying in court can undermine a case, as prosecutors are legally required to disclose any exculpatory evidence to the defense, whatever it may be.

"Police misconduct can assume many forms," said Kern County Public Defender Konrad Moore.

Moore noted that getting access to an officer's past is not an easy process. The defense must request an officer's file from the court through what is called a Pitchess motion. And, even then, the information turned over can be sanitized as a judge reviews the requested file and then determines what information in the officer's file can be shown to the defense.

"It's very limited in terms of our ability. We can't share it with other attorneys or clients. But, it is an important tool in our arsenal as it relates to protect and defend our clients," said Moore.

Different police agencies have different ways of dealing with a Brady officer. Not all cops with credibility issues are dismissed.

Youngblood said the head of an organization can issue disciplinary action less than termination, or Brady officers can get their jobs back by appealing through the Civil Service Commission.

Not wanting to be blindsided in court by an officer with Brady issues, the District Attorney's Office requested law enforcement agencies to submit names of officers in their department who had credibility problems.

The request was made two years ago.

"In some instances, we're still waiting to try and get an answer from them. It's an ongoing process," said Spielman.