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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lake County News Site Wins Public Records Battle With Sheriff Who Blacklisted Them

Posted By on Wed, Mar 13, 2013 at 6:41 AM

Sheriff Frank Rivero
  • Sheriff Frank Rivero

The Lake County News fought the law and won.

In January, the local news site's founders, Elizabeth Larson and John Jensen, sued Lake County Sheriff Francisco Rivero for discrimination, claiming that he was shutting them out from public information because the outlet published "unfavorable" articles about him. On Monday, the two parties reached a settlement: the Sheriff's Office will fulfill four public records requests filed by the LCN, as well as add the news outlet back onto the department's press release list.

See Also: Lake County News Sues Sheriff for Retaliation After Printing "Unfavorable Articles"

In October, Rivero, who began his career as an SFPD beat cop in Bayview-Hunter's Point, accused LCN of a "witch hunt" against him, after the outlet reported a series of stories about the sheriff's involvement in a 2008 shooting, in which he fired a shot at a suspect holding pepper spray. The articles noted that county's District Attorney, Don Anderson, was investigating Rivero for possibly lying about what happened during the incident, and that taxpayers covered $6,500 of Rivero's legal funds.

Larson's lawyer Paul Nicholas Boylan told the Columbia Journalism Review that Rivero e-mailed the LCN, "After becoming aware that you have printed such a blatant lie ... I am done with your National Enquirer-style reporting."

A few weeks later, Larson and Jensen then made several public records requests for all the sheriff's communication with other news outlets, to see if they had been blacklisted from press releases. The office denied the request, which the LCN founders claimed violated the California Public Records Act.

As it turned out, Anderson's investigation into Rivero, who was elected sheriff of the Northern California county in 2010, concluded last month. Anderson found that Rivero "did not tell the truth" about his role in the shooting and, consequently, should be placed on the "Brady List,"compilation of officers whose testimony should be considered suspect. Rivero had told investigators that he couldn't tell what the suspect was holding, only that he was pointing something at the sheriff "in a hostile fashion." In his report, Anderson stated that "It is unlikely the account of the incident described by deputy Rivero is accurate."

Anderson's findings became public at a hearing on March 4. "That was the opposite result of what Sheriff Frank Rivero was seeking in serving District Attorney Don Anderson with ... a preliminary injunction, meant to prevent the findings from being released," LCN reported.

Exactly a week later, Rivero's name was back on a court docket, this time for the settlement.

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Albert Samaha


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