by Natalie Hanson
posted Oct. 2
Scott and Paula Rushing have spent six years fighting the City of Chico over its role in the killing of their son, Tyler.
Now, the Rushings face yet another hurdle -— they’ve been denied police records about the 2017 shooting and tasering of Tyler.
Scott Rushing, a Ventura resident, has filed a lawsuit claiming the City of Chico violated California’s public transparency laws by refusing to provide Chico Police Department records.
It is not the first time Rushing has claimed the City withheld records of his son’s death from his family.
“I feel that I am being punished by City officials,” Rushing said. “This is a retaliation tactic by the City against my wife and I for pursuing a jury trial for the Chico PD officers involved in killing our son. The need to hire a costly attorney to sue the City of Chico to release public records, to obey state laws, and to be transparent should be unnecessary.”
City officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the Rushings’ new lawsuit. Last summer, Police Chief Billy Aldridge emailed a statement to ChicoSol, stating in part that “…the City does not allow any employee to speak on cases with pending litigation … Once the case is adjudicated, I will be happy to speak with you about it.”
The City last year settled a lawsuit with ChicoSol contributor Dave Waddell, over violations of the California Public Records Act. Under the settlement agreement, the City paid $43,637 and provided the documents Waddell requested — public records related to four killings by or involving officers at the Chico Police Department – – in some cases 19 months after the requests were first made.
Rushing filed the claim Aug. 30 in Butte County Superior Court for a petition of declaratory relief and writ of mandate under the California Public Records Act.
He had filed two Public Records Act requests with the City during December 2022, seeking a PowerPoint presentation that he says Chico PD’s command staff produced after his son died on July 23, 2017. He also sought the names of the officers who were members of the Hostage or Crisis Negotiating teams and may have been on duty that night.
In a response filed to Rushing’s complaint, the City said the records are exempt under the Public Records Act’s government code section that allows officials to withhold records from the public for multiple reasons.
The City said on Dec. 20, 2022, that the officers’ names Rushing requested were also exempt under the Public Records Act, citing a 1991 case involving the “deliberative process” doctrine, Times Mirror Co. v. Superior Court.
“The records you seek have the potential of revealing sensitive and strategic information regarding security measures implemented to protect the City’s uniformed personnel,” the City wrote in response. “The city’s interest in protecting sensitive security measures clearly outweighs the public’s interest in access to the same.”
Rushing believes the Public Records Act, Senate Bill 1421, Assembly Bill 748 and Senate Bill 16 mandate disclosure of the records requested. In particular, Rushing noted SB 1421 states that concealing crucial public safety matters undercuts the public’s faith in law enforcement.
He also wants the judge to conduct an in camera review of some or all of the records requested and asks that if the court does not immediately order disclosure, that the City be ordered to show cause and disclose the records.
Rushing’s attorney on the documents case, Aaron Field, said no timeline for proceedings has been set.
“Because this is a Public Records Act case, if Mr. Rushing prevails, the public will prevail as well,” Field said. “These records would shed more light on how this tragedy happened as a matter of City policy, and on how City policy has changed or should change as a result.
“The public has a compelling interest in answering these questions. Recent police records disclosure laws … and our Supreme Court’s recognition that ‘openness in government is essential to the functioning of a democracy,’ recognize this.”
The Rushings’ separate civil rights lawsuit regarding how their son was killed and tasered may be finally headed to a civil trial in federal court before U.S. Senior District Judge Morrison C. England, Jr.
England granted the City’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit in its entirety in 2020, but that ruling was partially overturned on appeal. The judge then denied the City’s motions aimed at again tossing the entire suit in July. A stipulation filed Sept. 26 shows that the parties will meet in a settlement conference before Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman on Nov. 28.
Natalie Hanson is a contributing writer to ChicoSol.