The union argues releasing the information puts an officer’s safety at risk.
The requirement is part of emergency legislation passed by the D.C. Council in June that also involves changes to police disciplinary and hiring practices.
The decision to be more transparent about use-of-force, city officials said, was part of an effort to increase accountability. The move came in the wake of protests nationwide following the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The union’s lawsuit is seeking a decision by Saturday. No hearing date has been scheduled. But Judge William Jackson, union officials said, has been assigned to oversee the petition.
In the filing by the D.C. Fraternal Order of Police, its chairman, Gregg Pemberton, cited a June 8 letter written by Michael R. Sherwin, acting U.S. Attorney for the District, to the D.C. Council. In the letter, Sherwin objected to the city’s move to release the body camera footage, saying it could identify witnesses and hamper any criminal investigation.
Sherwin also disagreed with the city’s decision to identify the officers involved in a deadly, on-duty incident. He argued that police do not identify suspects in a case unless they are charged and that police officers should be given the same courtesy.
At the time of Sherwin’s letter, the city was considering mandating release within three days of an incident, a time frame the council later extended to five days. His office could not immediately say Monday whether that allayed any of his concerns.
A 2016 study commissioned by D.C. Auditor Kathleen Patterson found no D.C. police officer who shot and killed someone while on duty had ever been charged criminally. No officers has been charged in a deadly force incident since then.
Union officials say the city’s decision puts officers at risk.
“It is disappointing that city leaders have passed a law that intentionally endangers every police officer on this department,” Pemberton said in a statement. “The DC Police Union’s only recourse at this juncture was to challenge the law in Superior Court. We believe the Court will agree with our arguments and grant the injunction.”
The union represents the police department’s 3,600 officers.
Councilman Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who chairs the committee with oversight of city police and who spearheaded the emergency bill, said the District’s ruling aids in accountability.
“Police officers are lawfully allowed to seriously injure or even kill under certain circumstances, but before the Council’s emergency bill passed the public was rarely given even basic information about what happened in these serious cases – thus few independent tools for accountability exist,” Allen said in an interview. “I’m at a loss as to why the FOP thinks officers’ names should be hidden when police disclose the names and likenesses of suspects daily. Surely there’s greater public interest when the government takes a life or exercises force on residents and visitors?”
Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.