Is California skipping investigations in deadly police shootings?

Your guide to California policy and politics
Ben Christopher BY Ben Christopher January 26, 2023
Presented by American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and New California Coalition

Is California skipping investigations in deadly police shootings?

On Sunday, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a man suspected of stabbing an elderly woman near a gas station in Altadena.

Both the Sheriff’s homicide unit and its Internal Affairs Bureau reportedly launched investigations.

On Wednesday, Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that the state Department of Justice launched its own probe, noting in a press release that preliminary findings indicated that the man killed “ was not in possession of a deadly weapon at the time of the fatal shooting.”

Bonta didn’t launch the investigation solely out of personal interest. A state law passed in 2020 — and supported by Bonta, then an Assemblymember — requires the Department of Justice to investigate whenever a law enforcement officer kills a citizen who isn’t armed with a deadly weapon.

But as CalMatters’ justice reporter Nigel Duara found, the department isn’t always investigating the cases referred to it. Nor is it explaining why. Nor was it even tracking “non-qualifying” killings — until Nigel started asking about them.

  • A Justice Department spokesperson: “Given the mandate and the need to rapidly implement a major new statewide initiative, our office focused on…qualifying events.”

The lack of record-keeping has angered shooting victims’ advocates and local prosecutors alike, including those in Sonoma County after Bonta’s office declined a case:

  • Izaak Schwaiger, a lawyer representing the family of a man shot by a Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy: “To just get turned a cold shoulder like this is indefensible, and it’s a misapplication of the attorney general’s duty under the law.”
  • Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch: “It would be helpful to have a written explanation of how the determination was made to decline participation in the investigation.”

Ever since the law was passed, evidence has been mounting that the Department of Justice was straining under the added caseload of dozens of new complex shooting investigations

Even when an investigation is opened, that’s only the beginning. Last November, the state had opened 25 cases and resolved only one. Now, it’s 31 opened, two resolved, according to the CalMatters tracker.


CalMatters covers the Legislature: With the state Legislature back in session, CalMatters has you covered with guides to keep track of your lawmakers, explore its record diversity, make your voice heard and understand how state government works. We also have Spanish-language versions for the Legislature’s demographics and the state government explainer.   


1 California’s jungle crude

Oil production infrastructure in the Amazon rainforest in Peru on Febr. 21, 2022. Photo by Alessandro Cinque, Reuters
Oil production infrastructure in the Amazon rainforest in Peru on Feb. 21, 2022. Photo by Alessandro Cinque, Reuters

A report published by two conservation nonprofits estimates that a major fraction of the gas in your tank comes from one of the most biodiverse and ecologically sensitive places on earth.

For all it’s green cred, the New York Times reports, California is the Amazon oil drilling industry’s top customer:

  • 50% of Amazonian crude (most of it Ecuadorian) is shipped to California;
  • Half of that goes to three L.A.-area refineries;
  • LAX is a major consumer: 1 in 6 gallons of jet fuel pumped there comes from the Amazon.

What conclusion should we draw? It may depend on your political views. Environmentalists say the report underscores just how important it is for the world to wean itself from fossil fuels. 

But the analysis also backs up one of the California oil industry’s biggest (and most memed) talking points: Make it easier to drill more here and save Ecuador’s exceedingly cute sloths

Meanwhile, an industry effort to overturn a law that drastically restricts where new oil and gas wells can go is expected to qualify for the 2024 ballot any day now. Expect fierce pushback from Gov. Gavin Newsom and most other Democrats.

Nearly two months into the Legislature’s special session on Newsom’s proposed “price gouging penalty” on oil companies, legislative leaders appointed Assembly and Senate committees this week.

In other energy news, this from CalMatters’ environment reporter Nadia Lopez:

Federal regulators earlier this week rejected a request from operator Pacific Gas and Electric to resume a review of its application to extend the lifespan of California’s last nuclear facility, the Diablo Canyon power plant.

How we got here:

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to deny the license extension means the utility will need to start the relicensing application process all over again to extend operations. The utility on Wednesday told CalMatters that it will submit a new renewal application for a 20-year period at the end of this year. 

  • PG&E spokesperson Suzanne Hosn: “PG&E remains committed to complying with current legislative policy to ensure the state has the option to keep the Diablo Canyon power plant online to ensure electrical reliability as California continues toward its clean energy future.”

Environmental justice groups and anti-nuclear advocates opposed to the plant’s extension praised the decision, citing long-held concerns over spent nuclear waste and safety issues due to the plant’s proximity to seismic fault lines. 

2 The case of the disappearing student body

Students walk across campus at the California State University East Bay campus on Feb. 25, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

As with office furniture, Zoom and that video game with the talking raccoon, demand was high for a California State University education at the height of the pandemic. In the fall of 2020, Cal State posted its highest-ever enrollment figures.

But as CalMatters’ higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn explains, that boom has busted — and that could come with a hefty price tag for the county’s largest public university system.

  • California State University system vice chancellor Steve Relyea: “The California State University is facing an unprecedented moment in its 62-year history.”

The numbers:

  • In the last two years, the system saw a decline of 27,000 students
  • Seven campuses — including CSU Channel Islands, Chico State and San Francisco State — are under their state enrollment targets by 10% or more
  • More than 18% of last year’s freshman didn’t come back this year

Now CSU leaders are warning the under-enrolled campuses to find new students or prepare for budget cuts. Starting in 2024 (at the earliest), any campus missing its enrollment target by 10% or more will permanently lose up to 5% of its state enrollment funding.

3 California’s parallel political universe

Republican state Senators Brian Jones, of Santee, and Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, of Yucaipa, discuss one of the budget bills at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday, June 29, 2022. During an unusual night time session California lawmakers worked on a package of bills to enact the nearly $308 billion budget that includes cash payments for most taxpayers to help offset record-high gas prices. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo
Republican state Senators Brian Jones and Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh discuss a budget bill at the Capitol in Sacramento on June 29, 2022. Photo by Rich Pedroncelli, AP Photo

What are the biggest issues facing California?

It turns out Gov. Gavin Newsom and California’s GOP legislators actually agree: The cost of living, homelessness, the drought and the fentanyl crisis.

So how should the state address those problems, particularly under the specter of a projected $22.5 billion-dollar budget shortfall

Well, there’s the rub.

On Wednesday, California’s Senate Republicans laid out their agenda. The caucus is just 8 members — not enough to field a full baseball team, much less push through their own legislation in the chamber of 40. So as noted by my colleague, Sameea Kamal, they’ll need a lot of cooperation from Democrats to get any of these bills passed. 

Ideas with a fighting chance:

Dead on arrival


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s state government has a sorry history of botched programs, and long-term care insurance is another example.

CalMatters columnist Jim Newton: California’s warehouse boom comes with health, environmental costs for Inland Empire residents.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

Two mass shootings in three days. Are these copycat crimes? // Los Angeles Times

Half Moon Bay shooting highlights poor conditions on farms // San Francisco Chronicle

A leader in gun control efforts, California confronts its limits // Washington Post

The spectre of anti-Asian violence in the Monterey Park shooting // The New Yorker

Shasta to become first California county to drop Dominion // Record Searchlight

Wave of rural nursing home closures grows amid staffing crunch // California Healthline

A reckoning over race: How 4 words upended a university’s journalism program // LAist

L.A. schools learning loss days cost $611 per student a day // Los Angeles Times

As Biden mulls 2024, a progressive group is urging ‘Don’t Run Joe’ // San Francisco Chronicle

Facebook to reinstate Trump // Axios

California’s social services agency website included links to anti-immigrant group // KPBS

The fight over California’s ancient water // The Atlantic 

Millions in child care funds unspent as providers wait months for money // San Diego Union-Tribune

Judge questions law targeting docs who share COVID-19 misinformation // Sacramento Bee

Judge orders release of Paul Pelosi 911 call // Los Angeles Times

San Jose gun shop inspections by police have big holes // San Jose Mercury News

SF street artist swipes city property, sells it online for thousands // San Francisco Standard

Sacramento-area Peet’s Coffee first US location to unionize // Sacramento Bee

Why California wasn’t prepared for the atmospheric rivers // Los Angeles Times

Opinion: Alec Baldwin didn’t have to talk to the police. Neither do you // New York Times

See you tomorrow


Tips, insight or feedback? Email

Subscribe to CalMatters newsletters here.

Follow CalMatters on Facebook and Twitter.

CalMatters is now available in Spanish on Twitter, Facebook and RSS.

Sign In

We've recently sent you an authentication link. Please, check your inbox!

Sign in with a password below, or sign in using your email.

Get a code sent to your email to sign in, or sign in using a password.

Enter the code you received via email to sign in, or sign in using a password.

Subscribe to our newsletters: