Police bodycam footage of Laguna Beach city manager traffic stop to be released

Shohreh Dupuis is the first female city manager in Laguna Beach. (Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach)

Footage taken by an officer’s body-worn camera of a November traffic stop involving Laguna Beach City Manager Shohreh Dupuis should be released to the public in the next few days.

A City Council majority decided in a recent 3-2 vote to make it public – minus things such as driver’s license information and other personal details.

“As elected City Council members, we are stewards of public trust and accountable to citizens of this community,” said Councilmember Alex Rounaghi, who, with Mark Orgill and George Weiss, voted to release the footage. “We live in times where distrust of government is at record levels. To me, it’s our responsibility to take steps where we can promote transparency.”

Dupuis, who has been at the helm of the city since June 2021, was pulled over for driving while using her hand-held cellphone on Coast Highway on Nov. 16. After details of the traffic stop became public, a resident requested a copy of the video and police dispatch logs via the California Public Records Act. Dupuis was given a $200 ticket.

When the process of turning records over dragged on, the resident, Michele Monda, publicly called for transparency, leading to discussions at several council meetings – including a response from Dupuis during the Jan. 10 meeting where she relayed her version of what happened, including that she was talking to Chief Jeff Calvert at the time. Dupuis took responsibility for the violation and apologized to the public.

“I was given a citation for being on the phone, and I’m planning to pay the citation,” Dupuis said during the meeting. “The call logs, both on my phone and Chief Calvert’s phone, show that I was speaking to him when I was pulled over. I told the officer that I was sorry that I was on the phone and that I was talking to Chief Calvert. I did not ask to not be given a ticket. He asked for my driver’s license and registration, and he wrote me a ticket.”

Monda and other residents continued to pushed for the release of the camera footage, twice asking for it, while also filing requests for Dupuis’ records from her city-financed phone along with records of Calvert’s phone.

The city attorney said in a report to the council that the requests were denied initially because the Police Department’s policy is to only release footage when required by law, and “in this instance, there is no such requirement.”

“For me, the issue with Shohreh Dupuis has never been about the traffic ticket; it’s about lack of transparency and the resulting inability of residents to confirm her version of the incident,” Monda told the council during its March 21 meeting. “It’s about evaluating for themselves whether she lied to police and abused her office by telling the officer, who is her employee, that she was speaking to another one of his bosses when she was pulled over.”

As the highest official in Laguna Beach, Monda said the city manager “should be held to the highest standard of conduct and comportment.” Monda said it took her 97 days to get Dupuis’ city phone records, adding that “residents are entitled to those because we pay for the bills.”

Council members said they were privy to the footage before deciding whether to release it, which is their discretion, the city attorney said in his report. All, including those who voted for its release, agreed that Dupuis appeared to have conducted herself respectfully and did not abuse her position as city manager.

Councilmember Sue Kempf said she did not want to set a precedent with the footage’s release.

“She’s not on trial here,” Kempf said. “I don’t know any other city in Orange County that releases body cams for minor traffic incidents. There’s not a lot of outrage. We just have a few people interested in this topic. I don’t want to set a precedent.”

Rounaghi said he was comfortable setting a precedent for the purpose of disclosure.

“We can’t go back in time; earlier disclosure would have been better,” he said, agreeing with Orgill, who said he would have preferred that. “When in doubt, transparency advances the public interest.”

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