BERKELEY, CA – The city has hired attorneys to investigate Police Chief Michael Meehan’s decision to send an sergeant to a reporter’s house last week to ask for changes to a story.
The city earlier this week retained Rennie Sloan Holtzman Sakay to conduct an investigation into Meehan’s actions. A statement from the city manager’s office did not indicate when the probe would be completed.
Meehan was not immediately available for comment Friday and the city manager’s office declined to comment.
Representatives from the police union said the order to send an armed sergeant to Bay Area News Group reporter Doug Oakley’s home was not only “inappropriate, but in violation of professional standards.”
The Berkeley Police Association was considering taking a “no confidence” vote, but instead sent a letter to Interim City Attorney Christine Daniel calling for a formal investigation into the incidents of March 8-9. Meehan sent Sgt. Mary Kusmiss to Oakley’s Berkeley home at 12:45 a.m. March 9 to ask for changes to a story about a community meeting on a recent homicide.
The law firm Rains Lucia Stern, which represents the Berkeley police union, delivered the three-page letter to the city on Friday.
The union called the lack of review of Meehan’s actions a “double standard.”
“If a police officer uses poor judgment and violates department policy, he is placed on administrative leave and is fully investigated,” said the union’s president, Officer
Tim Kaplan. “As law enforcement officers, we don’t just get to say ‘I’m sorry’ and have the whole matter go away.”
Meehan has apologized, calling his action an “overzealous attempt to make sure that accurate information is put out” and an “error in judgment.”
Mary Jo Rossi, a consultant working with the Berkeley Police Association, said it is not believed that Meehan will be placed on leave during the investigation. But city officials were not immediately available for comment on the issue.
“In every other investigation, the officer in question is normally placed on administrative leave,” Rossi said.
The union’s letter says the chief has been eager to investigate and discipline officers while taking a zero-tolerance stand on many levels for violations of policy and procedures.
“There needs to be full transparency and there can’t be a standard that applies to the police chief,” Kaplan said.
Oakley, 45, who covers Berkeley for this newspaper chain, had reported on a raucous community meeting March 8 in which Meehan attempted to explain to 150 residents his department’s failure to provide information to the public in the days after the Feb. 18 beating death Peter Cukor, 67.
Cukor was attacked by a 23-year-old man outside his Berkeley hills home. Before the attack, he had called the police department’s nonemergency line to report a trespasser. Officers did not respond to the initial call because police had been ordered to respond only to emergency 911 calls because of a potentially volatile Occupy movement march into Berkeley.
Oakley had written that Meehan apologized to the community for the department’s slow response. Meehan though, said, he apologized only for not informing the public right away about why the response was slow.