Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan: BPA calling for investigation

This story was rewritten at 2:50 pm for the purposes of clarity.

The City of Berkeley has ordered an investigation into Police Chief Michael Meehan following his decision to send an officer to a reporter’s home at 12:45 am on March 9 asking him to make a correction.

The statement by Interim City Manager Christine Daniel that she had hired public law specialists Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai on Monday was issued today, less than half an hour after the Berkeley Police Association said it had sent Daniel a letter calling for a formal investigation into the Chief.

On being informed of the city’s action, Officer Tim Kaplan, President of the Berkeley Police Association, said: “That’s great to hear. That’s exactly what we feel should be done. It’s the right step.”

Kaplan told Berkeleyside earlier today: “The bottom line is we do not believe there should be double standards in the department. It is guaranteed that any captain, lieutenant or sergeant would be on administrative leave if this had happened to them.”

Chief Meehan sent BPD Officer Sgt Mary Kusmiss to the home of Oakland Tribune reporter Doug Oakley at 12:45 am on March 9 asking for a correction to a story he wrote about a community meeting held in the wake of the murder of Peter Cukor on Feb. 18. Oakley made a revision, but said he felt intimidated by the visit.

Sgt Kusmiss was put in a difficult position on the night according to Alison Berry Wilkinson who Kusmiss hired as her attorney the weekend after the incident. Wilkinson told the Chronicle that Kusmiss “did everything in her power not to show up on the reporter’s doorstep” and that Meehan had given her Oakley’s address. Chief Meehan told Berkeleyside on March 11 that he assumed Sgt. Kusmiss knew where Oakley lived, since he knew where the reporter lived.

The BPA statement reads: “Meehan has been quoted in numerous press articles stating: ‘It was a significant error of judgment on my part.’ ‘My actions do not reflect the values of the Berkeley Police Department.’ If a police officer uses poor judgment and violates Department policy, he is placed on administrative leave and is fully investigated. As law enforcement officers, we don’t just get to say ‘I’m sorry’ and have the whole matter go away.”

The three-page statement continues: “The Berkeley Police Department, through its Chief of Police, has been eager to investigate and discipline officers while espousing zero tolerance at many levels for violations of policy and procedures. Moreover, the Chief of Police has demanded that the members of the Police Department perform at the highest levels and constantly insists that accountability be a necessary component to the delivery of police services to the citizens of Berkeley.”

The letter further states: “The media accounts and the Chief’s own admissions and apologies to various members of the Police Department seem to confirm that the order to Sergeant Kusmiss was not only inappropriate, but in violation of professional standards.” “It is appalling that the City of Berkeley has seen fit to simply allow this incident to slide into a media graveyard without further examination or review.”

Investigation on six fronts

The letter demands an outside independent investigation into the following possible departmental policy violations: (1) misconduct/supervisory and command officer responsibility; (2) reporting misconduct;  (3) general responsibilities of officers and employees; (4) courtesy; (5) acts – statements by employees; and, (6) function of the Chief of Police.

The BPA released a statement two days after the Oakley incident, on Sunday, March 11, saying officers were “gravely concerned” about Chief Meehan’s action.

Responsibility for disciplining the police chief falls to Interim City Manager Christine Daniel who, in a statement also released on March 11, said she “took the situation very seriously.” A request from Berkeleyside to interview Daniel was declined.

“The citizens of Berkeley rightfully demand at every level complete transparency and full accountability of its police officers and should expect nothing less from their Chief of Police,” Kaplan said. “The City can’t just sweep this or any other potential policy violation under the rug.”

Kaplan told Berkeleyside the BPA wants the investigation to be carried out by an independent person outside the police profession. “We do not have a preconceived idea of the outcome,” he said.

Read the letter from the Berkeley Police Association to Berkeley Interim City Manager Christine Daniel.

Spotlight on City Manager’s response to Berkeley Police Chief [03.14.12]
Few comments on Chief Meehan before Council session [03.13.12]
Questions remain about Berkeley police chief’s actions [03.11.12]
At 12:45 am police chief demands reporter make changes [03.10.12]
Community gathers in wake of murder: quizzes Berkeley police [03.09.12]

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...