An Oakland school police sergeant has spoken exclusively to NBC Bay Area's Investigative Unit to expose what he calls a coverup in the district’s police force, two years after an officer-involved shooting that left a young man dead.
Eighteen-year police veteran Sgt. Jonathan Bellusa has come forward as a whistleblower because he believes the investigation into the Jan. 2011 shooting of 20-year-old Raheim Brown was contaminated from the start, and that when he tried to speak up, he says he faced coercion and retaliation.
When asked if he thought the investigation was handled properly, Bellusa replied, “I don’t think so. I can be honest—I don’t think it was.”
Bellusa is currently on paid administrative leave. Oakland Unified School District representatives said the district and Bhatt are refraining from comment until they see the claim. The district’s police force is currently the focus of a federal grand jury investigation into the shooting.
Bellusa and his partner, Sgt. Barhin Bhatt, approached Brown on the night of Jan. 22, 2011 near Skyline High School after they found him sitting in what was believed to be a stolen car. Bhatt fired seven shots at Brown after Brown allegedly stabbed Bellusa with a screwdriver.
Bellusa’s attorney, Dan Siegel, said police protocol is to separate the officers to allow investigators to interview them alone. Instead, he says school officials tried to pressure Bellusa into matching his memory of what happened with Bhatt’s account.
“I have never before heard of an incident where police are involved in a shooting or other acts where the head of an agency shows up to interfere with questioning of the police officer,” Siegel said. “It just really raises a lot of questions regarding the integrity of our public officials.”
Siegel is filing a federal lawsuit against the district claiming Oakland Unified School District officials “compromised the investigators’ ability to conduct complete and sterile interviews of the two sergeants” and that Bellusa was retaliated against for telling the truth—especially when it came to a second round of shots Bhatt fired at Brown.
According to a draft deposition given to the Investigative Unit by Siegel, when asked why Bellusa didn’t fire his own gun after the first two shots, Bellusa replied, “Just like I said in my statement with OPD, I didn’t see a threat.”
Bellusa claims the tainted shooting investigation is part of a pattern of corruption in OUSD. According to the complaint, Bellusa has reported that a sergeant “drank alcoholic beverages while on duty,” and that another officer “often stole drinks and food items from merchants in the Fruitvale area of East Oakland.”
When asked how he has been treated for coming forward as a whistleblower, he said, “with hell.”
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