Berkeley Police Chief Sends Sergeant to Reporter's Home to Request Story Changes

The chief later apologized, but First Amendment advocates are calling the move an act of intimidation.

By Sajid Farooq
|  Saturday, Mar 10, 2012  |  Updated 11:28 PM PDT
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Chief Demands Reporter Change Story

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan is under fire for ordering a sergeant to a reporter's home to demand changes to a story.

Defenders of the First Amendment are calling foul on an official from perhaps the most politically correct city in the country.

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan is coming under fire for reportedly ordering a sergeant to a newspaper reporter's home in the middle of the night to demand changes be made to a story.

Meehan reportedly took offense to an article by a story Doug Oakley wrote about a community meeting held Feb. 18 where Meehan tried to explain why his department was slow to respond to the beating death of Peter Cukor.

A Berkeley police sergeant knocked on Oakley's door at 12:45 a.m. and the reporter's family immediately thought something was wrong.

"I would say it was an overzealous attempt to make sure that accurate information is put out," Meehan told The Oakland Tribune. "I could have done better."

He added that he thought Oakley would not be scared or alarmed because the sergeant he sent regularly deals with the media.

The chief later pologized, but the move is still being slammed by critics.

"Ordering a police officer to a journalist's home in the middle of the night to demand changes to a story is an attempt at 'censorship by intimidation,'  Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, told the paper. "It definitely crossed the line. It's a violation of the First Amendment, let's be perfectly clear." It "goes to such an extreme it's hard to imagine."

Oakley did agree to make some changes to his story but not all of the ones requested by Meehan.

The matter will reportedly be discussed by Berkeley City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf and the city manager on Monday.

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