City Hires Law Firm to Conduct Probe of Berkeley Police Chief

Chief Michael Meehan sent an officer to a reporter's home in the middle of the night to demand story changes.

By Jeff Shuttleworth
|  Friday, Mar 16, 2012  |  Updated 7:16 PM PDT
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Berkeley Chief Probed After Incident with Reporter

The Oakland Tribune corrected the story about the slow police response in a February killing. But it also said Chief Meehan overreacted by sending someone to the reporter's home in the middle of the night.

Berkeley City Manager Christine Daniel said today that the city has hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation of Police Chief Michael Meehan's decision to send an officer to a reporter's home in the middle of the night to demand a correction to a story.

Daniel said the city retained the San Francisco-based law firm Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai on Monday and the "process will be conducted to its conclusion."

Meehan has come under fire for sending police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss to the home of Oakland Tribune reporter Doug Oakley at 12:45 a.m. on March 9 to ask him to correct a story he had posted online a short time earlier about a community meeting attended by about 150 people the night of March 8.

Oakley's story said Meehan had apologized at the meeting for the department's slow response to the Feb. 18 slaying of Berkeley hills homeowner Peter Cukor, who had called police to report that there was an intruder in his garage.

The story upset Meehan, who had not apologized for a slow response and said his officers responded appropriately to the situation on Feb. 18.

Instead, Meehan apologized at the meeting for failing to quickly release information to the community about the killing, saying that his department's slowness resulted in the news media spreading information that "was not accurate or true."

The Oakland Tribune said in an editorial this week that Oakley had misinterpreted Meehan's remarks and it corrected his story.

But the newspaper also said that Meehan overreacted by sending Kusmiss to Oakley's home in the middle of the night.

After the incident, Meehan issued a statement apologizing for his actions, saying, "I was frustrated with the department's ability to get out timely information, but that is no excuse."

Before Daniel's announcement today that the city has hired the law firm to investigate Meehan's actions, the Berkeley Police Association, which represents the city's police officers, issued a statement saying that city officials were engaging in "a double standard" by not conducting a probe of the chief.

Officer Tim Kaplan, the group's president, said, "If a police officer uses poor judgment and violates department policy, he is placed on administrative leave and is fully investigated."

Kaplan said, "As law enforcement officers, we don't just get to say 'I'm sorry' and have the whole matter go away."

He said, "There needs to be full transparency and there can't be a standard that applies to the police force, but not to the chief of police."

The police union's attorney, Rocky Lucia, said in a letter to Daniel, "There is no doubt that had any sworn member of the department other than the chief ordered a member of the department to contact a reporter under the same conditions that member would not only be investigated but likely be put on administrative leave and be subject to discipline."

After Kaplan learned later in the day that the city has ordered an outside investigation of Meehan he said he feels "a little better" about the situation.

"That was what we've been asking for," Kaplan said.

He said, "If they do the right thing, that ultimately is our goal."

Kaplan said, "We have no preconceived notions about the outcome" of the investigation.

Kaplan said as far as he knows Meehan is still working as chief and hasn't been placed on leave.

City of Berkeley spokeswoman Mary Kay Clunies-Ross said she can't comment on Meehan's status, saying it's a personnel matter.

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