From: Oakland Tribune
In the aftermath of a recent California Supreme Court ruling, Berkeley’s 33-year-old Police Review Commission has temporarily stopped hearing citizens’ complaints about police actions.
But Wednesday, Copwatch, a police watchdog group, will hold a rally and march to pressure the commission to continue to publicly investigate allegations of officer misconduct.
“We are just trying to get our voices heard,” said Mary Davis, a member of Copwatch, which this week released a written statement saying it “will demand that the besieged civilian oversight agency take bold action to preserve civilian review.”
In a 6-1 decision Aug. 31, the Supreme Court ruled the public may not have access to police discipline records — including names of the officers — who come before civil service commissions and other panels that consider misconduct cases.
The ruling was prompted by a 2003 lawsuit filed by the publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune to get information from San Diego County’s Civil Service Commission about disciplinary proceedings against a deputy.
An attorney for the Berkeley Police Association, which four years ago sued the city on the basis that police review hearings violate officers’ privacy and other rights, said Copwatch carries no weight in the matter.
“The Supreme Court has spoken and that is the law of the land,” said Berkeley Police Association attorney Harry Stern. “They (Copwatch) can whine and moan and wring their hands all they want … when I hear bold action, what I hear is they want to break the law.”
The Berkeley Police Association’s lawsuit does not seek to abolish the Police Review Commission.
“Our intent is simply to have the commission that is tasked with citizen oversight follow the current law and their own rules and afford the officers the rights given to them by law,” said Officer Henry Wellington, president of the Berkeley Police Association.
Still, city leaders have directed the city attorney to fight the police union’s lawsuit on the basis that Police Review Commission findings are not taken into account when disciplining officers.
A court hearing is slated for Nov. 14.
“Our city attorney plans to defend the Police Review Commission,” said commission officer Victoria Urbi. “After the (court) hearing we will have better clarification as to how we are going to proceed with PRC hearings.”
Copwatch officials said the fact that the commission is not hearing cases is particularly disturbing now because Berkeley has had problems with three officers this year.
In June, former police Sgt. Cary Kent was sentenced to one year in an electronic home detention program and probation for stealing heroin and methamphetamine from the department’s evidence locker. He resigned from his job.
Another officer, who has not been charged criminally but is on leave, is facing accusations of theft. Officer Sean Derry is also on leave, pending the outcome of criminal charges filed by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office against him alleging he illegally fired a firearm at his home.
The Copwatch march begins 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Ronald Tsukamoto Public Safety Building, 2100 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. At 7:30 p.m. marchers will attend the Police Review Commission meeting at the North Berkeley Senior Center at 1901 Hearst St.