Matthew Artz, 11/29/12
The president of Oakland’s police union is facing questioning from Internal Affairs after being quoted in a newspaper story about a union legal brief critical of department leadership.
One day after the story ran in the San Francisco Chronicle, Barry Donelan received word that Internal Affairs wanted to meet with him about being a witness or filing a complaint over one of the brief’s main arguments — that officers have been victims of “dishonest” investigations and arbitrary punishments.
The emailed notice, which referenced the newspaper article, smacks of harassment, said Donelan’s attorney Michael Rains, especially considering that Donelan’s statements in the story never touched on Internal Affairs investigations.
“The need to meet with him for statements he never made has all the appearance of harassment and nothing more,” Rains said. “If they should bring anyone in front of Internal Affairs, they should bring me. I’m the one who wrote the brief.”
While Donelan isn’t facing charges over his statements, Rains said investigators could try to turn the tables on him. “Today’s witness is tomorrow’s subject officer,” he said.
Donelan refused to comment, and police officials did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.
The union has stepped up its criticism of Oakland police leaders as the department faces a potential federal takeover next month for failing to fully implement reforms required by the decade-old Riders case.
Rains’ brief was filed with Judge Thelton Henderson, who will decide whether to put a receiver in charge of the police department.
The Nov. 19 story, which was published more than a week after Rains filed his brief, quoted Donelan saying that both the union and attorneys pushing for a federal takeover agreed that “we’re both looking for leadership from the city and we’re not finding it.”
Given the timing, the demand that Donelan appear before Internal Affairs could be harassment, but it might also be justifiable, said Jim Wheaton, an attorney with the Oakland-based First Amendment Project. “If there is an allegation in a court filing of something going wrong by the union, it’s not crazy to think the head of the union should go tell the department.”
Rains said the Internal Affairs order to Donelan came directly from the police Chief Howard Jordan’s office. Rains plans to write Jordan asking him to reconsider.