Sunday, March 11, 2012

Berkeley police chief sends sergeant to reporter's home at night to demand a correction

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan ordered an armed sergeant to an Oakland Tribune reporter’s home at 12:45 a.m. Friday to demand changes to a story he had filed hours earlier, the Tribune reports.

Reporter Doug Oakley had covered a raucous community meeting Thursday night in which Meehan attempted to explain to about 150 residents his department's failure to provide information to the public in the days after the Feb. 18 Berkeley hills beating death of Peter Cukor, 67. Residents were angry that police did not immediately respond to a first call for help from Cukor.

According to the Tribune, Oakley had written that Meehan apologized to the community for the department's slow response. Meehan though, said, he apologized only for not informing the public sooner about why the response was slow.

When the sergeant showed up at his door, Oakley changed two paragraphs in his story.

Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said the problem wasn't that Meehan wanted the article altered, but that he sent an armed police sergeant to Oakley's home in the middle of the night seeking the changes.

"It definitely crossed the line. It's a violation of the First Amendment, let's be perfectly clear,” Scheer told the Tribune. It "goes to such an extreme it's hard to imagine."

Even after Oakley made initial changes to the story Meehan early Friday continued to phone and email Oakley asking for additional changes. Oakley declined, saying he stood by his story.

City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, who called the community meeting Thursday night, called Meehan's actions "a little extreme."

"On Monday, I will discuss it with the city manager," Wengraf told the Tribune. "I've never heard of that happening before. I understand it was probably really disturbing."


Anonymous said...

Given the time of day, I wonder if the chief had been drinking before ordering his sheriff to go to the reporter's home?

Jim F said...

How did the police know where Oakley lives? Maybe Oakley's address is in the phone book, but if the cops looked him up in one of their databases, you've got to wonder if that's a violation of the law. Police aren't allowed to just look up people they're curious about. They've got to have an official law enforcement purpose, and this doesn't seem to fit. I hope the Tribune digs into how police obtained Oakley's address.

Anonymous said...

What does it take for a police chief to get fired these days?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like intimidation and censorship to me. And the chief works for Tom Bates, the politician caught stealing Daily Cal's from news boxes because he didn't like an editorial they wrote.

Anonymous said...

I can almost predict what will happen. The Chief will be fired in a "closed session" of council, but it'll be called a resignation and he'll be given a huge golden parachute. We've seen it in other cities before and we'll see it here again.