News

Officer ‘put in awkward position’ by Berkeley police chief

Sgt Mary Kusmiss. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Sgt. Mary Kusmiss of the Berkeley Police Department was put in a difficult and very awkward position by her boss, Chief Michael Meehan, when he asked her to go to a reporter’s house at 12:45 am on March 9 to request that a story be changed, according to an attorney who Kusmiss recently retained.

“She is the only person who knows what went on that night,” said Alison Berry Wilkinson, who said Kusmiss was told today that she will be a witness in a city investigation into Chief Meehan.

Wilkinson said Kusmiss “did everything to avoid ending up on Doug Oakley’s doorstep” on the night of March 8-9 when Chief Meehan asked her to do so after seeing an online story the Oakland Tribune reporter had written about a community meeting earlier that night.

When Meehan saw that Oakley had made a mistake in the story — reporting erroneously that Meehan had apologized at the meeting for BPD’s response to the murder of Peter Cukor, when he merely apologized for his communication around it — he tried to contact the reporter by phone and email. He then asked Kusmiss, who is the police department’s public information officer, to go to Oakley’s house on her way home. Kusmiss tried to find a secondary number for Oakley first, according to Wilkinson. Having failed to do so, she told Meehan she did not think it was a good idea. Kusmiss knew Oakley had a family with young kids, Wilkinson said, and she did not want to disturb them at that hour.

It remains unclear how Sgt. Kusmiss, who reports directly to Chief Meehan, knew Oakley’s home address. Wilkinson said Chief Meehan asked Kusmiss if she knew where he lived and when she said she only knew the area of Berkeley, he gave her the street address. On March 11, Meehan told Berkeleyside he assumed Kusmiss knew where Oakley lived, as he himself did. He said he did not give the reporter’s address to Kusmiss.

Interim City Manager Christine Daniel released a statement today saying she had retained the San Francisco law firm of Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai on Monday to conduct an independent investigation into the situation. The announcement came 25 minutes after the Berkeley Police Association had publicly called for an independent investigation into the chief.

Wilkinson said she was not contacted by the law firm conducting the independent investigation into Meehan until today. When Wilkinson contacted the city earlier this week there had been no indication they had decided to conduct an investigation, she said.

Kusmiss hired Wilkinson to represent her on Monday.

Related:
Berkeley City orders investigation into police chief [03.16.12]

Spotlight on City Manager’s response to Berkeley Police Chief [03.14.12]
Few comments on Chief Meehan before Council session [03.13.12]
Questions remain about Berkeley police chief’s actions [03.11.12]
At 12:45 am police chief demands reporter make changes [03.10.12]
Community gathers in wake of murder: quizzes Berkeley police [03.09.12]

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  • The Sharkey

    Why did we need yet another story about this?
    I’m not seeing any new information from today that wasn’t presented earlier.

  • http://theimmoralminority.blogspot.com/ Gryphen

    I love this stuff.  It’s so exciting!!

  • bgal4

     try this:

    Wilkinson said Chief Meehan asked
    Kusmiss if she knew where he lived and when she said she only knew the
    area of Berkeley, he gave her the street address. On March 11, Meehan
    told Berkeleyside he assumed Kusmiss knew where Oakley lived, as he
    himself did. He said he did not give the reporter’s address to Kusmiss.

  • Tired

    “It remains unclear how Sgt Kusmiss, who reports directly to Chief Meehan, knew Oakley’s home address. ”

    His address, phone number and email come up when you google him. He also has a website: http://www.dougoakley.com So he has made his information public. I do believe Mr. Oakley mentioned in a previous article that he is open about where he lives and has not tried to hide it.

  • The Sharkey

    Thanks for pointing that out. If that was the point of the story, it seems odd to bury it in the middle.

    Of course you’ll probably assume that it proves that Meehan is a liar and not simply a mistake that’s the result of everyone involved being hounded by the media for several days.

  • Bruce Love

    You miss the point.   Kusmiss and Meehan have given mutually contradictory accounts of the events of that night.   They differ (so far) on a simple but legally significant point.   They can not both be telling the truth.

  • The Sharkey

    They’ve both been hounded by the media, local government, and local kooks for several days about this. With all that, I’m surprised this is the only contradiction that’s come up.

  • http://theimmoralminority.blogspot.com/ Gryphen

    The press needs to learn that there’s a new sheriff in town.  Who do they think they are?

  • bgal4

     Meehan started spin control early on, and has not stopped.

  • TizziLish

    This is, by no means, the first contradiction that Meehan has stated since Peter Cukor was murdered, though.

  • TizziLish

    I thought that higher up in the story was an important new detail, which is that Ms. Kusmiss has been told she will be a witness in the investigation.  It makes sense to me that a public information officer who had the foresight to hire an attorney on Monday — the first day she was likely able to do so since this scandal erupted over the weekend — would want her legal advocate getting out in front of her story.  Ms. Kusmiss is vulnerable in ways the Chief is not.  I doubt if she has, for example, a golden parachute if she becomes a scapegoat for Meehan’s behavior.

    In some cities, all conversations in squad cars and on police radio are recorded. And some police now have sound activated recording devices as a part of their uniform.  I hope there is a recording of Ms. Kusmiss’ conversations with Chief Meehan when he ordered her to go out in the middle of the night to demand a journalist change his published story.

  • TizziLish

    I don’t know Ms. Kusmiss, or any other Berkeley police officer, but right now, she has a lot of empathy from me. 

    I don’t know police culture but I bet it is hard in virtually any police department for any officer to refuse an order from their police chief.  I believe Ms. Kusmiss’ reported statements that she made an effort to discourage the Chief from having her go in the middle of the night.  I would not place the burden on her of refusing to obey the order for that might have put her job at risk or maybe just caused her to be anxious that her job might be placed at risk if she directly refused her chief’s order.  Meehan has publicly declared that he ordered her to go so she’s covered, she can prove she was following his orders.

    I hope Ms. Kusmiss’ legal expenses will be covered by her union . . or the city. I don’t know how such a benefit works.  I am sure Meehan’s legal fees will be covered because he has an executive kind of contract.

    And believe whatever you happen to believe about women’s equality in the workplace, it has to be at least a little tougher to be a chick cop defying a chief’s orders. 

  • TizziLish

    On some websites where the public is allowed to comment on the news, people can block out comments from commenters they prefer to avoid.  Is there any way to have that feature here on Berkeleyside? Anyone who wishes to avoid my comments could. And, more relevant to me, I could avoid people who make personal, negative attacking comments about me.

  • Bill

    I think your comments are spot on and you make an excellent point about the quandary that Sgt Kumiss found herself in – especially given the command and control of every police dept..  I hope she makes her way through this without professional, personal or more financial “damage.”   

  • cl3

    What does it mean, “did everything to avoid ending up on Doug Oakley’s doorstep?” What are some examples of what she did do? She didn’t say, “no Chief, I can’t do that.” She didn’t stop herself from going to the reporter’s house. And why does she need a lawyer?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I don’t know police culture but…

    Don’t let that stop you!

  • bgal4

    Agree, and Tizzielish, I hope you can ignore those you want you to  feel unwelcome. Speak from an authentic place with no excuses.

  • http://theimmoralminority.blogspot.com/ Gryphen

    Why do my neighbors call Meehan, “the smoking swede”?  LOL!

  • BHills

    What a horrid mess.  As far as I am concerned, the City Council ought to start right now to look for a new candidate for City Manager and forget about hiring the current one.  How much would you have to get paid just make a DECISION so that we can move on to the real issue?

    I also am curious about the involvement of the current Chief of Police in the decision to implement the ‘violence suppression plan’ in response to the two recent shootings in West Berkeley.  According to a report by Doug Oakley,

    Kusmiss said the department
    has added two officers to patrol both neighborhoods. They are stopping
    suspicious cars while other teams of officers have been “doing probation
    and parole searches at individuals homes.”Was coverage of other of town reduced in order to add these officers?  Has any progress been made in identifying the person or people who killed Mr. Kenneth Warren?  Has anybody decided what should be done in the wake of the Cukor killing?  I continue to advocate that all fire stations be staffed at all times, an assumption Mr. Cukor obviously made when he left his home and went to the fire station directly across the street from his home to seek the assistance from a Berkeley first responder.  It’s good to see that something related to policing and public safety is happening in the department.  We need more activity like this rather than costly political posturing.

  • TizziLish

    Note to The Sharkey:  I am not going to read any of your comments on Berkeleyside — none of them, irregardless of the subject matter — because I refuse to read any more of your snarky, unkind personal comments directed towards me. I will not allow your negativity to affect me.

  • TizziLish

    Come on, a police department is very hierarchical, as are most work places. The boss is the boss in all orgs but in a police department, with militaristic rank and a need for orders to be given and followed for the greater good, it would be really hard  for any officer, including the folks with ranks just below the chief, to flatly refuse to follow the chief’s order.

    And why did she hire a lawyer?  Because we live in a wildly litigious society, because she could be thrown under the bus — we have all seen people in power use lower level employees to take the hit when mistakes are made. It’s a tale as old as time.  She hired a lawyer because she’s smart and, quite reasonably, wants to protect herself. 

  • TizziLish

    Thanks for the support, bgal4 and Bill. XO.

  • TizziLish

    How did your personal attack of something I wrote contribute to the conversation?  My comments, whether you liked them or not, were actually on topic. How is your personal attack relevant?

  • Bill

    Maybe I would have had a cojones to tell the chief not now, wait till morning or maybe not but police (and fire) depts are very much like the military and generally have to be because of the nature of their jobs.  I sure would have gotten a lawyer had I been in her shoes.

  • Berkeley Resident

    irregardless is not a word…. You mean, regardless….

  • Berkeley Resident

    and I’m no fan of Sharkey but on this topic he doesn’t seem to have much to say so your comment might be about another topice….

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Conversations and arguments often contain statements that respond to and even critique statements by another participant.  That is not the same as a personal attack.  A personal attack is something directed at another’s person rather than their ideas, argument, or approach to a problem.  So when you called The Sharkey a “bully,” that was a personal attack.  I have seen you direct other derogatory remarks at people here in a similar vein.

    In this case, I am not attacking you personally.  I am, however, pointing how absurd your commentary is.  You’re writing in the same genre that gave us that infamous commercial: “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” — a statement that was comically unsuccessful at lending gravitas to the product pitch the “doctor” then launched into.

    In the present case, you begin with the assertion that you know nothing of police culture and then proceed to tell us all about the inner workings of the organization.  It’s a ridiculous argument.  

    What other topics are you ignorant of and yet feel the need to expound on at length?  Perhaps you could even write a book, in the style of Dr. Seuss, titled “Oh the Things I Don’t Know.”

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Conversations and arguments often contain statements that respond to and even critique statements by another participant.  That is not the same as a personal attack.  A personal attack is something directed at another’s person rather than their ideas, argument, or approach to a problem.  So when you called The Sharkey a “bully,” that was a personal attack.  I have seen you direct other derogatory remarks at people here in a similar vein.

    In this case, I am not attacking you personally.  I am, however, pointing how absurd your commentary is.  You’re writing in the same genre that gave us that infamous commercial: “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” — a statement that was comically unsuccessful at lending gravitas to the product pitch the “doctor” then launched into.

    In the present case, you begin with the assertion that you know nothing of police culture and then proceed to tell us all about the inner workings of the organization.  It’s a ridiculous argument.  

    What other topics are you ignorant of and yet feel the need to expound on at length?  Perhaps you could even write a book, in the style of Dr. Seuss, titled “Oh the Things I Don’t Know.”

  • Heather_W_62

    Hey Tizzi, I wanted to mention that on the websites/social sites where you can block those you don’t wish to see, the discussions become fragmented for everyone reading them. I also wanted to tell you that for some reason, I have recently not been particularly thick-skinned and various tactics to shut down my convos (here and elsewhere) have actually started to sting a bit, so I’m glad to see you’re holding your own — even though I don’t always agree with you (and sometimes vehemently disagree) I’m glad you’re sticking to your guns. 

  • Heather_W_62

    I am encouraged more active policing by BPD, there’s a lot of shady activity going on right under our noses and in general, the populace is pretty complacent about reporting suspicious or illegal behavior that may lead to more disruptive public health/safety issues. How often do we ignore a person who is clearly intoxicated walking down the middle of the street? A group of boisterous young men loitering around a vacant house (as occurred in my ‘hood a couple times last week), people shooting craps alongside Iceland? Most of us simply turn a blind eye, when realistically we should be calling the cops to at least have it on record in the case of a violent turn of events occurs. We have to be the eyes and ears for our own neighborhoods as much as we (I) expect the police to be proactive. 

    As to the murder of Kenny Warran, my understanding is that the person of interest who is being pursued has left the state and is on the run. Don’t know any more than that. 

    It is a bitter irony that the fire station Mr. Cukor fought for reasons of maintaining home value turned out to be the one recourse for assistance he could have had and yet it was unmanned the night he needed their help. I don’t know how you spin that into anything other than a rather grim sort of jape. Of course we would assume that a fire station would have at least one person there, just as we should rightly expect that a police officer would be dispatched to a call, even a non-emergency one, involving a person loitering on someone’s property, particularly in a neighborhood so far removed which makes the trespasser even more oddly out of place. 

  • TizziLish

    My acknowledgement that I am not an expert in police culture was a prefatory comment to my next statement which was am empathic but fairly well informed speculation. I say my speculation is fairly well informed because for some years when I practiced law, I did a lot of criminal defense work and interfaced heavily with my local police department — this was in another state.

    How many commentators here, or anywhere, are experts on all subjects, yet they express their opinions about elements of their culture and community?  I was not declaring my ignorance but being cautious and prudent, not proclaiming myself as an expert but, yes, proclaiming my right to an opinion about my local police department.

    You are also being a bully. Your comments about what constitutes personal attacks are nonsensical. You make things up to suit your thinking.

    Yes, calling Sharkey a bully was a person attack — a personal attack I made after he had personall attacked me.

    I am not going to read any more of your posts either. You are a bully, too.

  • TizziLish

    Heather, thanks for your support.

    It is okay with me if you vehemently disagree with my thinking.  I am a lawyer. I have  argued professionally since I first passed the bar in 1979.  It is usually males who get triggered by a strong female expression of opinion, usually males who think they can shut a gal up by personally attacking her.  I have also received a few personal attacks — negative comments directed at me instead of at my ideas — from females here in the Berkeleyside comments but mostly it is males, I think.

    Weak males who make themselves feel more powerful by bullying.  It’s funny. Usually these guys think they sound more manly when they ramp up the bullying, usually they are oblivious to the way they reveal their fear and weakness with their puffed up bombast.

  • TizziLish

    Heather, you make a good point when you point out that we often ignore a clearly intoxicated person walking down the street.

    When I was young, TV and radio stations were legally mandated to give some broadcast time for public service announcements and many public education campaigns were conducted with that amenity available. I don’t think TV and radio stations, which pay to use the commonly-owned public airwaves, have such a mandate anymore.  Maybe we could benefit from some public service announcement, educational campaigns informing folks how to share resopnsibility for our commons, the streets, sidewalks and other public spaces of our city.

    I don’t really have a sense of what kind of behavior should rate a report to the police. Public service announements, public education campaigns about how we can be more of a community, how we can all take more responsbility for our commons, sounds like a good idea to me.

  • TizziLish

    Whether or not irregardless is a word is an argument you can make but language is actually a living thing that shifts and changes constantly and if people use a word, it is a word. You might not recognize it, but it is a word. Here is an actual definition of irregardless I just pulled off the internet:

    Adv.1.irregardless – regardless; a combination of irrespective and regardless sometimes used humorouslyIt is a word, Berkeley Resident.  You can appoint yourself the vocabulary police but you cannot control language, which lives and breathes and changes constantly.

  • TizziLish

    I was not making a comment. I was making an announcement and I arbitrarily chose where to put it. Is there some rule that would have guided me where to put it?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I will wear your disregard as a badge of honor and will continue to call you on your BS when I see it.

  • Heather_W_62


    I don’t really have a sense of what kind of behavior should rate a report to the police.”

    This s exactly why we need to have informational meetings with BPD. Area Coordinators are (at least mine seems to be) eager to form relationships with their neighborhoods. I’m going to try to schedule a meeting with ours in order to supply our block-group with some guidelines. An earlier BSide article bullet-pointed some things from the Bonar Street Area Coordinator. We should all start thinking about being Citizen Watch-people. The cops can only be in one place at a time, if we want them to be able to help us, we need to work with them as eyes and ears on the streets — that’s was neighborhood coordination and crime watch is all about. 

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I had asked my area coordinator if, when I saw something untoward happening, I should take pictures and send them to BPD.  The answer was “no,” which surprised me.  I didn’t expect my photos to be treated as evidence, but if they’re taken in a public place and give the police a sense of where they ought to direct their efforts, well, I expected that they might be useful.  Apparently not, however.

  • Heather_W_62

    That’s interesting, I’ll have to ask that question myself and see if I get the same response. 

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Actually I’ve seen men and women challenge your ideas but you consistently reply that they are attacking you.  Sometimes you throw in some hyperbolic declaration of your right to be heard, as though someone had questioned that.  And in other cases, you then resort to name calling before declaring your intention to disengage from the conversation.  

  • deirdre

     thanks, Pragmatic.

  • Chris

    agreed.

  • Bruce Love

    I don’t know.   I don’t think its fair game when someone tells Tizzilish that her view is ridiculous for a woman of her age or characterizes her as whining or broadly calls into question her legal training, etc.   I don’t think it’s fair game when someone distorts something she said into the most unfavorable (and often unlikely) possible reading, and then flames her for that.   At best that’s (not very funny) politically slanted insult comedy — and she got plenty of that kind of thing.

    In the case at hand, Tizzilish qualified a thoughtful comment in an incidental way.   @PragmaticProgressive:disqus excerpted that qualification entirely out of context and without regard to its contextual meaning, made a snarky reply connoting that she should just shut up.   An insult comedy one-liner.  Ha.  Ha.

    Badge of honor, indeed.

  • Mbfarrel

    I agree. A “woman of her age” should be respected, and perhaps offered a steadying hand while crossing the street.

  • The Sharkey

    Thanks for your comments, Pragmantic. You’ve been much more eloquent and thoughtful about all this than I have.

    Most of the time I actually enjoy reading Tizzie’s comments, but on this issue her behavior just strikes me as being hysterical and bizarre.

  • The Sharkey

    Yes, it appears that she is also guilty of some of the things she is attacking others for in this discussion.

  • The Sharkey

    Uncalled for rudeness.

  • The Sharkey

    It is my opinion that someone being personally fearful about something that could never happen to them is strange.

    The “view” she expressed would be similar to a landlubber like me writing long, breathless monologues about how I was personally fearful and scared because I had read a story in the news about a deep sea diver being swallowed by a whale.