When Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan wanted to find out how to contact Oakland Tribune reporter Doug Oakley to get him to change a story he had written, he directed a sergeant to look for an address on a police database.
The early morning search by Sgt. Mary Kusmiss on March 9 revealed reporter Doug Oakley’s phone number, but not his address, according to documents released by the city of Berkeley on Tuesday in response to a public records request made by Berkeleyside and other media.
“Comm Ctr did research *s me. He has been a RP/victim All 843XXXX I am heading home Let me know if I can help further Mary,” Sgt. Kusmiss wrote to Meehan at 12:26 am on March 9.
“RP” stands for reporting party, which means Oakley had had previous contact with the police department, either by calling in a situation or being a victim of a crime.
The question of how Sgt. Kusmiss obtained Oakley’s address has been central in the scandal that erupted after Meehan sent Kusmiss to Oakley’s house at 12:45 am on March 9 to ask him to change details in a story that had just been posted online. Police are not allowed to use their databases, or those of the DMV, for non-police related matters.
Chief Meehan has said numerous times – and he reiterated it on Tuesday – that he knew Oakley’s address because the reporter lives in Berkeley and he assumed that Sgt. Kusmiss knew it as well. The internal email indicates that Meehan directed Kusmiss to get more information on Oakley.
Alison Berry Wilkinson, an attorney engaged by Sgt Kusmiss, said Chief Meehan gave her client Oakley’s street address. On March 10, Meehan told Berkeleyside he did not give the reporter’s address to Kusmiss.
On March 8, Oakley had covered a community meeting held to discuss the police response to the Feb. 18 murder of Peter Cukor in the Berkeley hills. Oakley wrote that Meehan had apologized for the police response to the crime in a story that was posted online around 11:00 pm.
Meehan had actually apologized for the way the police handled the media, not for its response to Cukor’s 8:45 pm call to the police non-emergency line, and his wife’s call to 911 about 15 minutes later. Cukor was allegedly killed by Daniel DeWitt, a mentally ill 23-year old who was searching for “Zoey” and thought she lived in Cukor’s home at Park Gate.
When Meehan read the story online, he tried to reach Oakley, first by email and then by phone, to get him to change it. When Meehan could not reach the reporter, he sent Sgt. Kusmiss to his house to wake him up and change the story. Records show that Meehan sent Oakley an email at 11:44 pm on March 8 and another email to Kusmiss at 11:53 pm asking her for Oakley’s cell number. Kusmiss was still at the office, working.
Kusmiss told Meehan she was leaving work at 12:26 am. She then headed over to Oakley’s house. The reporter and his family were asleep when Kusmiss arrived. Oakley agreed to correct his mistake, but later that day realized how shaken he had been by Kusmiss’s visit. Oakley said he could not sleep well for days after that. First Amendment advocates — and a large number of Berkeley residents –believe the chief’s actions were intimidating and an abuse of power. Many have called for him to resign.
Although Meehan has apologized profusely for what he acknowledges is a lapse in judgment, Interim City Manager Christine Daniel hired a San Francisco law firm to investigate the chief’s actions. Neither Meehan nor the city has said when they think the investigation will be complete. Meehan said on Tuesday at a police promotion ceremony he is eager for the investigation to be completed so he can talk more freely about the situation.
“I am looking forward to answering all the questions,” said Meehan.
Other documents released by the city on Tuesday show that Meehan sent emails to two other media outlets on Friday March 9 to ask for changes in stories he considered inaccurate. He sent an email to the Berkeley Patch site at 2:36 pm asking for clarification to a story and one to the Daily Californian at 3:14 pm. He also sent other emails to Oakley that morning asking for even more changes to his story. Oakley declined to make more changes.
“It’s a direct quote,” Oakley emailed Meehan. “You said it in a public meeting. We can’t change it. I’ve accommodated you much more than any other reporter would have.”
Once stories came out about Sgt. Kusmiss’s early morning visit to the reporter, calls from the media started to pour in, the documents show. Meehan was also in contact with two public relations firms, according to the emails.
In another irony, before word had leaked out about Meehan’s misstep, he received a number of emails congratulating him on his performance in front of the crowd at the community meeting.
“Hi Mike, I thought you did a great job in dealing with that very difficult situation last night,” Howard Jordan, the Oakland police chief wrote to Meehan at 7:48 am on March 9. “Let’s do lunch soon.”
“This should make you feel GOOD!” Meehan’s boss, Daniel, wrote in an email she sent at 1:25 pm on March 9. She had forwarded him an email from a citizen commending the way Meehan talked to the crowd.
By that time, Daniel would have learned that Meehan had sent Kusmiss over to Oakley’s house. Meehan told Berkeleyside that he contacted Daniel the morning of Friday March 9 to tell her what he had done. There was no email to that effect in the documents released Tuesday by the city.
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