The city of Berkeley is on the hunt to determine who released private police personnel documents related to a confidential investigation — into an in-custody death involving local officers last year — to UC Berkeley’s Daily Californian newspaper.
Thursday evening, Berkeley city manager Christine Daniel notified the mayor and council members about the leak, which she described to them via email as “an unfortunate and concerning event that occurred regarding confidential police personnel information.”
Daniel wrote that the Daily Cal had told the city it had gotten “confidential personnel-specific findings” from the Police Review Commission’s inquest into the in-custody death of Kayla Moore last year. (Moore’s family has filed a lawsuit against the city over that fatality.)
According to a letter from an attorney representing the Berkeley Police Association (BPA) — the union for local officers — the release of that information is a criminal offense. Attorney Harry Stern, of Rains Lucia Stern, wrote also that the Police Review Commission (PRC) could be subject to civil liability “for this invasion of privacy and defamation.” Stern said the city must take immediate action to address the leak: launch a criminal investigation to identify the source; remove the “offending commissioner” from the panel; and suspend Police Review Commission activity until the source is found.
He said police would no longer participate in the commission’s inquiries, one of which had been scheduled for Friday, “until the City can assure the BPA that strong measures have been put in effect to protect the confidentiality of their personnel information.”
Stern wrote that, in light of the pending lawsuit by Moore’s family, the leak was “particularly egregious” and has the potential to cause “unwarranted prejudice against the named officers.”
He said, too, that “it is clear that at least one commissioner has an agenda that evidences bias against the accused officers,” and said the leak “undermines the credibility of the PRC.”
In her written remarks to city officials Thursday evening, city manager Christine Daniel did not identify the source of the leak as a commissioner, or indicate who might have been responsible. It was unknown Friday exactly how many people would have had access to the documents that were shared. Berkeleyside has requested additional information from the city manager but had not heard back as of publication time.
The Police Review Commission has been looking into Moore’s death since last year. Part of that process has included extensive public testimony from community members and Moore’s family who said they were concerned about police actions, and questioned whether the Berkeley Police Department deals appropriately with mental health calls. (The Police Department has said it is well trained in those matters and has a long history of working closely with mental health providers to ensure a high standard of service when dealing with people in mental health crisis.)
Though the public has had the chance to speak out to the commission about their concerns previously, the details of the inquiry — including interviews with officers and findings related to whether the commission believes officers acted appropriately — are protected by confidentiality laws.
Daniel said in her letter to city officials that she is “very concerned by this event and want to assure you that we will be looking into how this unauthorized release occurred, and how to prevent any similar occurrences in the future.”
She also wrote that she had issued the following to the Daily Cal in response to its request for a statement on the documents: “We cannot comment on the substance. The information you have been provided includes confidential personnel records protected by Penal Code Section 832.7. You have no authorization to possess the documents or the information. Whomever provided you with the information is in violation of City policy and state law. The City will look into how this information was improperly released.”
She also decried the leak itself, and said she would not require Berkeley Police officers to participate in the Police Review Commission’s activities under the circumstances. Daniel wrote that she had asked the commission to postpone a board of inquiry scheduled for Friday.
“The breach of confidentiality creates an atmosphere that generates a lack of confidence on the part of the officers that their confidential personnel information will be treated properly. Until the City has had an adequate opportunity to ensure that the required confidentiality will be maintained, I will not direct officers to participate,” she wrote.
Sarah Burns, editor-in-chief and president of the Daily Cal, said the news organization is planning to publish its report on the documents Monday. She said the city had made it clear it did not believe the Daily Cal should have or release the documents but that, otherwise, the city’s reaction had not been “out of proportion.”
Police Review Commissioner George Perezvelez said Friday afternoon that he had not been aware of the breach, but that he was very concerned by it, and planned to seek more information from city staff.
“I don’t know how it will pan out, but the trust is very important in order for the Police Review Commission to be effective. I think this is very troublesome,” he said. “It erodes the trust for all the parties: on behalf of the citizens, the city and police officers. When that is compromised, the result is extremely negative.”
Berkeley slapped with lawsuit over Kayla Moore’s death (02.14.14)
Vigil, rally mark anniversary of in-custody death (02.12.14)
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