Tag Archives: Michael Meehan

‘Unconstitutional police attacks’ in December Berkeley protests spur civil rights lawsuit

Lawyers Rachel Lederman and James Chanin (left) and plaintiffs xx, xx, xx and xx during the Monday press conference. Photo: Lance Knobel
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Eleven demonstrators and journalists have filed a civil rights complaint against the city of Berkeley, the city of Hayward, former Berkeley City Manager Christine Daniel, Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan, and 13 other named police officers in federal court seeking changes in how Berkeley polices demonstrations and damages for what they term “unconstitutional police attacks” during the Black Lives Matter protests on Dec. 6, 2014.

“The Berkeley police treated all the demonstrators as if they were violent and lawless,” James Chanin, a Berkeley-based civil rights attorney representing the plaintiffs, said at a press conference in front of Berkeley Police headquarters Monday morning. “The results were predictable, and that is why we’re here today. Non-violent protesters were injured, massive amounts of gas were used on non-violent protesters as well as people who had little if anything to do with the demonstrations, and those who did commit property damage got away while non-violent, innocent people were injured and/or prevented from exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Moni Law, a Berkeley Rent Board counselor, is one of the plaintiffs. Law said she was clubbed in the back from behind by a Berkeley police officer when she was urging other demonstrators to step back from the police line. At the press conference, Law described herself as a “reluctant plaintiff.”

“I want my own police department to protect and to serve,” Law said. “Let’s keep our city free of violence, and that includes police violence.”

Read past Berkeleyside coverage of the Berkeley protests.

Rachel Lederman, co-counsel for the plaintiffs and head of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, said it was “somewhat surprising” that Berkeley police had received the most complaints and reports during the protests last December, even though there were demonstrations in Oakland and San Francisco, as well as other Bay Area cities.  … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Berkeley police do not tolerate discrimination

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Recently, several groups have alleged that, due to racial disparity between Berkeley Police stop data and the resident census population, the only possible explanation was racial profiling by Berkeley Police. I respectfully disagree.

Racial disparity and implicit bias are complex and wide-ranging national issues. Disparity affects many of our society’s institutions including health care, education, finance, the legal system and others. We share our community’s concern about disparity and inequity.

The Constitution, state and federal law and department policy … Continue reading »

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Op-ed: Berkeley Police take a ‘head in the sand’ approach to racial profiling

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“The men and women of the Berkeley Police Department do not, have not and will never tolerate discriminatory, bias-based policing. Such discrimination is illegal, it is not our practice and it is not part of our organizational culture,” Meehan said.

If only that were true…

The recent release of data from Berkeley Police Department concerning the numbers of African Americans stopped, cited and searched made big news this week mostly because racial profiling is not supposed to be happening … Continue reading »

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Berkeley police chief says Tasers would help his officers

Police Chief Michael Meehan
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Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan told the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday night he believes his officers should be granted the option to carry Tasers, which are not currently allowed under city policy.

It was the first time Meehan has taken a stand on the issue in a high-profile public forum, though he said he had made similar comments in the past in smaller community meetings.

More than a dozen community members told council that Tasers should not be used in Berkeley, and shared stories from around the country about what they believed were inappropriate uses of the tool by law enforcement officers in other jurisdictions.

Tuesday evening, council received a report from researchers at the Stanford Criminal Justice Center who spent six months earlier this year looking into the issue on a pro bono basis. The researchers said, after reviewing more than 100 studies, that there are still too many unanswered questions about how Tasers are used, and that Berkeley should be cautious when considering whether to equip the local police force with them.

Berkeley is among about 2,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, out of an estimated 18,000, that do not carry the tool.

Meehan told council that he knows the issue is a controversial one, but made his position on Tasers, also known as electronic control weapons or ECWs, clear.

Read past Berkeleyside coverage related to Tasers.

“The combined body of evidence and decades-­long experience leads me to believe that the availability of ECWs is in the best interests of our employees, and our community,” he said. “I would not say this if I did not think it was in the best interests of both.” … Continue reading »

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Capitelli says he didn’t get commission from house sale for Meehan, but will donate fee he was paid

Councilman Laurie Capitelli. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Berkeley City Councilman Laurie Capitelli said Monday that he never served as the real estate agent for Police Chief Michael Meehan’s home purchase and never split a nearly $30,000 commission for the deal, contrary to what was reported Friday by the Bay Area News Group.

When Meehan went looking to buy a home in Berkeley in 2010 — aided by a $500,000, 3% loan provided him by the city of Berkeley — he hired an agent from Red Oak Realty, a company in which Capitelli was once a partner with a 15% stake, but from which he had largely divested by 2009. That agent asked Capitelli some questions about whether Berkeley or a homeowner was liable for the upkeep of sewer lines and creek beds. After Meehan purchased a home in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood, she paid Capitelli $5,925 for his advice, he said in a statement.

“I reiterate that I received no compensation whatsoever from Red Oak from the sale itself,” Capitelli said in the statement. “I have had no financial interest in the company for several years. I did not, as reported, split any commission on the sale. I did receive a $5,925 unsolicited payment for dealing with a variety of questions and issues forwarded to me by the agent, which arose during their search for a new home. To avoid any suggestion of impropriety I will nonetheless donate that fee to a local charity.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley councilman Laurie Capitelli profited from $500,000 housing loan given to police chief, paper says

Laurie Capitelli, Espresso Roma, Berkeley, CA, Oct. 10, 2012.
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Update, Oct. 5: Councilman Laurie Capitelli issued a statement Monday to clarify his role in the purchase of a home by Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan in 2010 following a City Council vote the prior year to loan the chief money toward the purchase. Capitelli told Berkeleyside he never served as the real estate agent for the home purchase and did not split a $30,000 commission for the deal, contrary to what was reported Friday by the Bay Area News Group. Capitelli told Berkeleyside he received an unsolicited payment after providing another agent advice about sewer lines and creeks, which he says he now plans to donate to charity. He initially kept the money because he said he was advised by Berkeley’s city attorney that there was no ethical conflict related to the vote and his role in the later transaction.

Original story, Oct. 3: Seven months after City Councilman Laurie Capitelli voted in November 2009 to loan incoming Police Chief Michael Meehan $500,000 in public funds to buy a house, he helped sell Meehan a home and garnered a $15,000 commission, according to a report by Thomas Peele for the Bay Area News Group.

Capitelli had not been hired as Meehan’s real estate agent when he voted with the rest of the City Council to provide the housing loan. Consequently, he does not feel he broke any ethical boundaries, he told the newspaper. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley coalition says police stops show racial bias

A local coalition has raised concerns about alleged racial profiling by Berkeley police. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Berkeley police officers disproportionately stop and search people of color during traffic stops, according to a coalition of groups that presented data and demanded changes from the department Tuesday.

Representatives from the Berkeley NAACP, Berkeley Copwatch and UC Berkeley’s Black Student Union presented the data at City Hall, and said the department must address the disparities.

The Berkeley Police Department quickly disputed the conclusions reached by the group, and said the department has already taken a number of steps to address implicit biases through training and education. The department says it has been recognized nationally for how well its staffing breakdown reflects the demographics of the community, as well as for its training and professionalism.

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan said he appreciated that the groups are raising awareness about the issue of disparities in the criminal justice system, but questioned their methodology and said their statement “generates more questions than answers.”

The coalition, which includes the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, analyzed nearly seven months of data related to about 4,700 traffic stops this year. According to the data, they said, 30.5% of the stops involved black motorists, even though black people make up only 8% of Berkeley’s population.

White motorists made up 36.7% of the stops, though they make up 60% of the city’s population. … Continue reading »

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Serious Berkeley crime skyrockets in first half of 2015

The 2015 mid-year crime report: numbers are up almost across the board. Image: Berkeley Police Department
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Berkeley police are reporting significant increases in serious crimes including robberies, aggravated assaults and burglaries during the first half of 2015, compared to statistics from 2014.

Police officials are set to present the annual mid-year crime report to the Berkeley City Council at a special session Tuesday beginning at 5:30 p.m.

“2015 has been a challenging year for law enforcement,” police wrote in the report for council. Overall, serious crime reports increased 23% from the first six months of 2014 compared to the same period this year. The numbers do not take into account population density.

According to police, robberies increased 53%, from 108 in the first half of 2014 to 165 this year. (The numbers are still lower, however, than the 221 robberies reported in the first half of 2013, police note in the report.) Police said, this year, pedestrian robberies increased 52%, a trend that appears to have begun in late 2014 as the numbers started to push up.

Berkeleyside reported the apparent increase in robberies in mid-May, and asked for more detailed information from the Berkeley Police Department’s records bureau, which has not responded to the request despite repeated attempts to learn more about the robbery trends in the city. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley police defend tactics after laundromat robbery

Police search Sacramento Street, near Dwight Way, for an armed robber who robbed a laundromat, in Berkeley, on Monday, July 27. Photo: David Yee
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One week after a police operation in southwest Berkeley sparked community questions about whether military tools and tactics have been unnecessarily adopted by local departments, the Berkeley Police chief and one of his captains said safety was the overriding concern that drove decision making last Monday.

Threats to officer safety are very real. Police Chief Michael Meehan and Acting Capt. Jennifer Louis answered questions from Berkeleyside on Monday, Aug. 3, less than 24 hours after an officer-involving shooting in Oakland left a local man dead and a police sergeant in serious condition. According to a statement released by the Oakland Police, the man opened fire on officers with an assault rifle after they responded to his home during a sexual assault investigation. And, less than two weeks ago, Hayward Police Sgt. Scott Lunger was fatally shot without warning during a traffic stop.

Meehan said today, however, that it was the specifics of last week’s robbery and assault at a laundromat — “the facts of the individual case…. and the nature of the threat” — that prompted the use July 27 of a police dog from Oakland, an armored vehicle from Alameda and the Berkeley Police Special Response Team, which wears camouflage uniforms when it responds to calls.

Those decisions incited an emotional response from some in the Berkeley community and beyond who said the tactics are evidence of the increasing militarization of local police departments. Many said they were put off by the camouflage uniforms and armored vehicle, in particular. In the Berkeleyside comments, one person called the operation a sign of a “police state” and another decried the “unprecedented show of military force.” Others said police had made the right decisions, acting professionally and efficiently. But even some who made a point to say they support certain police tactics had questions. … Continue reading »

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Hundreds gather in Berkeley to remember balcony victims

Hundreds gathered in Civic Center Park Sunday night for a "Month's Mind" to honor and remember those killed in the June 16 balcony collapse. Photo: Ted Friedman
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A month after a fifth-floor balcony snapped off the façade of 2020 Kittredge St. in Berkeley, sending six people in their 20s to their deaths and injuring seven others, hundreds of people gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Sunday to honor them.

The event was a “Month’s Mind,” a traditional Irish requiem mass held a month after a death, according to Philip Grant, the Irish consul general in San Francisco. It is meant to remember and honor the deceased. There is a moment of silence for reflection.

“It’s a moment of reflection on what happened and where we’ve come,” said Grant. … Continue reading »

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Six people killed in Berkeley balcony collapse identified

A balcony at Library Gardens in downtown Berkeley collapsed Tuesday, killing six. Photo: Emily Dugdale
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By Tracey Taylor and Emilie Raguso

Update, 4:40 p.m. According to the city of Berkeley, Philip Grant, the Consul General of Ireland to the Western United States, will have a wreath-laying ceremony at 5 p.m. near the site of the balcony collapse.

The city expects its investigation into what caused the collapse to take several days: “As part of the City’s investigation of the incident, the City will be retaining possession of the collapsed materials. Building and Safety staff have been on scene since early Tuesday morning, shortly after the collapse. Once the damaged materials are removed from the building, they will be taken to a City facility and will remain under City control.”

City staff members have taken other steps, as well, to document the scene and the damage. Inspectors have already been inside the unit, and have “completed an up-close, aerial investigation using cranes to examine the damage,” the city reported just after 4:30 p.m. At that time, the city also released property records related to the building where the accident took place.

Update, 3:30 p.m. At around 3:15 p.m., crews in downtown Berkeley used a crane to remove the fifth-floor balcony at Library Gardens, which fell in the early hours of Tuesday, killing six people.

ORIGINAL STORY: The six people who died early Tuesday morning after a balcony collapsed in downtown Berkeley have been identified as Ashley Donohoe, 22, from Rohnert Park; and Olivia Burke, Eimear Walsh, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster and Lorcán Miller, all 21 years old and from Ireland.

See complete coverage of the balcony collapse.

At a press conference that started at around 1:15 p.m., Philip Grant, Consul General of Ireland to Western United States, said: “Our hearts are breaking but it is so good to know that so many people stand with us.”

Listen to an audio recording of the press conference below. … Continue reading »

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Police report mistakes, challenges in Berkeley protests

Protesters and police clashed Dec. 6, 2014, during a Black Lives Matter demonstration. Photo: Gael McKeon
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Berkeley police officers used 50 tear gas grenades and “blast rounds” to clear Telegraph Avenue during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in December, but police officials declined to say Wednesday night whether that had been excessive.

The June 10 meeting before the city’s Police Review Commission was the citizen panel’s first chance to ask officers specific questions about the anti-police protests in Berkeley in December, following the release on Tuesday of a 161-page report completed by the department to analyze its response to the demonstrations.

After being charged with the task earlier this year by the Berkeley City Council, the PRC is working to complete its own investigation: questioning authorities, reviewing the police report, examining original documents and interviewing witnesses. Council asked the PRC to come back with its findings within six months.

Read past Berkeleyside coverage of the Berkeley protests.

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan told commissioners Wednesday night that, without “a full discussion about the facts and circumstances at the moments those decisions were made” — regarding tear gas use on Telegraph Avenue on Dec. 6-7, 2014 — he could not say whether an appropriate amount had been used or not. 

“It’s a discussion I think we should have,” Meehan said.

The time for that discussion, however, was apparently not Wednesday night. Meehan stressed that the department’s focus while doing its report had been to find strategies to avoid getting into situations where force becomes necessary. He noted that, once officers witness crimes being committed or are “already under attack, their options are limited.” … Continue reading »

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Police Review Commission gets first chance for answers from Berkeley police after December protests

Protesters in Berkeley in December demanded an end to police brutality throughout the nation. Photo: Emilie Raguso
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Six months after protesters took to the streets to demand more just policing practices, the Berkeley Police Department will tonight present its report on how it handled the protests, and what it might do better in the future.

The report is scheduled to come Wednesday, June 10, before the city’s Police Review Commission in a 6 p.m. meeting at the South Berkeley Senior Center at 2939 Ellis St.

In recent months, the citizen oversight panel has been working on its own investigation into the protests, which were prompted by killings by officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York. Many community members were outraged after police in Berkeley used tear gas and batons to clear crowds on Telegraph Avenue on Dec. 6, 2014, the first night of frequent, lengthy demonstrations throughout the month. The next night, police kept their distance much of the night, allowing extensive vandalism by some members of the crowd to ravage the city.

Read past Berkeleyside coverage of the Berkeley protests.

The PRC plans to submit the findings of its own report to the Berkeley City Council in August after reviewing police documents related to the protests, and interviewing witnesses about what took place. Wednesday night will be the first chance for the commission to question Berkeley police in detail about their December decisions and actions.

In preparation for Wednesday night’s meeting, Berkeley Copwatch, a watchdog organization, has called for the resignation of Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan, citing “leadership failure” during the protests. According to Copwatch, the police investigation into the protests “identifies a series of bad decisions, system failures, skewed priorities and lack of mission clarity that Berkeley Copwatch feels are numerous enough to justify a call for Chief Michael Meehan to resign.”

A Copwatch statement released Wednesday morning continues, “this report identifies failures of leadership that include an inability to manage mutual aid forces, an inability to effectively distinguish between the need for crowd management and crowd control, an inability to identify a clear mission for local and mutual aid forces and an inability to gather and usefully employ information about what was actually happening in the streets on those nights.”

Berkeleyside reviewed the same protest-related documents the PRC requested from the city, and has posted them below along with brief summaries of what they contain. On Tuesday, the Police Department released the findings of its internal investigation, which included more than 30 recommendations for how the department might improve its practices in the future. … Continue reading »

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