Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, the public information officer who the Berkeley police chief sent to the home of a reporter around 1 am on March 9, prompting media coverage around the world, is stepping down from her post.
Sgt. Kusmiss will return to patrol duties sometime in the next few months, she announced Wednesday. She would not discuss the reasons behind the move. No new PIO has been selected yet, she said.
The last few months have been tough ones for the Berkeley Police Department, which was criticized for its response to the bludgeoning death of Peter Cukor, 67, in the Berkeley hills on Feb. 18. The spotlight on the department intensified on March 9 after Chief Michael Meehan ordered Kusmiss to go the Berkeley home of Oakland Tribune Reporter Doug Oakley at 12:45 am to ask him to change a story he had just posted online.
The action triggered widespread outrage and suggestions that Meehan had abused his authority and had censored the media. Chief Meehan quickly apologized for his mistake, but news about his misstep went viral, even prompting news stories in the United Kingdom.
Interim City Manager Christine Daniel initially accepted Meehan’s promise never to repeat his mistake. But on March 12 she hired a San Francisco law firm to conduct an investigation into the matter.
One of the main issues surrounding the incident is is the question of how the police department obtained Oakley’s address. Meehan told Berkeleyside he knew Oakley’s address and he assumed Kusmiss also knew it. But an email sent from Kusmiss to Meehan on March 9, which was released because of a Public Records Act request, showed that the chief directed Kusmiss to look on a police database. That might be a violation of the law.
Sgt. Kusmiss was a witness and testified to the law firm, according to her attorney Alison Berry Wilkinson.
Berkeley has not announced whether the findings of the investigation will be made public.
Sgt Kusmiss has served as the department’s PIO on and off for the past 10 years. She most recently returned to the position two years ago. She is also one of the department’s hostage negotiators and a former patrol supervisor. The PIO reports directly to the police chief.
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