Berkeley hires law firm for probe of police chief

March 16, 2012 - 11:05 PM

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Berkeley officials have hired a law firm to investigate an order by the city's police chief that sent an officer to a reporter's home after midnight to request changes in a story.

Interim City Manager Christine Daniel said Friday the firm of Rennie Sloan Holtzman Sakay will conduct an independent probe of the March 9 order issued by Chief Michael Meehan. Daniel released no additional details.

The hiring of the law firm comes after the union representing the city's police officers demanded an outside probe, saying Meehan should be held to the same standards as officers.

"If a police officer uses poor judgment and violates department policy, he is placed on administrative leave and is fully investigated," said Officer Tim Kaplan, president of the 160-member Berkeley Police Association. "As law enforcement officers, we don't just get to say 'I'm sorry' and have the whole matter go away."

Meehan has apologized for what he called his "error in judgment" in ordering his department's spokeswoman to go to the home of a Bay Area News Group reporter at 12:45 a.m. to request changes to an article published less than two hours earlier.

The reporter, 45-year-old Doug Oakley, said his family was asleep when Sgt. Mary Kusmiss showed up at his door. Oakley said Kusmiss, who regularly interacts with the news media, told him the chief had ordered her to go to the reporter's house when efforts to reach him by telephone and email were unsuccessful.

Meehan was unhappy with how Oakley had characterized one of his remarks from a community meeting about the Feb. 18 beating death of a resident whose non-emergency call about an intruder had gone unanswered.