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Berkeley police chief sends officer to reporter's home

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Berkeley Chief of Police, Michael Meehan, speaks to Berkeley residents during the Thursday meeting.


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MARCH 10, 2012

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan ordered a sergeant to the home of a reporter around 12:45 a.m. Friday to request changes to a story that Meehan felt inaccurately portrayed him, media outlets reported this weekend.

Oakland Tribune reporter Doug Oakley covered a meeting Thursday night in which Meehan and others from the Berkeley Police Department discussed the department’s response on the night of the killing of Berkeley resident Peter Cukor on Feb. 18.

The police department has been criticized for not responding soon enough to a call from Cukor, and Oakley reported that Meehan had apologized Thursday for the department’s slow response. Meehan said he had only apologized at the meeting for the department’s slow response in providing information to the community.

“I went to the meeting,” Oakley told Berkeleyside. “I filed a story about 11 o’clock. The editor put it online. I went to bed. The next thing I know, my wife is talking to me. I am half-asleep. She’s saying the Berkeley police are here. I say ‘what?’ At first I thought something really bad was happening or they were coming for me, like I was going to be arrested.”

Meehan sent Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, the department’s public information officer, to knock on the door of Oakley’s home, waking him and his family up, according to local news blog Berkeleyside. Kusmiss told Oakley that she was sent because Meehan had not been able to reach Oakley by phone or email, according to Berkeleyside. Oakley agreed to make the changes to the story but said he was intimidated by the incident.

“What does that mean if the chief can send someone over to my house in the middle of the night?” Oakley told Berkeleyside. “Who do you call when the police are after you?”

The Oakland Tribune reported Friday that First Amendment experts said that what Meehan did “reeked of intimidation and attempted censorship.” Meehan has since apologized for his actions Thursday night, and said in a statement that he “deeply (appreciates) the importance of an independent and thoroughly informed media, and how they assist us in making our community aware of important events and information.”Meehan’s supervisor, Berkeley’s interim City Manager Christine Daniel, released a statement Saturday posted on Berkeleyside, acknowledging the incident.”There was no justification for contacting the reporter in this way and the Chief understands that the more appropriate response to his concerns about inaccurate statements in the article should have been to wait until the following day and make contact by phone or email. The Chief has acknowledged his lapse in judgment and assured me that nothing like this will happen again,” the statement reads.

Soumya Karlamangla is the city news editor.

MARCH 11, 2012

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