A Berkeley police officer, along with the union that represents her, sued the city of Berkeley and its police oversight agency Monday after a leak of confidential information about a high-profile death case.
Findings from a confidential hearing leaked to The Daily Californian showed that BPD Officer Gwendolyn Brown, as the lead responding officer to a disturbance call, did not constantly monitor the vital signs of a restrained person, who died in police custody in February 2013. According to court documents, Brown and the police union allege invasions of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress, among other counts, which amount to seven in total.
Kayla Moore, the deceased, was a 347-pound black transgender woman who had a history of mental illness. Responding officers restrained and arrested her in the apartment where she resided after her roommate called police earlier in the night. The coroner determined her death was caused by a toxic intersection of methamphetamines and codeine, complicated by cardiovascular disease and obesity.
A pending wrongful-death lawsuit filed by her father alleges that police “unlawfully seized, restrained, arrested and battered” Moore, resulting in her death.
After the publication of leaked information, officers refused to attend the commission’s confidential board of inquiry hearings, which are held after a complaint against an officer or department policy is made. City manager Christine Daniel postponed all hearings for 45 days, until July 12, and urged commissioners to affirm their commitment to the civilian oversight process, including maintaining confidentiality. Commissioners later signed declarations that they did not leak information to the Daily Cal.
A city investigation into the leak cleared city staff but did not investigate commissioners because they are not city employees.
The lawsuit alleges that Brown suffered severe emotional distress and that her professional reputation was damaged. It also alleges that the release of confidential information was “intentional and outrageous and done with reckless disregard.”
The plaintiffs requested an injunction to prohibit the requirement that unionized police officers appear or testify before the commission until all current commissioners are replaced or the source of the leak is found and removed from the Police Review Commission or denied access to its proceedings and reports.
The lawsuit seeks payment of damages that total to more than $25,000. The city and commission have 30 days to file a written response in Alameda County Superior Court. The commission is currently on summer recess and will hold its next meeting Sept. 10.
Attorney Harry Stern, a UC Berkeley alumnus and former police officer who is representing Brown and the police union, could not be immediately reached for comment.
The commission’s proceedings were previously suspended in August 2006 after a court ruled that police officer records must be kept private. Before the ruling, the commission’s hearings were open to the public and the complainant. Although disciplinary action against officers was already confidential in Berkeley, the commission’s investigation records about police misconduct used to be public. After the city filed an appeal, the hearings were reinstated in September 2007 but required to be held in a private forum.
The lawsuit filed Monday alleges that the city and commission are in contempt of court for disclosing personnel records, thereby breaching the 2007 ruling.
The police union also sued the city in 2002 and argued the commission’s procedures and public hearings violated state confidentiality laws.
A previous version of this article stated that city manager Christine Daniel requested Police Review Commissioners sign an oath affirming their commitment to confidentiality. In fact, Daniel asked the commission to take public action, like a motion or resolution, affirming its commitment to the civilian oversight process, including maintaining confidentiality.