The Butler did it: It seems like it was more than a year ago — maybe because it was more than a year ago — that Berkeley Police Chief Dash Butler made it known that he planned to retire some time in the near future. Butler was wise to wait. If he had retired when the news of his plans first leaked out, his annual pension would only have been $93,175. But Butler spiked his annual earnings by another $46,588 by timing his actual resignation after the cops renegotiated a higher benefits package in the interim, in accord with a statewide mandate.
By the by, Butler’s last official day is July 12. Deputy Chief Roy Meisner will become acting chief after Butler leaves. Meisner, a well-liked department veteran, also is the inside favorite to win the $155,000-a-year job permanently — which would make him the city’s first white top cop in twenty years. Nonetheless, the city is planning to indulge in the taxpayer-financed dog-and-pony show known as a nationwide recruitment search to formally name a replacement for Butler. Berkeley, with its active citizen Police Review Commission and New Age city council, is not exactly a Mecca for flatfoots. Readers perhaps recall that Butler spent the first few years as police chief trying to get out of Berkeley, by applying for jobs in neighboring Oakland and Seattle. If the decision were up to her, Councilwoman Betty Olds says she’d hire Meisner rather than waste money on a nationwide search that won’t turn up anyone better. “It’s just stupid, because Roy will do a great job,” says Olds, who is known for saying the things that Mayor Shirley Dean is thinking, but can’t say. “All the officers I know respect him. And he doesn’t have to take up a lot of time getting to know all the players.”
When the search is finally over, don’t be surprised if Olds gets her chief.
Or did the cops do it? As jury deliberations in the Earth First trial neared their fourth week, jury-watching at the federal courthouse in Oakland became something of a spectator sport. All that was missing was a bookie to draw odds on how and when the world’s most methodical or least decisive jury would decide whether the FBI and Oakland PD had violated the rights of Darryl Cherney and Judi Bari after a bomb exploded in their car in Oakland in 1990. The more the jury took its sweet time, the more the speculation flew about what it was up to. But with ten jurors, seven defendants, nine separate claims, and a verdict form that asked the jury to establish a figure for damages and determine what portion of that figure should come from each defendant, it was anyone’s guess what the outcome would be.
The Cherney-Bari camp provided running commentary and stats, calculating that the jury might have to vote on as many as 167 separate items. On its daily online “Jury Watch” (www.judibari.org), the slightest peep from the jury room — down to their request for a lowly bottle of Wite-Out — led to expectant conjecture. Had the jury changed its mind about something? Was it now backtracking? Were the jurors divided into feuding camps? The US attorneys representing the defendants remained tight-lipped, meanwhile, preferring instead to pace outside the courthouse, which was taken as a sign of something, though no one could say exactly what.
Lured by the promise of an imminent decision, a fresh pack of reporters materialized on Day Twelve of deliberations, Tuesday, June 4. A pair of young television reporters in matching charcoal gray jacket-pant ensembles crammed for their stand-ups by barraging Cunningham with stumpers such as, “How many defendants are there? Are they all men? Are they all white?” Hearing that the jury was returning from deliberations, the pack, following the lead of author Susan Faludi, who’s been covering the trial as part of an upcoming book, stampeded Judge Claudia Wilken‘s courtroom, only to slink away muttering curses after the jury announced it would stick around until Friday if necessary.
As the jurors headed home for the weekend with still no verdict, one of the few reporters who’d been covering the trial gavel to gavel groused, “There’s just no telling what those fuckers are thinking.”
Yup, the cops did it: But how ’bout that verdict? Ten jurors hit Oakland hard last week when they ordered four FBI agents and three Oakland cops to pay $4.4 million in damages to Cherney and the estate of Bari. Funny how terrorizing crime victims has a way of biting you in the ass. Although the verdict was technically against the individual officers, the city will pay the damages itself, and Oakland’s share of the verdict comes to more than $2 million. This comes at a bad time for the city, which is still facing a bumper crop of high-profile lawsuits at the very time that City Manager Robert Bobb is struggling to dig Oakland out of a $28 million budget deficit. Civil rights lawyers John Burris and Jim Chanin are pursuing a class action suit on behalf of 116 plaintiffs who were allegedly mistreated by the four Oakland cops known as “the Riders,” and Al Davis has a whopping $1.1 billion lawsuit against the city, which he claims misled the poor, gullible Raiders into moving back to town.
But hey, the city attorney’s office isn’t worried. According to city attorney representative Karen Boyd, the city is close to settling the Riders suit out of court, avoiding an embarrassing legal fight that could drag Oakland into the muck of scandal for months. “We are still working on the settlements,” Boyd assures us. “We’re getting closer, but we don’t know when we’ll have a settlement.”
Maybe never. Chanin claims that far from nearing an agreement, he and Burris have virtually given up on a settlement, and will go to federal court and ask for a trial date on June 24. “She hasn’t attended any of the settlement negotiations, and her definition of successful is clearly not the same as mine,” he says. “And since we both have to agree, I guess my opinion is of some importance.” Ouch!
Oakland’s in for more bad legal news, because the judge scheduled to oversee the trial is none other than Thelton Henderson, one of the most liberal jurists anywhere. Henderson, you may recall, was the judge who sparked a furor by overturning Proposition 209, which outlawed affirmative action in California. An appeals court quickly reversed his decision, and House Majority Whip Tom DeLay threatened to impeach him. An African-American lawyer who started his legal career in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Henderson was eventually fired for lending his car to Martin Luther King, Jr., but President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the bench in the ’70s, where he’s been ever since. Oakland’s lawyers must surely wince at the thought of defending four cops accused of beating and framing more than one hundred black men before this man.
The city’s finances are so poor that last week, the City Council agreed to a $28.4 million budget-slashing proposal that included a controversial plan to force all city employees making more than $50,000 to take unpaid leave. This has left unions furious and may actually hurt the city’s chances in the upcoming trials. After all, the employees scheduled for forced vacations include Oakland’s deputy city attorneys — the very people charged with fighting these kinds of lawsuits.
The voters sure won’t do it: As reported in this space last week, Bobb commissioned a poll testing voter support for a baseball park downtown. While 7 Days hadn’t seen the polls results, City Hall insiders who had thought they weren’t good news for baseball boosters. But lo and behold, the Oakland Tribune ran a story about the poll shortly thereafter with the headline, “Surprise Support for the A’s Ballpark.” Hmmm. Not entirely inaccurate, but a little misleading. As the story said, 45 percent of those polled said they would be willing to use public funds to build a ballpark in conjunction with other goodies. But 48 percent said they vote against such a proposal, and only 40 percent said they’d vote yes to just a ballpark measure without housing or the renovation of the historic Fox Theater thrown in. One disinterested political consultant told 7 Days that, while the poll indeed showed surprisingly high support for a new ballpark, the tiniest hint of an organized opposition would certainly kill it nonetheless. “It sounds like a loser to me,” he said.
But while local voters weren’t enthusiastic about helping a venerable sports business with an exciting team, hundreds of thousands of fans, and eighty guaranteed local dates, they displayed no such reservations when it came to renovating the aging Fox Theater, which currently has no team, no fans, and marginal prospects. Support for that project came in at 82 percent.