.The Making of a Police Scandal

In a case tinged with race and sex, confidential investigative reports reveal that a small cadre of San Leandro cops ginned up explosive charges against one of their own.

Dewayne Stancill was once one of San Leandro’s best street cops. According to a decade’s worth of performance reviews, he was an officer with growing leadership skills and a genuine empathy toward wayward youth. His expertise with at-risk teenagers was no accident; he was once one of them, a young black kid who grew up on the mean streets of East Oakland. As an officer in the San Leandro Police Department, his colleagues vouched for his talent, as did police brass. But things changed dramatically in 2007 when he was promoted to the rank of sergeant.

It should have been one of many career milestones, but in a city with a troubled history surrounding race, Stancill says the color of his skin became a point of contention for some in the police department. His promotion also appeared to have sparked jealousy among cops. And then a handful of officers, mostly white women, who themselves had been consistently passed over for promotion, unleashed a backlash against Stancill that ultimately led to him losing his job, public records and interviews show.

According to two investigative reports commissioned by the city and recently obtained by the Express, the female cops, along with a high-ranking member of the police union, worked in concert to go after Stancill. The reports also concluded that the group of officers had repeatedly exaggerated charges of sexual harassment against Stancill, who says he was then shunned inside San Leandro PD.

At the center of it all, according to the second investigative report, was Anne O’Callaghan, a female officer who apparently was angered by the entrenched old boys’ network in the department. Either as a clerk or cop at the department for seventeen years, O’Callaghan had regularly been passed over for promotion. That was no surprise — only one woman has ever risen above the rank of officer in the department’s history.

In 2007, O’Callaghan finished fifth on the department’s sergeant’s exam, two spots behind Stancill, and was passed over for promotion. According to one of the investigative reports commissioned by the city, O’Callaghan reacted angrily to the exam results. She allegedly told other officers that Stancill was unqualified for the promotion, and that he was “stupid” and an “idiot.” “They’re sure promoting a bunch of winners around here,” another female officer said, according to the report.

O’Callaghan’s complaints, on their own, may have gone nowhere, but she’s married to Sergeant Mike Sobek, one of the department’s most powerful officers. At the time of Stancill’s promotion, Sobek was vice president of the San Leandro police union. He would later ascend to president of the union, a position he holds today.

According to the second investigative report, the husband-and-wife team of Sobek and O’Callaghan, along with Catherine Pickard, another San Leandro police officer who was O’Callaghan’s close friend and who also sat on the police union’s board of directors, worked together to convince other white female officers to accuse Stancill of sexual harassment.

In some ways, because of his rough-hewn manner of speaking and his propensity for making salty comments, Stancill was an easy target for building a wide-ranging — but ultimately deemed false — cache of sexual harassment claims. The complaints ranged from Stancill commenting on the fit of a female officer’s jeans to allegedly shooting another in the ass with a paint gun during a police exercise seven years earlier. Stancill also was alleged to have asked for sex with a close colleague on the force. But an investigation commissioned by the city found the charges to be without merit — too old and below the threshold of sexual harassment in the workplace. Stancill, though, was not out of the woods. In fact, it was just the beginning of an ugly series of events that ultimately cost him his job.

Undaunted by the city’s investigation, the six female officers decided to sue San Leandro, its police department, and Stancill himself, in federal court claiming their civil rights were infringed by the city’s long and woeful history of bypassing female officers. Some, like O’Callaghan, claimed gender and age discrimination, while other complaints simply revolved around being a woman in the department, even though some were not interested or eligible for promotion. The city ended up paying $1 million in court settlements alone and much more in legal fees, including $225,000 to O’Callaghan and Sobek — the wife and husband whom the city’s investigators concluded had started the whole thing.

Although many of San Leandro’s elected leaders were left in the dark over the scandal’s basic facts, there is reason to believe that the events may have led directly to the resignations of two police chiefs and possibly even the city manager. There’s also evidence that the mess helped oust the mayor from office.

As for O’Callaghan and Sobek, they remain entrenched at San Leandro PD, and there’s even a possibility that both could get promotions.

Among cops at the San Leandro Police Department, Dewayne Stancill was different, according to statements made by co-workers to investigators. Although the context of their statements sometimes appeared to drip with racism and elitism, in many ways they were right on one point: Stancill was not like other police officers in San Leandro.

He came from little. His family survived on Section 8 assistance in East Oakland. As a child he and three other older siblings crowded into dilapidated housing — if they could get a home at all. He remembers standing in line at the local church for periodic handouts.

His father wasn’t around much, but he remembers having a strong bond with him. But then, when Stancill was twelve years old, his father was shot and killed by an Oakland cop. The officer was responding to a call regarding an irate man in front of a run-down hotel on MacArthur Boulevard. Stancill’s father had multiple sclerosis and Dewayne believes his dad did not take his pills that fateful day. It disabled his actions, Stancill believes, and limited his ability to communicate coherently with the police officer.

Young Dewayne was torn by the incident, yet it did not change his view of police. “When my father died, it didn’t kill my hopes and dreams,” Stancill said in a recent interview, adding this about police officers: “They would never lie or do anything wrong because they wore a badge. My thinking was you respect them because they are the good guys.”

By age seventeen, Stancill was a transient wandering the streets of Oakland by day and searching for a place to sleep by night. Eventually, he couldn’t stand sleeping on the cold, wet cement any longer. “It was just ugly,” he recalled. “I had to get myself out or I was going to be dead.”

Armed with a study guide for the GED and a new job at a shipping company, things began to change. A co-worker helped him enroll at San Jose City College. Stancill’s background did not exactly prepare him for the world of higher education. “I heard people talking about getting a master’s, an AA, and bachelors’ degrees,” he said. “I was not exposed to any of that. I would say, ‘I’ll get my master’s and then try to get an AA,’ because that sounded better to me. I didn’t know what was what.”

After a slow start in community college, Stancill finally began to hit his stride. After completing a particularly vexing English course, he applied to join the San Leandro Police Department and became an officer in 1998.

Stancill’s rise from poverty and homelessness to the rank of police officer was quick and he never smoothed the rough edges of his personality. Stancill spoke with a street-wise vocabulary, but to some of his colleagues in the department, it was “too ghetto,” as one would later put it, according to public records.

But Stancill’s unique experience served him well in San Leandro. Over time, the city’s all-white population has changed to the point that there are now many young people of color with backgrounds similar to his. His time as a school resource officer at San Leandro High School also helped him connect with youth. One former lieutenant called Stancill “the best street cop we have.”

But after Stancill’s promotion to sergeant, the officer said that Stancill somehow “morphed into a complete idiot” for other cops in the department. A current San Leandro police officer agreed, telling the city’s investigator that once Stancill outscored the other cops, he became “stupid.” The same officer, who is white, told investigators he believed an atmosphere of racism was the root cause for the department-wide shunning of Stancill after the results of the sergeant’s test were released.

San Leandro’s turbulent history with race relations helps explain the slow rate of cultural change at the police department. Under the city’s modern patriarch, Jack Maltester, the political machine of the last century fostered and perpetuated numerous racial stereotypes that ultimately led to federal inquiries in the early-Seventies of the use of housing segregation against blacks. The stigma, although markedly improved over the decades, still lingers. Open discrimination is no longer an everyday discussion among residents, but it still permeates many local issues.

Regardless, the power of diversity has allowed the city to overcome its history. According to the most recent US Census, San Leandro has nearly equal proportions of whites, Latinos, and Asians, and a percentage of African Americans that is higher than the state average. In fact, there are very few places in the country more richly diverse than San Leandro.

Yet, the cure for intolerance has proven too weak for the pathogen that has continued to thrive at the police department. In many ways, San Leandro PD is still living in the past. Aside from O’Callaghan’s brief three-month stint as acting sergeant in 2008, only one woman has ever held a long-term position above officer. Law enforcement is notable for its lack of racial and gender integration, but among Bay Area cities, San Leandro lags way behind the curve. Among the city’s 91 sworn officers, just 7 are black and only 4 are female. The landmark hiring last January of former Benicia Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli as the city’s first female top cop was meant, in part, to facilitate greater diversity, but change is stubbornly slow in San Leandro.

It was against this backdrop that Stancill rose through the ranks to finish third on the police sergeant’s exam in 2007, earning his promotion. (The top three finalists received promotions.) The news capped an impressive run for him as an officer, according to numerous job reviews. Just two years earlier he had finished fourteenth on the exam.

After finishing behind Stancill, O’Callaghan admitted telling other officers that he was “stupid,” an “idiot,” and unqualified for the job, according to a city-commissioned investigative report. O’Callaghan’s response to being passed over yet again for promotion may have been understandable, but according to the city reports, its tone shifted from sour grapes to open hostility.

Pickard, an officer and close friend of O’Callaghan who would later join the group of six in alleging sexual harassment against Stancill, also led the effort to go after him, according to the investigation. Two years earlier Stancill recalled Pickard telling him, “We have black officers here, but they’re like us. You carry yourself black.” Pickard, who is white, denied making the statement when questioned by investigators. But in a nod to the department’s woeful record with women and minorities, O’Callaghan told investigators, “The city would rather have an angry woman than one black person crying discrimination.”

In January 2010, the city announced a settlement with four of the female officers, totaling $405,000. Among the group were three officers who quit the department in early-2008, but the settlement did not include O’Callaghan and Pickard. They received settlements from the city later, but the agreements raise questions as to whether the city’s elected leaders were made aware of background information surrounding O’Callaghan and Pickard’s alleged involvement with O’Callaghan’s husband, Mike Sobek, in exaggerating sexual harassment charges against Stancill.

Even before the six officers filed suit in federal district court, the city’s higher-ups were well-aware of one confidential report completed in April 2008 by a Walnut Creek attorney. That was the first city-commissioned investigation into the scandal, and it focused on whether the sexual harassment claims against Stancill were legitimate. The report concluded that they were not.

The second report, completed in November 2008, centered on Stancill’s claim that he had been a victim of a racially inspired smear. Although that report concluded that the campaign against Stancill was not race-based, it also found that O’Callaghan, Sobek, and Pickard had worked in concert to gin up what were ultimately deemed to be bogus charges against Stancill. “Ms. O’Callaghan, Ms. Pickard and/or Mr. Sobek had some involvement in all of the complaints raised against Mr. Stancill,” the report noted. “They kept each other informed of their efforts and reached out to try to generate more complaints. In each situation, O’Callaghan, Pickard and Sobek sought out and then exaggerated the facts they reported regarding Stancill’s conduct.”

The report also questioned the trio’s motives and actions in the pursuit of claims against Stancill. The investigation described at least two instances where Sobek allegedly used his status at the department to coerce other female officers to join the case against Stancill. In one instance, a current female officer was urged by O’Callaghan and Sobek to join the other six women in filing sexual harassment complaints after telling another officer about a comment made by Stancill. According to the investigation, O’Callaghan asked the officer to join the litigation and contribute $4,500 toward legal fees. When she declined, O’Callaghan later leaned on her to report Stancill to superiors, according to the investigation. The officer told the investigator later that she felt like “she got dragged into the investigation” of Stancill and had never voiced disapproval over Stancill’s comments and, in fact, said the quip he allegedly made to her was amusing.

Nevertheless, O’Callaghan made the incident known to a lieutenant, according to the report. Later, the officer told investigators that Sobek also pressured her to get involved by saying, “Just do it for Annie, you owe it to her.” Sobek denied the exchange when asked by the investigator.

According to this second investigation, then-Lieutenant Steven Pricco, who is now second-in-command at the department, had been the nexus for the slew of sexual harassment complaints against Stancill. According to the report, Pricco collected claims from O’Callaghan and another female officer and brought them to the attention of then-Captain Ian Willis. To Stancill, the complaints appeared to trickle in slowly at first but then quickly increased. Within a week, the number of complaints had risen to six.

Sobek, well aware of the growing number of complaints against Stancill, according to the report, appeared to start dropping ominous hints to Stancill about his eventual fate. In the months leading to the issuing of complaints by the six women in December 2007 and January 2008, Sobek told Stancill and the officer who placed first on the sergeant’s test, “You know man, things are going to get worse before they get better.” (Sobek admitted making the statement but said its context referred to subordinates adjusting to their new supervisors.)

Two weeks later, Sobek told Stancill, “No matter what you do, it will be wrong and no matter what you say, you’re not going to win.” The other officer who witnessed the statements told investigators that it was not clear whether Sobek was referring specifically to Stancill. But in hindsight, the exchange foreshadowed the next three years of Dewayne Stancill’s life.

As Stancill became increasingly ostracized among his peers, he grew more aware of the stark realities of being a “man on an island.” He often dressed away from other cops or donned his uniform in his office. Other times he would attempt to supervise using his radio from his office. But then things worsened to potentially dangerous levels: Investigators found that O’Callaghan, Pickard, and other female officers routinely called in sick when scheduled to work under Stancill, citing a fear of working under his supervision. In most cases, accommodations would be made to replace the officer on the shift, but this wasn’t always the case, according to Stancill, who said he was purposely left understaffed by Sobek.

On one specific occasion in May 2008, according to Stancill, Pickard, upon learning she was scheduled to work under Stancill that weekend, notified Sobek earlier that week that she would be sick. Sobek noted it as a sick call, but failed to provide a replacement officer later in the week, Stancill said. “When you’re short on the street, it’s a danger to me and to the other officers and the citizens,” he said.

There’s a code in law enforcement that basically says, “Where there is one cop, there will eventually be many.” The code once gave Stancill a measure of solace on the streets. But without confidence in his fellow officers to faithfully back him up, he said he was forced to make mental adjustments that could have been disastrous, if not deadly. “My thought process, as sad as it was, [was], ‘If I get into something out here, I’m probably going to have to shoot a lot quicker than I normally would if I was part of the team,'” he said.

Stancill created a work-around. To lessen his exposure to potentially dangerous situations, he tried to restrict his schedule to certain days and certain areas of the city. But he could only take so much until he started to voice concerns over his treatment to supervisors and the human resources department. “‘Get these people off my back,'” Stancill recalled telling the human resources manager. “But they wouldn’t do it,” he said.

Stancill said he notified Captain Ian Willis of his concerns, but Willis, Stancill said, used the chain of command to block him from talking to the chief. “Can someone please help me?” Stancill recalled thinking. “I’m being discriminated against and Willis said, ‘I’m not going to allow you to talk to the chief.'”

Stancill believes Dale Attarian, the chief at the time, was deliberately kept in the dark by his commanders. Allegations made by the six female officers in their federal court lawsuit against the city and Attarian describe the former chief as supportive of Stancill and his abilities. “‘What am I supposed to do?'” Stancill said he asked Willis. According to Stancill, Willis suggested he hire an outside attorney.

To Stancill, Willis’ comment proved how powerful Sobek was in San Leandro. Police officers pay a portion of their paychecks toward a legal defense fund; Sobek, as part of the union leadership, had a hand in controlling connections with legal representation at the department. The exchange with Willis confirmed for Stancill that he stood squarely outside the department’s circle of trust.

In January 2009, a few months after Stancill formally complained to human resources about continued harassment that he believed was due to the color of his skin, he was placed on paid administrative leave. The leave stemmed from an unrelated incident following a shooting at a Pep Boys on East 14th Street. The department questioned whether Stancill had put other officers in danger after allowing the father of one of the suspects, who was shot by police, to visit the hospital. Despite actions by Stancill to gain the surrender of two other suspects in the shooting in exchange for the father’s visits, he came under fire by higher-ups who claimed the criminal case was ruined by his actions. Still seething from his treatment in the department, Stancill declined to testify in the subsequent investigation. Sobek’s earlier statement to him that no matter what he said, he would not win had convinced Stancill that testifying would get him nowhere. He was later terminated.

There is little doubt that while Stancill was viewed institutionally as a good cop, “it was also apparent that a lot women in the department seem to have problems with Sgt. Stancill,” one of the investigations concluded. The complaints against him ranged from inappropriate comments to allegedly asking a fellow female officer for sex. Stancill also exhibited a propensity for giving colleagues nicknames like “baby.” (He pronounced it “beh-beh.”) Stancill told the investigator: “That’s just my language. What’s up, homeboy?” “What’s up, homegirl?” “What’s up, baby?”

The internal investigation into the six sexual harassment complaints, though, found they lacked substance, according to the investigator hired by the city. “Many of the allegations are stale, occurring well over one year ago,” the report said. In addition, it found the complaints were quickly addressed and corrected by Stancill upon notice. Three of the woman also failed to cooperate with the investigation, it said, including the woman who Stancill allegedly asked for sex. (Stancill says he and the female officer engaged in sexual banter.)

The federal lawsuit filed against the city also detailed a police department rife with testosterone-fueled antics more befitting a college fraternity than a department of public safety. In her complaint, Pickard said the phrase “women don’t belong in police work” was the prevailing belief among her male counterparts. The sentiment was uttered more than fifty times, Pickard said. She also described numerous instances of pornographic materials lying around the station and in squad cars, along with lewd emails distributed systemwide on city servers.

Nonetheless, earlier this summer, Stancill did not just settle with the City of San Leandro over his termination — he was exonerated. The issuance of an exoneration letter in addition to a settlement is virtually unheard of in this sort of legal dispute, according to a source that represents police officers. Stancill received $314,000 in damages and legal fees and retired honorably from the police department at age 39, along with full medical benefits and a pension.

In an interview for this story, Stancill said it was clear that white officers had instituted an “If you talk to him, I’m not talking to you” mentality. “It was the law of the land,” he said. “To this day, I have friends in the department who say I can’t talk to you because I can’t afford to go through what they did to you.”

Stancill also said that the leadership during his time in the department protected other white commanders “almost by default.” Four of the five commanders at the time, including Willis and Pricco, were known to have personal ties to Sobek and O’Callaghan, Stancill said. “If anything was going to happen, then the investigations would have gone to them,” he said.

A few months after Stancill’s termination, Police Chief Dale Attarian was unceremoniously pushed out of office just two years into his tenure, ending nearly three decades as a cop in San Leandro. Attarian was replaced by Willis. The switch would be the first in a series of shake-ups in the city that were never fully explained to the public.

Ten months later, in October 2010, Willis announced his retirement, at age fifty. In a press release, Willis said he would remain in command until a new chief was hired. The statement turned out to be important because Willis was still two months away from being able to “spike” his pension. He was not replaced until January by the current chief, Spagnoli, and thus was able to greatly enhance his retirement benefits.

To this day, there has never been a good explanation for why two chiefs left the department in a span of just fourteen months. But during an arbitration hearing in July 2010 regarding Stancill’s lawsuit against the city for wrongful termination, Willis acknowledged that the sexual harassment complaints initially filed against Stancill were based on a “false premise,” according to a transcript obtained by the Express. Although it remains unclear whether Attarian and Willis left because of the police scandal, several council members now say privately that it became obvious that Willis was the wrong man to fix the problems at the department.

Two months after Willis’ announced departure, the man who hired him, City Manager Stephen Hollister stunned observers when he announced he was stepping down, effective this past June. The council’s decision not to renew Hollister’s contract stemmed from still unspecified concerns over his lack of interaction with the city’s business community, but council members, privy to the decisions in closed session, also said privately that the ongoing settlements stemming from the police scandal had ballooned to almost unmanageable proportions and facilitated a change in direction. The post has yet to be filled and may not be until December, at the earliest, and there was still more collateral damage from the handling of the Stancill case.

Anti-pension crusader Stephen Cassidy’s electoral upset of Mayor Tony Santos by a mere 232 votes could be attributed to many factors — from the incumbent’s stubborn opposition to saving San Leandro Hospital to a general antipathy towards the state of the economy. But there’s another possible reason for Santos’ defeat: the fallout created by Willis’ quick departure and perceptions among residents that he was attempting to abuse the system by spiking his pension.

Since it happened just a month before the election, Willis’ retirement was manna from heaven for a challenger like Cassidy searching for a high-profile example of public employees getting huge payouts. The disclosure upended the mayor’s race and Cassidy became the first mayoral challenger in San Leandro history to unseat an incumbent.

Directly or indirectly, what began as an apparent case of workplace jealousy may have led to a dramatic shake-up in the city’s leadership: Two police chiefs are gone, the city manager has been deposed, and a new mayor took office earlier this year.

Spagnoli, San Leandro’s new police chief, ostensibly hired to clean up the mess at the police department, says changes are already under way. When it comes to the Stancill scandal, Spagnoli told the Oakland Tribune last September, “I want people to know we’ve taken care of those issues.” Spagnoli says the department is also reaching out to minorities and women, encouraging their advancement with various leadership programs. In addition, the department no longer ranks officers for promotion using an in-house apparatus, but now hires an outside consultant, Spagnoli said.

But some of the same shenanigans may still persist. O’Callaghan is one of two female candidates who participated in the testing for sergeant last month. A source with knowledge of the exam conducted in mid-October by an outside consultant said that a longtime San Leandro lieutenant monitored the interview process. The cop in question is known to have friendly ties with Sobek and is briefly mentioned in the reports detailed in this article, the source said. Sobek is also believed to be a candidate for promotion to lieutenant.

Stancill contends that if Sobek is eventually promoted to lieutenant, his appointment could further insulate others from taking responsibility for wrongdoing. Stancill said that Sobek, as lieutenant, will participate in rotating command over internal affairs.

Even though Stancill has moved on, his name still ignites furor among the San Leandro Police Department’s current leadership, he said. More than two years after he was formally dismissed from the department, Stancill said some of the same people who hastened his termination are still focused on him. After the terms of Stancill’s agreement with the city were finalized this summer, Stancill said he was not allowed to take a test for a concealed weapons permit at the city’s gun range and said he was effectively “banned” from entering the police station by Pricco. He eventually took the test elsewhere. Pricco did not respond to an email regarding the allegations.

Sobek, in an email, declined to comment for this story, but he noted that there has never been an investigation made by the city or the police department into his or his wife’s conduct as revealed in the reports detailed in this article. Sobek also told this reporter in a phone conversation last week that he never actually saw the second investigative report. As for O’Callaghan, she declined to be interviewed for this story.

In July 2009, after he had lost job, Stancill said his health began to deteriorate. He fell into a deep depression and lost feeling on the left side of his body. “My body just gave out,” he said. “Emotionally, it was as bad as it gets.” Physical therapy and visits to a neurosurgeon followed. “I wish I could tell you I’m all right,” he said. “But it’s going to be a long recovery for me.”


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