SAN LEANDRO'S BADGE OF DISHONOR
"Like the Roman Catholic Church, Penn State is an arrogant institution hiding behind its mystique."
Nov. 27, 2011 | Maureen Dowd of The New York Times wrote this line two weeks ago, but could it be applied to any vaunted sphere of influence in our society? A political dynasty in any American city.? A small city's fortunes revolving around the whims of a single company? Heroes who act like heroes until they don't? What is going on in San Leandro with its police department is really small potatoes until you realize this sort of arrogance is all around us. At seats of government, inside university ivory towers and boardrooms across the country.
The San Leandro Police Department got caught with this pants down. Now everybody knows the leadership in this city has been deviously burying its long list of transgressions for decades. Unfortunately, the tea leaves tell us a change of leadership, or even, a change in the gender of the department's leadership changes very little from the modus operandi of the past regimes.
San Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli came from Benicia with high praise. Although there were whispers her past leadership fostered a propensity for trampling of civil rights, hopes were high in San Leandro where its department makeup typically reflects the TV show "Reno 911" than "CSI."
Looking back, how Spagnoli would proceed with moving the department from the pre-Civil Rights era to the 21st Century, was clear within her first few months early this year. As I began looking into the Dewayne Stancill scandal in April, I began to hear whispers from more than a few who said Spagnoli was taking a laissez faire approach to rousting the bad chickens from their comfortable roosts. Spagnoli's attempt to cleanse the San Leandro PD was not to find the bad apples, but to construct a plea of reasonable deniability. The phrase "clean slate" was uttered often to me during my investigation, but not in the usually context, but as in "what ever happen in the past will stay in the past," according to sources.
What this means is attempts by police officers in the past to defraud the city with unscrupulous lawsuits are given a clean slate. It means denying former and current employees consort with skinhead biker gangs. Captains who perpetuate the peculiar hatred against Stancill from four years ago are given a pat on the back when they continue the same behavior just a few months ago. Killer cops receive awards and officers with family members in high places get away scot-free while other cops are charged with selling marijuana. Except for one instance, the above transgressions have all occured since Spagnoli's hiring in January.
Instead of fixing this God-awful mess, we get self-congratulatory pat on the backs from upper management bordering on a department-wide contagion of tone-deafness. When four San Leandro police officers fatally tased a man in front Nation's Hamburgers two months, a sergeant told a group of resident the officers were "some of the nicest guys you'll ever know." He was probably right, but is that an appropriate comment in response to the death of man, some believe was mentally ill in the first place?
Two days after the East Bay Express story detailing the Stancill story and attempts by married San Leandro cops Mike Sobek and Anne O'Callaghan to construct a conspiracy of many against the former black cop, Spagnoli did her best George W. Bush impression by mimicking the infamous "Heckuva job, Bronwnie" statement to San Leandro Patch. "Both are good and respected employees of this department," said Spagnoli, who also said most of those involved in the scandal are gone. Of course, this statement is a complete falsehood and it gets worse.
Spagnoli's total subservience to Sobek is the main reason to expect nothing will ever change at the San Leandro PD. Sobek is a large part of what is wrong. Spagnoli did not admonish him, nor has she done him the favor of gracefully putting him out to pasture. No, what she did is make him the face of the department. For the past month, Sobek has been the officer giving the department's story to the press. The face of the your police force is the man who defrauded the city of treasury and morality. The same spokesman telling colleagues he will sue the city if he doesn't get his valued promotion and spiked pension. The same gambit former chief Ian Willis pulled on San Leandro.
Folks, nothing will change unless citizens get involved. This arrogant institution will never change itself without outside involvement. It is insular for a reason; to protect and self-serve its own micro-culture. This is why only seven blacks and four women patrol your streets. It's why Sobek can get away with unscrupulous actions from the seat of the police union without sanction.
A wholly independent citizen review board of this department is needed right now. Residents must tell their council members and mayor to clean up this mess before the city's reputation takes on more water. It is also imperative that this group be separate from the City Council. All six council members have proven to be enablers of this department. Rarely will they speak ill of the tarnished institution and their current strength as a unit is woefully despondent. Councilman Jim Prola still thinks Stancill was the root problem of the scandal and as of two weeks ago still had not read the offending reports detailed in the Express story. Yes, the report the group approved spending $1 million in settlement costs to go away without ever seeing.
Spagnoli likes to hide behind this impregnable wall of support among community members, but its only stagecraft. Among agencies in the county and specifically outside of Alameda County, the prevailing wisdom is San Leandro's Police Department is composed of hot heads patrolling blindly within a distinct cowboy culture.
People need to know that the Stancill scandal was not a revenge-motivated tale sponsored by the former cop. Instead, it was led by people in law enforcement who value the vaunted role of the police officers in our society who passionately loathe how the San Leandro Police Department does business. It is with this in mind, that they proved their own inherent heroism and spoke up against this rotting, soon to be crumbling institution.
Put it this way, the typical law enforcement officer are the cops standing stoically near the protesters two weeks ago at UC Davis. The medieval pepper-spraying officer is the San Leandro PD.