Thursday, July 7, 2016

District Attorney Fires Former Oakland Police Captain Who Flirted with Teenager at Center of Sex-Crime Scandal

by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston
Thu, Jul 7, 2016 at 4:11 PM

Former Oakland police Captain Ricardo Orozco, who once led OPD's anti-prostitution enforcement efforts in East Oakland, has been fired by the Alameda County District Attorney, the DA's office confirmed today.

Orozco's termination comes weeks after he was identified by the Express as one of the East Bay law-enforcement officers who solicited the woman known as Celeste Guap for sex. 

The DA's office did not share results of the investigation, but Guap shared a lewd text message with the Express in which Orozco wrote to her, "I would love your taco!" According to Guap, Orozco invited her to dinner on at least one occasion, but the two never met in person.

On June 15, the DA announced that Orozco had been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into his conduct with the young woman.

Orozco attended the 117th Oakland Police Academy and joined the force in 1987. He worked narcotics, special duty, and internal affairs before becoming a captain. In 2006 he attended the FBI's 227th National Academy.

As captain, Orozco oversaw OPD's Area 3, which included the stretch of East 14th Street from Lake Merritt to Fruitvale Avenue, one of the epicenters of human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of minors in California. One of Orozco's initiatives, while he led Area 3, was the distribution of "Dear John" letters to people suspected of soliciting sex workers.

#PhilandoCastile #AltonSterling #BlackLivesMatter — Share Your Words and Thoughts With the Express

It may be too soon to reflect. But for those of you who feel the urgent need to share, send your thoughts our way.

by Nick Miller
Thu, Jul 7, 2016 at 12:25 PM

Shock, sadness, outrage — like most Americans, we here at the Express are in disbelief over the latest law-enforcement killings in this country. After all these years and all these deaths ... it's still happening.

We're definitely going to write about this in next week's issue. But we also want to give over pages in our July 13 paper to you, our readers. For many, it may be too soon to reflect. But for those of you who feel the urgent need to voice frustration and anger — as well as steps toward solutions — the Express would like to amplify your perspectives. It's your paper next week.

The details: Email what you have to say, anywhere from 100-500 words, with the subject line "#BlackLivesMatter" to The Express will publish letters and essays online and in next week's issue. Deadline is ASAP, but Monday at the latest. Please be sure to include your name and city.

Take care,
The Express team

Federal Police Officer Offered to Pimp East Bay Teenager at Center of Oakland Police Sex-Abuse Scandal

'Waiting for u to make us$$$$'

by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston
Thu, Jul 7, 2016 at 11:54 AM

Defense Logistics Agency guard William Johnson. - INSTAGRAM
  • Instagram
  • Defense Logistics Agency guard William Johnson.
A San Joaquin County-based federal law-enforcement agent asked the teenager at the center of the Oakland police sex-crime scandal if he could act as her pimp, according to text messages obtained by the Express.

William K. Johnson, a guard for the federal Defense Logistics Agency, a branch of the U.S. Department of Defense, sent multiple text messages to the eighteen year-old who goes by the name Celeste Guap, asking her to make money for him through sex work.

In interviews with the Express, Guap said that Johnson initiated contact with her over Instagram in May, after initial news reports about her exploitation by numerous East Bay cops. These messages show that Johnson solicited her for sex. According to Guap, they met at the hot tubs on University Avenue in Berkeley and then traveled out to Johnson's home in Vacaville.

"If you know I'm in the middle of a police sex scandal, why get involved with me," Guap said about her contact with Johnson.

Additional text messages provided by Guap show that, on multiple occasions, Johnson offered to serve as Guap's exploiter in order to earn more money through sex work.

"What u doing today," Johnson texted Celeste on one morning in May.

"Hide lol" she replied.

"Ur supposed to make us rich" Johnson wrote back.

When Celeste asked how, Johnson replied, "BP."

"BP," according to Guap, refers to, a website sex workers use to advertise themselves to customers.

In another text message exchange Johnson wrote that he was "Waiting for u to make us$$$$."

Guap replied, "Lol I'll pay you daddy; )"

Johnson wrote, "Ok....when will you start" and "How much can you pay me?"

When the Express first contacted the Defense Logistics Agency about Johnson's contact with Guap in mid-May, Spokesperson Dawn Bonsell, replied that Johnson was not under investigation. On June 9, the Express followed up, asking if an investigation had been opened yet, but Bonsell stated again that Johnson was not under investigation.

On July 6, KQED reported that the DLA had "reassigned" Johnson to administrative duty. Patrick Mackin, the deputy director of public affairs for the DLA, confirmed to KQED that an investigation has been opened.

Johnson was placed on administrative duties on June 14, the day the Express named him in a story.

Reached by phone today, Johnson told the Express that he "can't talk to the media," and hung up.

DLA spokesperson Michelle McCaskill said today that the agency cannot release any more information about the investigation.

The San Joaquin County District Attorney does not currently have an inquiry open into Johnson, according to Deputy District Attorney Robert Himelblau.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Judge Rules Hayward Misinterpreted Records Law After Charging $3,247 for Police Body Camera Video

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Jul 5, 2016 at 4:13 PM

A police body camera.
  • A police body camera.
An Alameda County judge has ruled that police departments cannot charge fees for redacting body camera video footage. According to government transparency advocates, the ruling, by Judge Evilio Grillo, ensures that police departments can't charge fees that effectively stifle disclosure.

More …

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Cops That Worked at Richmond Schools Now Under Investigation for Alleged Sexual Misconduct with Former Student

An officer who had sex with the teenager at the center of the OPD sex-crime scandal also had detained her years ago for cutting class.

by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston
Thu, Jun 30, 2016 at 12:57 PM

Regional and national media have portrayed Celeste Guap — the teenager at the center of the Oakland Police Department sex-crime scandal — as a "hooker" who lured cops into having sex. But the Express has learned new details about Richmond Police Department cops and their exploitative sexual relationships with Guap — who was a former student at the high schools where the officers worked.

Two of the Richmond cops that Guap allegedly had sex with, including officer Jerred Tong, were assigned to west Contra Costa County schools. Tong is listed as the school-resource officer for Lovonya DeJean Middle School, and he also helps run the police department’s "Explorer" program, which is supposed to offer children as young as fourteen positive experiences with law enforcement in hopes of encouraging them to become cops.

Text messages obtained by the Express show Tong arranging to meet Guap for sex (see photo, right). The officer had no comment when contacted by this paper this week.

Guap also identified Lieutenant Andre Hill, the department’s public-information officer, as another cop who had sex with her. Text messages between Hill and Guap suggest a sexual relationship (see photo, below). Hill did not answer his phone when the Express called this week.

A third officer who Guap says slept with her with multiple times was actually assigned to her high school. Guap says she knew this officer as a student and, later, when she was eighteen, the officer had sex with her.
Guap told the Express that several Richmond cops knew her since she was age sixteen.

She said that one of the officers who had sex with her after she turned eighteen also had detained her years ago for cutting class, when he worked as her school-resource officer. Guap said all of the Richmond police officers who had sex with her after she turned eighteen knew that she was a sex worker.

She explained how officers would drive to her mother’s house, while her mother was not home, to have sex, and that she would meet others in a nearby park.

Guap also said that she once attended a party with multiple Richmond and Oakland police officers. The cops drank heavily and used cocaine. Guap said she got drunk at the party and blacked out. When she came to, she found that her cell phone was missing; she believes one of the police officers stole it in order to destroy text messages.

In an interview on Wednesday, Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown confirmed separate investigations into the misconduct conduct of at least three Richmond Police Officers, including Tong and Hill. "The investigations are ongoing, and are really in the beginning stages," Brown explained.

The chief confirmed that none of the officers have been reassigned, because no criminal conduct has been alleged. Instead, RPD is looking into whether any of the officers violated departmental policies.

As of this week, the department had not contacted the West Contra Costa School District about the allegations made against officers assigned to local schools.
According to public records, officer Tong’s salary, overtime, and bonus pay was $170,299 in 2014. Hill was paid $237,717 that year as well.
This relationship between Guap and Richmond high-school campus police flies in the face of a San Francisco Chronicle column by Phil Matier and Andy Ross from June 19. In that piece, the columnists quoted an unnamed police attorney, who implied that Guap had entrapped police officers in Contra Costa County.

In their column, they referred to Guap as an "an underage hooker." Matier and Ross also printed the unnamed attorney's claim that Guap, while she was 18 years-old, sought out officers through Facebook and lured them into having sex.

"[The Facebook messages] always started out legitimately and in a tone that was not sexual," the attorney told the Chronicle about Guaps’ contact with the Richmond officers.

Richmond chief Brown, however, expressed sympathy for Guap, saying that she’s been put through a “meat grinder” of media and law-enforcement attention.

He said investigating the conduct of his officers is particularly delicate in this situation, because of Guap’s history as a survivor of child sex trafficking, and her apparently tumultuous home life. "In this case, you're dealing with someone with repeated early childhood traumas, and who engages in very risky behavior," Brown said.

After internal-affairs officers from Richmond interviewed Guap during the past month, they put her in touch with a social service organization in Contra Costa County. Guap told the Express that RPD’s referral for resources and counseling was the first from any law-enforcement agency.

"We're actually the first police agency to refer her to social services, which I find kind of stunning," Brown said.

Correction: the original version of this story mistakenly identified San Francisco Chronicle reporter Andy Ross as Jeff Ross.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Will Berkeley Cut A Deal With Airbnb Or Vote To Regulate Short-Term Rentals?

by Alex Barreira
Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 4:53 PM

This Berkeley property lists all of its units available to rent on Airbnb, according to the Berkeley Tenants Union. Rentals of less than 14 days are currently illegal in Berkeley. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BERKELEY TENANTS UNION
  • Photo courtesy of Berkeley Tenants Union
  • This Berkeley property lists all of its units available to rent on Airbnb, according to the Berkeley Tenants Union. Rentals of less than 14 days are currently illegal in Berkeley.
A shake-up at last night’s Berkeley city council meeting over short-term rentals suggests an imminent East Bay showdown over how to regulate companies like Airbnb.

Berkeley was set to vote on an ordinance that would legalize and regulate short-term rentals, or STRs, on Tuesday. But discussions over next year’s budget ran long, so the Airbnb vote was delayed to a special meeting on July 7 — but not before some hints that Berkeley, once considered robust in its stance to regulate STRs, is buckling under pressure from Airbnb.

The afternoon before Tuesday’s meeting, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates threw councilmembers for the loop by quietly suggesting that, instead of regulating STRs now, the city should strike a deal with Airbnb.

Bates recommended collecting a transit-occupancy tax, or “hotel tax,” from Airbnb until council could resolve legislative issues related to STRs.

The mayor’s proposal is similar to the current deal Airbnb has with Oakland, where Airbnb collects taxes from hosts and remits them to the city. Oakland officials have not released details about the agreement to the public, however, citing concerns over host privacy.

Berkeley Councilmember Jesse Arreguin called the mayor’s proposed deal “ridiculous” — especially considering that it was Bates who introduced the idea of regulating STRs in the first place.

“Basically what the mayor’s proposing is to allow something illegal to continue happening as long as we get taxes,” Arreguin told the Express. He said this was tantamount to “sanctioning an illegal action.”

Bates’ proposal included a list of stipulations by Airbnb, among them a clause requiring the city’s Department of Finance to waive the right to pursue previously unpaid TOT taxes from Airbnb hosts or the company.

City Council first approved a reading of its STR ordinance with an 8-1 vote at its May 31 meeting. That draft of the ordinance mandated that hosts must live in homes they rent out, and cannot rent homes below market rate. The ordinance also disallowed renting accessory dwelling units, such as backyard cottages.

After last month’s meeting, Airbnb contacted its Berkeley hosts and urged them to lobby city council against the regulations, which they called “confusing and onerous.” Airbnb also provided a form letter touting the economic benefits that it brings to hosts and the local economy. This resulted in hundreds of letters to city councilmembers.

STRs –– defined as stays less than 14 days –– have never been legal in Berkeley, because of laws intended to prevent landlords from dodging rent-control rules that kick in after a tenant stays for 14 days. Nevertheless, there are hundreds of listings advertised in Berkeley alone on sites such as Airbnb, VRBO, Home Away, and others.

Local Airbnb hosts have balked at the idea they register as businesses with the city. Many see the platform as a casual way to rent out extra space in their homes. Others say that the rentals provide a crucial source of income, and that registration and taxes would cut into that revenue.

But advocates of STR regulations say Airbnb users in Berkeley need to register as businesses, just like any other business operated from home. They also say lack of enforcement from the city doesn’t mean users should rely on the practice as a reliable income source.

“Not being aware of the law is not a good excuse,”said Katherine Harr, vice-chairwoman of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board and member of the Berkeley Tenants Union.

The version of the Berkeley STR ordinance from last night also was missing a previously included requirement that STR hosts post a business number in with an online ad. Staff did not give councilmembers the option to approve the old ordinance language, which left Arreguin mystified by what he called a “rogue staff.”

“It makes me question whether they really want to enforce this or not,” Arreguin said. “I don't understand why staff throughout this process has tried to water down the enforcement requirements.”

Berkeley has faced criticism for not enforcing existing law for STRs, especially in instances where landlords take entire units off the market in favor of more lucrative short-term renting.

This scuffle over regulating STRs in the East Bay comes on the heels of Airbnb suing the city of San Francisco this past Monday over a law threatening massive fines. San Francisco’s new rules would fine AirBnb $1000 for every unregistered host on its site. That tough regulation is the latest development in the city’s struggle to reign in STRs. 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Oakland Cell Phone Surveillance Vote Postponed to Improve Privacy Protections

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Jun 28, 2016 at 12:20 PM

A "Stingray" cell-site simulator, similar to the "Hailstorm" device that OPD hopes to use.
  • A "Stingray" cell-site simulator, similar to the "Hailstorm" device that OPD hopes to use.
The Oakland City Council's public safety committee was scheduled to review and approve an agreement tonight that will allow the Oakland police to use a powerful cell phone surveillance tool called a Hailstorm. But the vote has been tabled by OPD in order to strengthen the city's privacy policies governing how the surveillance device can be used.

"It’s our absolute intention to work with appropriate privacy advocates to make sure OPD puts forward a privacy policy that meets the needs of our community," said Tim Birch of the Oakland Police Department's research and planning section. Birch said OPD is pulling the item in order to better refine the device's use policy. The item it will come back to the committee in September.

A Hailstorm is a type of cell-site simulator, an electronic box mounted in a vehicle that mimics a cell phone tower to identify and track the approximate location of a cell phone. The police use cell-site simulators primarily to locate suspects and missing persons. Some cell-site simulators can also intercept cell phone data, including texts and audio, or capture phone metadata, or even attack phones with malware and denial of service bursts.

The Hailstorm model that the Alameda County District Attorney is acquiring will only be capable of locating the approximate location of a cell phone, and identifying unique cellular devices, according to the DA and OPD.

The DA's office, in cooperation with the Oakland and Fremont police, has been seeking to purchase and deploy a Hailstorm since 2014. The agencies used federal Urban Areas Security Initiative grant funds along with Oakland and Fremont police funds to purchase the device last year. But the Oakland police can't use the DA's new cell phone surveillance tool until the city signs a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the District Attorney.

Brian Hofer of the Oakland Privacy Working Group said that Alameda County already has one of the strongest privacy policies regarding the use of cell-site simulators. But Hofer — who was recently appointed to Oakland's new Privacy Advisory Commission — said that more time is needed to strengthen Oakland's cell-site simulator policy before approving the MOU.

"I don’t like Stingrays," said Hofer, referring to cell-site simulators by a commonly used name. "But we’ve achieved the primary goal. We’re having a conversation prior to use of these surveillance tools, and we’re writing a policy before they’ve taken possession of the equipment."

Hofer said the policy being drafted by OPD and privacy advocates would require the police to log detailed information about how the cell-site simulator is used, including a record of each specific use, what information they collected, what other law enforcement agencies OPD shared surveillance data with, and more. OPD would then report annually to the public.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Oakland's Anti-Coal Activists Decry ‘Deceptive’ Mailer

by Arielle Swedback
Mon, Jun 27, 2016 at 4:39 PM

Opponents of a plan to ship millions of tons of coal through Oakland are condemning a mailer distributed to city residences last week, saying it contains misleading information and false endorsements.

The flyer, sent by a group called Jobs 4 Oakland, accuses the Sierra Club of pushing its “own international climate agenda” in an effort to prohibit the transportation of coal through West Oakland.

The City Council is set to vote on an ordinance that would ban coal at 5 p.m today. On the line, the mailer states, is the potential loss of 6,500 middle-income jobs.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan released a statement Monday calling the mailer “misleading” and “inappropriate.”

“The erroneous information states that 'every year the Port of Oakland imports and exports megatons of coal’ when in fact, the Port of Oakland currently does not import or export coal,” Kaplan said. “The mailer is also deceiving in that it portrays the Sierra Club Board of Directors as not looking ‘like your neighbors,’ yet they intentionally left out two Board of Directors, both who are African American.”

Kaplan also noted that the mailer was printed with logos from unions that hadn’t granted permission to be featured on the mailer.

When the Express reached out to those groups, the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association and The Seafarers International Union, representatives said they had never heard of the Jobs 4 Oakland group or its mailer, and hadn’t given the group permission to use their names.

Former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan told the Express that, after she received the mailer at her home on Friday, she immediately reached out to friends at each the unions listed as opposing a coal ban. Everyone who got back to her, she says, told her they hadn’t endorsed the mailer.

Quan, who called the mailer “desperate”, also found its description of potential job loss “profoundly exaggerated.” Most of the permanent jobs at the terminal are in warehouses operated by ProLogis.

Prologis is unaffiliated with the proposed coal operations, and earlier this year signed a completely separate development agreement with the city. In other words, if the marine terminal isn’t built because of a ban on coal, most of the Army Base’s redevelopment — and most of the jobs building and operating it — will still move ahead.

It’s unclear who funded the Jobs 4 Oakland mailer, but a letter the group sent to city officials earlier this month was signed by Ron Muhammed — an Oakland resident who has supported developers Phil Tagami and Jerry Bridge’s coal proposal in earlier council meetings.

Tagami and Terminal Logistics Solutions did not immediately respond to phone calls from the Express. Muhammed’s email address that was listed in his letter did not work. The website for the Jobs 4 Oakland group also does not work.

Town Business: Oakland Poised to Ban Coal

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jun 27, 2016 at 7:43 AM

Last Friday, the City of Oakland made public a long-awaited study on the health and safety impacts of a proposal to build the largest coal export terminal in California at the foot of the Bay Bridge.

The gist of the study: coal is unhealthy and dangerous.

Developer Phil Tagami, and his business partner Jerry Bridges, are proposing to build a massive coal export hub. The terminal and warehouses would be capable of exporting five to seven million tons of coal per year. That's about one train comprised of 104 cars laden with coal traveling every day through Oakland and other East Bay cities to the terminal. To give you a sense of just how big a polluter this project would be, consider this: According to the city, the total greenhouse gas emissions produced each year, if all the coal exported through the OBOT is burned in power plants, would exceed the current emissions from all five oil refineries in the Bay Area.

But that's just one of the harmful environmental impacts the project will have.

Coal dust blowing from the trains and silos will carry toxic particles into nearby neighborhoods and poison residents. The coal trains and silos could also catch fire.

The point of the city's study is that it provides the city with a scientific and legal basis for banning coal, and so today at 5 p.m. the Oakland City Council will vote on an ordinance to do just that.

The vote will close a contentious chapter in Oakland politics that has pitted politically-connected businessmen like Phil Tagami and Jerry Bridges — the guys behind the coal plan — against Oakland officials like councilmember Dan Kalb and Mayor Libby Schaaf, who both oppose coal. Tagami is a major political donor, real estate developer, and close friend of Governor Jerry Brown. Bridges used to be the executive director of the Port of Oakland.

All signs point to a majority of the council voting for the ban. But Tagami and Bridges aren't going out with a fight.

On Friday, David Smith, an attorney for Tagami's company, told the Express that Tagami's team is willing to go to court to overturn a coal ban if necessary.

"Should the city take action [banning coal], the developer will pursue all legal remedies," Smith said.

Tagami also fired back at anti-coal activists on Twitter last week. "This is a political stunt & your 15 minutes are up," Tagami tweeted at former Oakland mayor Jean Quan, one of the leading anti-coal organizers. Tagami cited various federal laws which he believes will allow his company to ignore any coal ban Oakland implements.

But city staff appear confident that the council can ban coal and withstand a lawsuit, if the developers file one.

"The Developer Entities have no right, under the [development agreement] or otherwise, not to be subject to the [coal ban]," staff wrote in a report to the council.

In addition to the threat of a lawsuit, the pro-coal interests are also trying to put last-minute political pressure on the councilmembers.

The Jobs 4 Oakland mailer sent out last week. - JOBS 4 OAKLAND
  • Jobs 4 Oakland
  • The Jobs 4 Oakland mailer sent out last week.
A mailer sent last week by a group called Jobs 4 Oakland portrays the battle over coal as one in which the Sierra Club is trying to "kill" the entire Oakland Global project.

"The Sierra Club has its own international climate agenda," reads the mailer. "The loss of 6,500 middle-income jobs in Oakland is simply collateral damage in its crusade."

The mailer's authors also claim that the Sierra Club's board of directors don't care about Oakland workers because they don't live in the city. The mailer concludes with a warning for Kalb: "He's up for re-election in November!"

It's not entirely clear who's behind Jobs 4 Oakland, but a letter the group sent to city officials earlier this month was signed by Ron Muhammed, a sometimes lobbyist who has supported Tagami and Bridge's coal plan at earlier council meetings.

The web site listed on the Jobs 4 Oakland mailer ( does not work, and the group doesn't appear to be registered as a political action committee or lobbying organization with the city or state.

Anti-coal activists with the No Coal in Oakland coalition have also been putting pressure on city officials. On Saturday they held a rally outside City Hall.

Both sides can be expected to turn out their supporters for one last push at tonight's council meeting.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Experts, Grand Jury Ding City of Berkeley's 'Ridiculous' Email Policy

From Hillary Clinton to the East Bay, email is an unexpected political issue headed into the November election.

by Nick Miller
Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 12:53 PM

Email should be easy. But it turns out Berkeley and other East Bay cities are doing email very wrong, at least according to a critical new report this week by the Alameda County Grand Jury

Here's what's happening: Berkeley automatically dumps city email communications into the trash bin after 90 days. This is maybe-sorta legal (more on that later). 

The grand jury's big concern is that the city puts the onus of deciding what emails to save or delete forever on staff and officials, who often don't have sufficient training or knowledge to determine how to be in compliance with state laws.

This is a huge problem, according to the grand jury and local freedom-of-information advocates.

“It’s all ridiculous," is how Peter Scheer, with the Northern California-based First Amendment Coalition, put it.

Scheer said Berkeley and all California cities should instead save each and every email record, because this is a cheaper, safer, and more legally sound approach. And you "don't waste any employee's time making arbitrary decisions" about what what to keep and what to send to the digital graveyard.

"No company would do this," he said of email practices at Berkeley and other East Bay cities such as Pleasanton, Newark, and Hayward.

Berkeley Councilman Kriss Worthington agreed, and he actually pushed his colleagues to change city email policy last year. "The City manager at that time strenuously objected," he told the Express.

Worthington also said that he has spoken with city employees who had no idea that they needed to save records and emails.

The council member explained that, based on the grand jury report, Berkeley will take a look at reforming its email policy again on July 19. He hopes to discontinue what he views as the "rampant destruction of many many thousands of emails."

The city of Berkeley released a statement to Berkeleyside on Tuesday stating that its policy is on the up-and-up and in compliance with California law. "The City is currently in line with what many other cities and government agencies do," the statement read. 

Berkeley also said it costs a lot of money to store and search these records. "It’s an open question whether that’s a smart use of limited funds."

Scheer and others dismissed the idea that retention of email is expensive, due to cheap storage options and advanced search capabilities.  “That’s no longer an issue. It costs next to nothing," he said.

He also reiterated that Berkeley's policy is a liability. “If I was general counsel in one of these cities, I would say ‘Change this, or I’m resigning,’ because I would have no control here over the elected officials," he explained. 

The grand jury wrote in its report that "all employees cannot be expected to have appropriate legal knowledge" to know what emails to keep and which ones to delete. The jury was also concerned that "an individual who deletes email could be perceived as purposely hiding information to which the public has a right."

Email use by public officials has become a major, if unexpected, political issue heading into the November election. 

There is of course presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and her contentious use of a private email server while secretary or state, which has fueled never-ending attack fodder for GOP challenger Donald Trump.

And, here in California, email use is also a front-burner legal issue. The California Supreme Court will likely rule on a landmark case later this year over whether communications by San Jose officials on private devices and email accounts is subject to disclosure and state Public Records Act requests.

In Berkeley, Worthington told the Express that his council colleagues have asked him to send emails to their private accounts, instead of city-issued email addresses (he noted that he always cc'd their city email when this occurred). "To me, it's unethical to keep your communications out of the public record," he explained.

The grand jury agreed that the number of cities that allow elected and public officials to use private email addresses, such as Gmail, for city business is another problem. 

Scheer reminded that, if a politician is using private email instead of city-issued addresses, the public or the city attorney must obtain an elected officials cooperation to access the records, in case of a lawsuit, investigation or PRA request.  "And they may not want to be so cooperative," Scheer said.

It's no secret that a significant number of public officials use private accounts such as Gmail or Yahoo for public work. Some critics say this is to circumvent public transparency and hide their communications from the public (aka, pesky reporters). Some public official say government technology is antiquated and that they need to use superior tech offered by Gmail.

Either way, using private email makes it a lot more difficult for local governments to access public records in case of civil suits or investigations, according to the grand jury.

Two East Bay cities, Union City and Newark, in fact automatically forward all emails for city officials to private accounts. And Emeryville officials have the option to forward all emails instead of using city addresses. The grand jury blasted these practices as unethical.

Look for more on public officials, email and records in next week's Express.

Most Popular Stories

© 2016 East Bay Express    All Rights Reserved
Powered by Foundation