Police and thieves: Two former Oakland narcotics cops will be sentenced in Alameda County Superior Court this week for soliciting undercover deputy sheriffs posing as hookers in a San Leandro brothel while on duty last September. But the conclusion of the duo's naughty nookie case won't clear up all their legal headaches.
District Attorney Tom Orloff is conducting a separate criminal investigation of the two ex-vice cops, Eric Richholt and Mark Neely Jr., looking into why the two reportedly had narcotics and several hundred dollars in cash in their unmarked truck. Orloff says he hopes to wrap up his investigation in the next couple of weeks.
It turns out that Oakland resident Michael Annalla has filed a claim against the city, alleging that on the same day the two cops were busted for solicitation, they stole his legally owned gun. According to the claim, which lists five other plaintiffs, the officers approached Annalla's apartment building on International Boulevard wearing vests. At first, the filing states, the cops identified themselves as FBI agents and ordered Annalla to open the screen door. When he refused, Neely drew his revolver and pointed it at Annalla, according to the claim. Once inside the building, the police allegedly barged into several rooms, repeatedly asking "about guns and drugs in the building." The cops only found Annalla's firearm, which they illegally confiscated, the claim alleges. As they were leaving, Richholt left his real name and phone number on a piece of paper with the stunned residents.
Orloff says the DA is looking into "guns that were in their possession at the time of their prostitution arrest." He would not elaborate further. But Annalla's claim, filed by Oakland attorney John Burris, contends that authorities discovered the officers in possession of several unreported firearms, including Annalla's.
Richholt, a ten-year OPD veteran, and the less-seasoned Neely quit after the completion of an internal affairs investigation. (The Oakland Tribune reported that the two resigned after being told that the department intended to fire them.) But Richholt's attorney, Todd Simonson, whose law firm represents one of the Riders defendants, disputes the Trib's report. "Frankly," he says, "the personal nature of the complaint and the fact that he had family just made it a better decision for him."
Simonson expressed confidence that the DA's investigation will ultimately exonerate his client and show that the contraband found in the truck was "legitimately obtained." In fact, Simonson says, he offered to turn over to the DA the statements Richholt and Neely made to Internal Affairs. "We had no qualms about letting them see it," Simonson says. "He had nothing to hide. There's nothing there." -- Will Harper
The wait to skate: When Kate Obenour started lobbying the city of Berkeley for a skate park for her then-7th-grade son, she had no idea of the bureaucratic minefield she was entering. "It's a good thing none of us can foretell the future," she says, "because a lot of us would stay in bed."
Not that she didn't get her park: The 18,000-square-foot skate facility in Berkeley's Harrison Park, touted as one of the best in the region, opened last September after years of controversy regarding its proximity to underground toxins. But it was shut down after just a few months, when traces of hexavalent chromium -- the carcinogen made famous by Erin Brockovich -- were found in puddles in the skate bowls. The city expected to finish a follow-up environmental-risk assessment by February's end, but with April upon us the park is still off-limits. "I can't tell you how many days and years of my life I put into this," Obenour says. " It's very demoralizing."
It's perhaps less demoralizing for L.A. Wood, a member of Berkeley's Community Environmental Advisory Commission, who fought the construction for years and may finally see his warnings vindicated ("Field of Bad Dreams," September 4, 2002). After the city, which bought the land from UC Berkeley in 1999, failed to conduct a thorough environmental study, it proceeded with an ill-advised design that included sinking deep bowls. During construction in November 2000, workers hit a plume of chromium-6 from a nearby metal-engraving plant. Construction was halted, the park was redesigned, and engineers promised that there would be no further trouble.
"They ignored what I said," Wood says. "I told a friend, 'Well, I guess I'll have to wait for the cracks.'" He didn't have to wait long: The ground quickly settled, the cement cracked, and water laced with the hazardous toxin seeped into the pristine bowls. Now, Wood says he's hearing rumors the city might sue the barrage of experts that assured officials it was okay to proceed.
As spring blossoms, city officials are still waiting for their risk assessment. Lisa Caronna, director of the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department, says that pending those results, the city may be able to open the park once the rainy season ends. "We have continued to test for a variety of factors, and we hope to have conclusions specifically related to the opening of the skate park when it is completely dry," she says.
Wood, who says he's been called many things during this whole process, including "the darker side of humanity," believes he is still being blamed rather than praised for bringing the environmental health concerns to light. "They always shoot the messenger," he says.
He estimates that the park -- which he believes the city will ultimately have to pick up and move -- has cost taxpayers more than $800,000 to date, including costs related to the construction delays and ongoing environmental studies.
But if parents aren't rushing to thank Wood for his vigilance, it may be that some just aren't frightened by minuscule amounts of chromium-6. "Kids are currently skating behind buses and getting chased around, so you have to measure the real harm," Obenour says. "You know, I'd go down and hose off the skate park myself -- that's what little concern I've got."
That's unlikely to happen, since her son is now 21 and off at college. "I tried my damnedest," she says, "and now it's some other mother's turn." -- Helene Blatter
Meet the parents: A few weeks ago John Fike, a teacher at Berkeley Alternative High School, had just taken his regular seat at a Golden State Warriors game, when he realized the man sitting next to him was Gilbert Arenas Sr., father of the team's young point guard Gilbert Arenas.
Fike, a nine-year season ticket holder, couldn't have dreamed up a better audience. Two months ago, he and his buddy Charles Montgomery started a Web site called www.staygilbert.com, dedicated to persuading the player to forgo the millions of extra dollars he could get elsewhere to stick it out with the still-ascending Warriors. Due to league salary-cap rules, the team can offer Arenas only $4.5 million next season, a pittance compared to what he could earn with, say, the lowly Denver Nuggets.
"We're not telling him to stay," Fike says eloquently, "we're asking him to stay. We want him to consider the nonmonetary value of playing in front of fans who value him and appreciate him." To date, about fifteen hundred fans have signed Fike's electronic petition, allegedly including Arenas' teammate and best friend Jason Richardson.
Fike says there's reason to believe his effort, along with the similar www.sign-arenas.20fr.com, might pay off. "He's said it's not about the money," the teacher explains. "And if you watch the way he plays, it's not -- he loves the game of basketball. We're just hoping he won't want to go to a place like Denver, one of the league's worst teams that's in constant rebuilding mode. He's also gone on record as saying he likes warm weather and he likes being close to his family. He can have that here." (Fike's site includes daily Denver weather reports, blizzards and all.)
At the Warriors game, Fike waited for the right moment to broach the subject with Arenas' father -- immediately. The elder Arenas was "very appreciative" of the fan's efforts, Fike says, and accepted one of the handmade signs he and hundreds of others wave at the Coliseum in support of Arenas.
"Before he left," Fike says, "he said the first thing he was going to do when he got back to North Hollywood was go online and check out our Web site, and then he'd tell Gilbert about it." -- Justin Berton
Seven Days - March 21, 8:22 PM
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