Who the hell is Richmond's chief of police?
That's what people around City Hall were wondering last week when ex-Chief Joseph Samuels, who'd been relieved of his duties a week earlier, called an afternoon press conference at the Hall of Justice to answer questions about his forced exit. When Mayor Irma Anderson heard about the press conference from a reporter that morning, she hit the roof. "She didn't understand why he'd be doing a press conference without the city manager or anyone else there," explains Anderson's aide, Shilen Patel. Later, Samuels abruptly cancelled the press event. Afterward, the department's spokesman, Sgt. Enos Johnson, dutifully reported that Samuels "regrets any inconvenience." The mayor, meanwhile, refused to answer questions regarding the situation until she could sort out minor details such as who, in fact, was in charge of her city's police force.
The chaos kicked off Thursday, August 21, when Samuels, under pressure from the city council and City Manager Isiah Turner, sent Turner a letter stating his intent to resign. Late the following afternoon, Turner, who was heading out of town for a ten-day vacation, zapped out an e-mail announcing that the chief's duties would fall to Assistant Chief Charles Bennett beginning Monday, August 25. But as a courtesy, the city manager agreed to let Samuels remain on the payroll until October, when his term as president of the International Association of Police Chiefs expires.
With Turner out of town, Samuels took his sweet time cleaning out his desk and, sources say, has lingered around the office. On Monday, among other things, he came in and summoned Sgt. Johnson to his office to discuss handling the deluge of press calls about his departure. Samuels also hung around into the late afternoon the next day, a snoop tells Bottom Feeder. And on Wednesday Samuels announced his aborted press conference. The mayor's aide says Samuels also met with an antiblight task force he'd launched a couple of weeks earlier. It was unclear, Patel said, whether Samuels was simply tying up loose ends or still acting as chief.
Bennett, meanwhile, stirred the pot by announcing early in the week (while Samuels was still lingering) a bold plan to reorganize the department and tweak its priorities. Mind you, this radical makeover was being proposed by the equivalent of an office temp with a badge. Bennett, a 23-year police veteran, is retired and working as a fill-in during the transition. After his initial announcement, Bennett clammed up and refused to answer calls from the media.
As Bottom Feeder goes to press, it seems everyone -- from the mayor to the chief(s) -- is waiting for Daddy Isiah to return from vacation and clear things up. Once he does, there's supposed to be an official press conference. That's Richmond for ya: nice, smooth transitions of power. It's the envy of Third World governments everywhere.
Decline and Fall
Say what you will about ol' Joe, but Samuels worked hard to save his butt and polish his image during his final year as chief. A man of God himself, he wooed the local clergy, dangling money in front of Richmond's black ministers -- who rallied on Samuels' behalf over the past few weeks -- to develop programs dealing with the "root causes" of crime, as stalwart supporter Rev. Andre Shumake puts it.
For a time, the embattled chief even managed to get the notoriously cranky police unions to watch his back. An old press release still found on the department's Web site (RPDonline.net) highlights how union leaders and police brass went to the city council last October to support the chief. In what his critics call a blatant payoff, Samuels later promoted former Richmond Police Officers' Association prez Alec Griffin and onetime management-union boss Lt. David O'Donnell, both of whom addressed the council on Samuels' behalf. And how have the unions since shown their gratitude? By threatening Samuels with a vote of no confidence as the strapped city's leaders tried to renegotiate their union contracts.
After Samuels' 1999 hiring -- he'd recently been canned by Jerry Brown as Oakland's top cop -- the new chief quickly became a despised figure in Richmond. The city's powerful neighborhood councils accused him of dismantling community policing programs established by his popular predecessor, William Lansdowne.
Over the past year, Samuels lost the trust of council members who felt he'd misled them regarding Officer Patrick Sweeney, who was accused by a woman he'd pulled over of forcing her to have sex with him. Samuels assured the council Sweeney had been fired, but it turned out the officer was still on the city payroll. While some council members believed Samuels hadn't intentionally lied to them, others, such as Maria Viramontes, considered it "outright misrepresentation." "That was a turning point for us," she says.
Samuels also leaves behind a pending FBI "preliminary inquiry" into whether police violated residents' civil rights at last year's Cinco de Mayo fest. The Police Commission ruled that Richmond cops accused of roughing up Latino revelers had indeed used excessive force and racially abusive behavior. One alleged victim, Latino activist Andres Soto, says he filed a complaint with the county grand jury and has since received calls from two grand jurors. Soto and others also have federal civil-rights lawsuits pending against the department. With a legacy like that, the outgoing chief could be the envy of Third World dictators everywhere.
This past week the tarnished local Black Muslim leader Yusuf Bey formally served Elve Langston, longtime owner of LV's House of Barbecue in Oakland, with an "unlawful detainer," legal parlance for an eviction notice. Langston says the Muslims, who bought his building last year, are trying to evict him because he refused their demand to stop selling pork. A barbecue joint not selling pork ribs is like an Italian restaurant not serving pasta. "How can I not sell pork?" he asks.
Muslims do not eat the flesh of what they call "the filthy swine." But there are apparently some situations in which Bey's clan will tolerate pork consumption with business partners. A Bey-affiliated company runs security for the downtown Oakland Marriott, which serves pork. The Muslims also do the security for Qs, the Jack London Square dinner club owned by Everett & Jones Barbecue, Oakland's premier pork palace. Representatives for Bey, including his criminal defense attorney, could not be reached for comment.
A month ago, Langston called police after a couple of Bey's strongmen allegedly roughed him up to help persuade him to move out. The BBQ proprietor then hired attorney David Washington, who is representing three women who claim Bey sexually assaulted them when they were minors, and filed a restraining order against his landlord. This past week Langston called police again after two burly bow-tied men lingered around his front door for a few minutes before returning to Bey's Your Black Muslim Bakery across the street. Langston says he wants to leave, but needs enough time to find another place to open shop. "I have no plans on staying here," he says.
LAFCO Ain't No Joke
The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) is the most important government body you've never heard of. The countywide commission draws members from other local elected boards, and decides whether unincorporated land should be annexed into cities and prepared for development. Naturally, developers take a keen interest in who gets appointed, and ambitious pols on the commission have been known to leverage their positions into campaign contributions. Ex-Martinez Mayor Mike Menesini, who sat on the commish while he ran for district attorney last year, enjoyed the financial backing of homebuilders for his unsuccessful bid for higher office.
In Contra Costa County over the past few years, LAFCO has guarded the decade-old urban growth line designed to stem sprawl. But the tree-hugger majority on the seven-member commission is expected to narrow this week when the Contra Costa Mayor's Conference votes to replace slow-growther Millie Greenberg, who gave up her seat after being appointed to the board of supervisors. The odds-on fave to succeed her is Concord Vice Mayor Helen Allen, whom builders are quietly backing. (Greenberg had previously beaten out Allen for the post.) One LAFCO-watcher tells Bottom Feeder that key developers "are backing Allen because they like the way she votes [on the Concord City Council], not because she's in their pocket."
Yeah. Big difference.
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