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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.
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