Alameda County Undersheriff Rich Lucia is no stranger to wrongdoing. He may be the only cop in California to get fired, be convicted of theft, and then become a cop again. Now, he's again facing scrutiny as the second in command of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office. He has allegedly used a large police truck for personal business in apparent violation of department regulations.
Sheriff Greg Ahern, who took over in January from longtime county Sheriff Charlie Plummer, has ordered an inquiry into allegations that Lucia commandeered the truck on the weekend of June 9 and 10 to move from his old house in Castro Valley to new digs in Hayward. The truck, which is supposed to be used only for official department business, is emblazoned with a large Alameda County Sheriff's Office logo on the side.
According to sheriff's spokesman Sergeant J.D. Nelson, Lucia maintains that he used the van only to take some of his unwanted stuff to a local charity, and said he rented a moving van for the bigger job of moving to his new home.
Lucia, however, has been caught in lies before. When working for the Hayward Police Department in 1981, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft for billing Chabot Community College for a class he never taught. He faced another charge involving a Corvette he falsely reported stolen in an attempt to gain insurance money, according to a Hayward Daily Review story. That charge was dropped, however, in a plea deal that cost him his badge but kept him out of jail.
Lucia was out of law enforcement for fifteen years, until his old pal Plummer hired him at the sheriff's office. Plummer had been the Hayward police chief back in 1981 and reportedly was grooming Lucia to become the city's top cop before the theft conviction. After Lucia joined the sheriff's office in 1996, he quickly rose through the ranks. But in 2001, he became embroiled in yet another controversy. Two female deputies accused him of providing male officers with a study guide for the sergeant's exam a test he was then tapped to write. Plummer staunchly defended Lucia and later promoted him to undersheriff.
But Plummer is no longer around to watch Lucia's back, and his charity-run story doesn't pass the smell test. Why would he need a sheriff's truck if he had rented a moving van? Lucia did not want to answer questions for this story. His only comment came through Nelson, who said Lucia said he is "confident in the investigators and the job they will do looking into this situation."
The question is whether those investigators will be allowed to thoroughly scrutinize the department's second-in-command. After all, even if Lucia is telling the truth, it appears he broke the rules. Departmental regulations, Nelson says, require that sheriff's office personnel "shall utilize agency equipment for its intended purpose in accordance with established procedures." Nelson said Lucia, as undersheriff, does not have the power to authorize use of department vehicles for personal business. Moreover, Sheriff Ahern did not authorize Lucia's actions. "He found out after the fact," Nelson said.
B-Town's Silent Majority
Berkeley's Tom Bates is one of the nation's most liberal mayors, but if you listened to homeless-rights activists over the past few months, you might think he's to the right of George W. Bush. One such activist summed up the vitriol spewed against Bates when she declared at a last week's city council meeting: "You are criminalizing the homeless."
Bates, of course, is doing no such thing. In fact, his plan to deal with Berkeley's out-of-control homeless problem, in which hardcore street people take over public parks, harass local merchants and shoppers, and piss and shit in city doorways, may best be described as mild-mannered. "The reaction has been out of proportion to what we've proposed," said City Councilman Gordon Wozniak, who supports Bates' plan. "There are people who have a certain lifestyle and don't want anyone to change it. Anything we do immediately becomes 'You're picking on the poor.'"
So just how is Bates picking on the poor? His proposals include extending the hours of public restrooms and making sure there are enough signs directing people to them. Another is to pass a law in November that would allow police to ticket anyone who urinates or defecates in public instead of having to arrest them on misdemeanor charges and watch the district attorney never charge the case. A third proposal is to ensure that police actively enforce existing antisocial laws, such as prohibitions against spending the night in parks or on city streets when there are shelter beds available.
A silent majority of Berkeley residents apparently agree with the mayor's ideas. According to an Internet survey on KitchenDemocracy.org, nearly 87 percent of Berkeley registered voters said the city should implement Bates' "Public Commons for Everyone Initiative." But this majority rarely makes itself heard at council meetings. And why would they? Who wants to be shouted down or compared to George W. Bush?
Interestingly, the one initiative that may affect the homeless the most was met with the least resistance. It had to do with the mayor's plan to ban smoking in commercial districts. "That's pretty revolutionary," Bates said in an interview, noting that studies show that homeless people are more likely to smoke. The law, as a result, may force many of the homeless off Telegraph and Shattuck avenues. Yet few activists spoke out against it. Maybe they see it as a free public health program for the street people.
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