The Making of a Police Scandal 

In a case tinged with race and sex, confidential investigative reports reveal that a small cadre of San Leandro cops ginned up explosive charges against one of their own.

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In an interview for this story, Stancill said it was clear that white officers had instituted an "If you talk to him, I'm not talking to you" mentality. "It was the law of the land," he said. "To this day, I have friends in the department who say I can't talk to you because I can't afford to go through what they did to you."

Stancill also said that the leadership during his time in the department protected other white commanders "almost by default." Four of the five commanders at the time, including Willis and Pricco, were known to have personal ties to Sobek and O'Callaghan, Stancill said. "If anything was going to happen, then the investigations would have gone to them," he said.

A few months after Stancill's termination, Police Chief Dale Attarian was unceremoniously pushed out of office just two years into his tenure, ending nearly three decades as a cop in San Leandro. Attarian was replaced by Willis. The switch would be the first in a series of shake-ups in the city that were never fully explained to the public.

Ten months later, in October 2010, Willis announced his retirement, at age fifty. In a press release, Willis said he would remain in command until a new chief was hired. The statement turned out to be important because Willis was still two months away from being able to "spike" his pension. He was not replaced until January by the current chief, Spagnoli, and thus was able to greatly enhance his retirement benefits.

To this day, there has never been a good explanation for why two chiefs left the department in a span of just fourteen months. But during an arbitration hearing in July 2010 regarding Stancill's lawsuit against the city for wrongful termination, Willis acknowledged that the sexual harassment complaints initially filed against Stancill were based on a "false premise," according to a transcript obtained by the Express. Although it remains unclear whether Attarian and Willis left because of the police scandal, several council members now say privately that it became obvious that Willis was the wrong man to fix the problems at the department.

Two months after Willis' announced departure, the man who hired him, City Manager Stephen Hollister stunned observers when he announced he was stepping down, effective this past June. The council's decision not to renew Hollister's contract stemmed from still unspecified concerns over his lack of interaction with the city's business community, but council members, privy to the decisions in closed session, also said privately that the ongoing settlements stemming from the police scandal had ballooned to almost unmanageable proportions and facilitated a change in direction. The post has yet to be filled and may not be until December, at the earliest, and there was still more collateral damage from the handling of the Stancill case.

Anti-pension crusader Stephen Cassidy's electoral upset of Mayor Tony Santos by a mere 232 votes could be attributed to many factors — from the incumbent's stubborn opposition to saving San Leandro Hospital to a general antipathy towards the state of the economy. But there's another possible reason for Santos' defeat: the fallout created by Willis' quick departure and perceptions among residents that he was attempting to abuse the system by spiking his pension.

Since it happened just a month before the election, Willis' retirement was manna from heaven for a challenger like Cassidy searching for a high-profile example of public employees getting huge payouts. The disclosure upended the mayor's race and Cassidy became the first mayoral challenger in San Leandro history to unseat an incumbent.

Directly or indirectly, what began as an apparent case of workplace jealousy may have led to a dramatic shake-up in the city's leadership: Two police chiefs are gone, the city manager has been deposed, and a new mayor took office earlier this year.

Spagnoli, San Leandro's new police chief, ostensibly hired to clean up the mess at the police department, says changes are already under way. When it comes to the Stancill scandal, Spagnoli told the Oakland Tribune last September, "I want people to know we've taken care of those issues." Spagnoli says the department is also reaching out to minorities and women, encouraging their advancement with various leadership programs. In addition, the department no longer ranks officers for promotion using an in-house apparatus, but now hires an outside consultant, Spagnoli said.

But some of the same shenanigans may still persist. O'Callaghan is one of two female candidates who participated in the testing for sergeant last month. A source with knowledge of the exam conducted in mid-October by an outside consultant said that a longtime San Leandro lieutenant monitored the interview process. The cop in question is known to have friendly ties with Sobek and is briefly mentioned in the reports detailed in this article, the source said. Sobek is also believed to be a candidate for promotion to lieutenant.

Stancill contends that if Sobek is eventually promoted to lieutenant, his appointment could further insulate others from taking responsibility for wrongdoing. Stancill said that Sobek, as lieutenant, will participate in rotating command over internal affairs.

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