Tough Talk 

A high-profile police union lawyer takes aim at Oakland's top bureaucrat. And that city's homicide rate doesn't seem to have dented Jerry Brown's popularity.

The lawyer for the Oakland police union is taking on Mayor Jerry Brown's top appointee in a bruising battle of words, accusing her of interfering in a criminal prosecution and of launching an internal affairs investigation of a cop who arrested her co-worker's son. In fact, union attorney Mike Rains goes so far as to say that city administrator Deborah Edgerly lied under oath about her role in the matter.

Rains leveled the allegations in a recent edition of the PORAC Law Enforcement News, a publication of the Peace Officer Research Association of California. Rains, whom readers might know for his zealous representation of Giants slugger Barry Bonds, says he wrote the story because of his disgust with management hypocrisy and disciplinary excesses being disguised as reform in the post-Riders era.

Edgerly adamantly denies the charges, saying she merely asked the chief and other police brass questions without trying to influence the outcome of an internal investigation or prosecution: "I absolutely did not interfere in it at all."

The flap between the lawyer and the city administrator, who oversees the police department, began when Rains cross-examined Edgerly during an arbitration hearing in the spring. Rains' cop-client, Sergeant Mike Gantt, had been fired for allegedly interfering in a criminal investigation on behalf of a friend accused of rape. Rains went on the attack during the hearing, arguing that Edgerly — who signed the cop's termination papers — was guilty of the same conduct but never suffered any consequences.

As Rains tells it, he introduced testimony from Captain Dave Kozicki and former Deputy Chief Pete Dunbar at the arbitration showing that Edgerly "actively interfered" in the case against the son of Cheryl Thompson, her deputy. In the incident in question, a traffic cop cited Thompson's son near Mingles nightclub for jaywalking. The young man refused to sign the citation, so police arrested him and threw him in jail, Dunbar recalls.

According to Rains, Kozicki and Dunbar testified that Edgerly personally filed a complaint against the traffic cop for false arrest, which sparked an internal police investigation. He also says that Edgerly called Dunbar to express "concern" after the arresting officer had showed up to testify against Thompson's son at his court hearing. Edgerly, Rains says, had been hoping the cop wouldn't show, and that charges against Thompson's son would therefore be dropped.

Kozicki refused to comment for this story, but Dunbar's story differed from the one Rains wrote about. Dunbar, now the police chief in Pleasant Hill, says Edgerly never asked him to drop the case, nor did she cross any ethical lines during the whole episode. "I never perceived it as interference," he says.

Edgerly responds that she often asks questions of her department managers, and this case was no different. After Thompson's son was arrested, Edgerly says she called then-Chief Richard Word and asked him about the arresting officer and whether it was normal to jail someone for a minor traffic ticket.

"If asking a question is interference, then I don't know why I have this job," Edgerly says. She adds that, so far as she knew, there was no "criminal" prosecution because Thompson's son had gotten only a traffic citation.

The city administrator also says she never demanded an internal investigation. In fact, Edgerly says she contacted police brass again after the department launched its investigation. "I made it clear that this was not a big deal and should not be treated as a big deal," she says.

But Rains says Edgerly called Kozicki personally to complain about the cop originally assigned to the internal investigation, which prompted Kozicki — then head of the traffic division — to assign it to a more senior officer. Edgerly says she made the call at the request of an internal affairs captain. At the time, she recalls, Oakland was between chiefs and she was personally overseeing internal affairs. "I believe everything I did was proper," she says.

Still, Edgerly has no good explanation for why she called police brass to ask why the traffic cop showed up in court. She says she just wanted to know whether it was normal for cops to come to court for traffic tickets. But everyone who has ever fought a traffic ticket knows the answer to that one: Yes.

Dunbar says the internal investigation of the arresting officer ultimately hit a dead end because Thompson's son never gave a statement. Rains' client Gantt, meanwhile, was reinstated following an arbitration process, and has returned to duty.

Despite Edgerly's denials, Rains is sticking to his version of events. "Let her sue me for defamation if she doesn't agree with it," he says. "Truth is an absolute defense."

Brown Is Not Black

By the time the year ends and Mayor Jerry Brown leaves for Sacramento, Oakland will have endured its most murderous year in more than a decade, and easily the bloodiest in his tenure.

But if you believe poll numbers from earlier this year, and his success in the attorney general's race, most Oakland voters still like him and think he has done a good job. How is it that the skyrocketing murder rate in the city hasn't sent Brown's numbers tumbling to George Bushian depths?

Political consultant Larry Tramutola, who ran Ignacio De La Fuente's failed bid for mayor in June, says campaign polling showed Brown with a favorability rating of greater than 50 percent citywide, and higher than 60 percent in some neighborhoods. Most people understand that Oakland will suffer from crime no matter who the mayor is, the consultant explains.

But former Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris, who is African American, thinks Brown has gotten a pass on the murder rate because he's white and crime mostly affects black neighborhoods. Harris says a black mayor — like Mayor-elect Ron Dellums —won't get off so easily, because the crime is affecting his community.

"Jerry Brown is Teflon," says Harris, who served as mayor from 1991 to 1999, a time during which homicides peaked. "Somehow he's been able to escape responsibility as mayor [for the rising crime]." Rather than a leadership failure, Harris says, the city's murder rate during the Brown years has "been seen as an Oakland problem. It's been seen as a police problem."

Tramutola questions whether Brown's getting a pass because he's white, or that Harris took more blame as mayor because he's black. After all, Harris got re-elected in 1994 following some of the most murder-stricken years in three decades.


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