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Citizens Ask For Probe Into Missing Drugs

By Judith Scherr
Friday April 14, 2006

Citizens spoke out before and during the Wednesday night Police Review Commission meeting at the South Berkeley Senior Center, demanding commissioners investigate allegations that Berkeley Police Sgt. Cary Kent tampered with drug evidence locked in the Berkeley Police Department vault. 

Kent, who has not been charged with a crime, was placed on administrative leave in January and subsequently retired from the department.  

The public learned of the allegations through an East Bay Express report based on Search Warrant No. 2006-0098 filed Feb. 15 in Alameda County Superior Court. 

A March 14 Freedom of Information Act request by the police watchdog group Copwatch for all public documents relevant to the missing drug evidence—police had sent out a press release about the missing drugs in January—was denied in a March 17 letter by Chief Douglas Hambleton. The request was denied on grounds that the investigation was in process, despite the existence of the search warrant, which is a public document. 

“Drugs are a community problem from the halls of the police station to the ghetto,” said attorney Osha Neumann, in an interview before addressing the 25 people rallying outside the South Berkeley Senior Center. 

If the officer “was a black kid in the ghetto, no way would he be walking around not charged,” Neumann said. 

Speaking on the steps of the senior center, Andrea Prichett of Copwatch, who organized the rally, also raised the question of equal justice. 

“Do (the police) get thrown on the ground?” she asked rhetorically, implying that Berkeley police intimidate suspected drug dealers. “Do they get their doors kicked in?” 

She said she wasn’t suggesting harsh retribution for Kent. 

“I feel bad for Sgt. Kent,” she said. “I feel bad for all addicts.” 

Jacob Crawford of Copwatch also spoke. 

“How many other officers patrolling are high on drugs?” he asked, noting, “To this point, Sgt. Kent is yet to be tested.” 

Kent refused a blood test as part of a physical ordered by the department. 

Crawford also pointed out that four other officers had access to the evidence room, but the others were not named in the warrant.  

Inside the PRC meeting room, the public addressed the commissioners directly during the public comment period. Because the issue of the missing drugs was not on the agenda, commissioners could not respond, though they promised to place the issue before the commissioners at the next meeting. 

Karen Hilton was among those addressing the commission. She pointed out that no one knows how long the tampering has been going on. And Jacob Crawford called on the body to investigate whether the drugs are being sold back on the street. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington promised to call on the City Council to restore the commission’s budget cuts, so that in-depth investigations can be funded.  

Janice Schroader asked the commission to use its power of subpoena to look at the case. She reminded commissioners that on police cars it says “serve and protect,” but, she said, “I don’t feel safe.” 

Vacationing in Maine, Mayor Tom Bates said, through his Chief-of-staff Cisco De Vries, that he thought the PRC would be the appropriate venue for a public discussion on how the situation could have occurred and how to avoid similar incidents in the future. 


Photo by Judith Scherr: 

Attorney Osha Neumann condemns police practices that allow alleged drug theft by police and calls on Police Review Commission to investigate at a rally called by Copwatch on Wednesday before the PRC meeting.