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Cop Pleads Guilty, Critics Urge Investigation

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday April 18, 2006

Former Berkeley Police Officer Sgt. Cary Kent, 53, pleaded guilty Friday to three felony charges: grand theft, possession of heroin, and possession of methamphetamine. 

Kent “stumbled,” said the officer’s attorney, Harry Stern of Rains, Lucia and Wilkinson in Pleasant Hill, describing his client’s actions moments after the plea. 

Stern negotiated with Deputy District Attorney Jim Panetta to give Kent, who had access to the drug evidence vault from September 2003 to January 2006, about five years of probation and no prison time in exchange for the guilty plea. 

Kent will be sentenced May 12 to a possible year in the county jail, Stern said.  

The joint police-district attorney investigation was limited to Kent and is closed. 

That troubles Andrea Pritchett of Berkeley Copwatch who is calling for an independent investigation of all police who had access to the evidence room. 

“The other [four] officers with access to the evidence room were not investigated,” Pritchett said.  

While investigators found 181 bags of evidence scheduled for destruction had been tampered with, Pritchett said investigators should review all the drug evidence that passed through Kent’s hands. One of Kent’s tasks was to check drug evidence into the evidence vault. 

The City Council should take a more proactive role in ascertaining whether the problem goes beyond Kent, she added. 

Calling the council responsibility in this case “pretty limited,” Councilmember Laurie Capitelli said he is satisfied with the council role. 

“This appeared to be an isolated incident,” he said. 

He further noted that the city is bringing in an independent agency—the California Commission on Peace Officers Standard of Training—to audit current police procedures. 

Mayor Tom Bates agreed that the council should play a limited role in investigating personnel matters, but said he wants the Police Review Commission to review “the whole way evidence is handled.” 

Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom after Kent pled guilty, Stern, a former Berkeley police officer, emphasized that his client had “scores of commendations,” and that he was now “on the mend.” 

Kent hurt no one but himself, Stern said 

“He took responsibility for a temporary lapse,” he said. “We’re all capable of making mistakes.” 

The almost 20-year Berkeley police officer, who was allowed to retire on March 14 “rather than cooperate with BPD Internal Affairs staff regarding the investigation,” according to a BPD statement, remains out of custody until he is sentenced. 

Panetta said he did not know if Kent would be placed within the regular jail population..