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Convicted Drug Officer Not Yet Serving Sentence

By Judith Scherr
Friday June 30, 2006

The former Berkeley police sergeant convicted of grand theft and felony possession of heroin and methamphetamine was not formally sentenced to home detention Tuesday, as was expected, due to a paperwork snafu.  

Cary Kent retired from the Berkeley Police Department in January after a preliminary investigation showed drug evidence, which he was charged to protect, was missing. In all, more than 280 envelopes of drug evidence in Kent’s charge had been tampered with, according to police reports. 

Kent pleaded guilty to felony charges in April and was sentenced to five years probation. He is to serve three months of alternative sentencing, which was to have been finalized Tuesday. 

“Sergeant Kent was informally accepted into the Contra Costa County home detention service. To get formally accepted, he will need a court order,” Deputy District Attorney Jim Panetta told the Daily Planet by phone after the brief hearing in which Kent appeared with his attorney, former Berkeley police officer Harry Stern. 

Judge C. Don Clay asked Kent to come back to court July 27. 

Before the 8:30 a.m. hearing, Berkeley Copwatch demonstrated outside the Oakland courthouse, calling for the district attorney to broaden the investigation to other officers who had access to the evidence room and to look into other crimes Kent may have committed. 

According to a 900-page police report, Kent was said to have purchased drugs from a police informant after having retired from the police force, but he has not been charged for such a crime. 

“It’s up to the Berkeley Police Department if they want to bring charges forward,” Panetta said. “They didn’t have the dope, only the testimony of the informant. In order to push [these charges] forward, they would have to reveal the name of the informant.” 

But Berkeley Police Chief Doug Hambleton told the Planet: “We don’t make decisions about charging. That wasn’t our choice. I never discussed with the D.A.’s office about that issue.”  

At the Wednesday evening Police Review Commission meeting six members of Copwatch were on hand, urging the body to move quickly to thoroughly investigate the case and to use its subpoena power to obtain detailed information, such as the quantity of drugs stolen, which, according to Andrea Prichett of Copwatch, could indicate whether Kent was using the drugs or if he was selling them. 

Police reports indicate only that Kent was using the drugs and his attorney says he is in a drug treatment program. 

“I encourage you to step up and become involved,” Prichett told the PRC. “This is the mother of all complaints.” 

A PRC subcommittee on the Kent case has been formed and will meet next month. Commissioners agreed to hold a public workshop to focus on questions arising from the case. A date has not been set. PRC Officer Victoria Urbi, named to staff the division June 9, will help put together the workshop. 

Some reorganization of operations in Berkeley’s drug evidence procedures is expected. The California Commission on Peace Officers Standards (POST) has looked at the city’s drug evidence procedures.  

The organization will submit a report to the police chief in 60 to 70 days, according to Bob Stresak, POST public information officer, who underscored that the report is advisory. 

The police chief has promised to share the POST report with the Police Revue Commission before implementing changes in the department.