A Berkeley police patrol officer was suspended Wednesday, reportedly after a sting operation focusing on theft of evidence, the Daily Planet has learned.
The officer in the current incident is reportedly a relative of a high-ranking official.
Asked for confirmation, department spokesperson Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said “I can only tell you that an internal investigation is going on.”
The incident marks the second time this year that a Berkeley officer has been accused of taking evidence.
Sgt. Cary Kent was sentenced July 27 to a year of home detention after his guilty plea to charges stemming from the theft of drugs from the department’s drug vault. He wasn’t arrested until after he had been allowed to resign in January.
A joint city-county investigation revealed that Kent had opened at least 181 evidence bags containing drugs seized by Berkeley police.
The officer’s attorney claimed that he used the stolen drugs to treat pain caused by systemic lupus erythematosus, a chronic autoimmune disease that results in inflammation of joints, skin and vital organs.
In the current investigation, said one source who spoke on condition he not be named, a video camera recorded a search of the officer’s locker by agents the source identified as “from the Department of Justice.” The same source said the man’s home was also searched later.
Under federal law, the U.S. Department of Justice is charged with investigation of police corruption carried out “under color of law”—although the investigation in the case of Sgt. Kent was conducted by city and county officers. A call to the spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office was not returned.
The sting was initiated, sources said, following the discovery that evidence had been missing. At least one element of the sting reportedly included a cash-filled wallet from which some of the money was reportedly taken, said a source.
While his office said Chief Douglas Hambleton was on vacation, another source said the chief had returned because of the investigation.
Asked for confirmation, City Manager Phil Kamlarz said, “It’s one of those personnel issues I can’t comment on right now.” Asked when he might be able to comment, Kamlarz said, “We’re doing the usual review.”
Reached at his office late Thursday afternoon, Cisco DeVries, chief of staff to Mayor Tom Bates, said he hadn’t heard of the incident.
Kriss Worthington said he also had not been informed, “but then I’m just a city councilmember.”
Sgt. Kusmiss said that “By its nature, because it’s a personnel matter, it is confidential. If it becomes public record,” the department will release more information, “but officers and employees of the department are afforded due legal process.”