Forum Seeks to Place Civil Rights Back on Berkeley Agenda

By Judith Scherr
Friday January 25, 2008

Civil rights in Berkeley has become like the residue of smoke once the smoker has left the room, says Osha Neumann, an attorney who works mostly with homeless and indigent people. 

Along with Melvin Dickson of the original Black Panther Party, Andrea Prichett of CopWatch, Jim Chanin, attorney and member of a Police Review Commission subcommittee and others, Neumann will speak on a panel tomorrow (Saturday) addressing the question of how to bring civil liberties back to Berkeley. 

Sponsored by Berkeley CopWatch and Disabled People Outside, the event will take place noon-2 p.m. at 1730 Oregon St. Participants will have a chance to speak out about their own experiences, Prichett told the Planet. 

Panelists will address various aspects of the loss of civil rights in Berkeley. 

“Police review has completely collapsed,” Neumann said on Wednesday. 

A California court case, coupled with a local lawsuit by the Berkeley Police Officers Association, has resulted in restrictions so severe that public complaint hearings against the police can no longer be held, he said. Behind-closed-door hearings are permitted, but the complaining party cannot be present to hear the police officer's response. 

“We need a reality check on what Berkeley really is,” Prichett told the Planet. One of the issues Prichett said she will raise on Saturday is the case of former police Sgt. Cary Kent, the officer who stole drugs when he was in charge of drug evidence. 

One of the key reasons to hold the panel Saturday is to remind the community of this issue, which will be before the City Council for the first time at its meeting Tuesday, Prichett said. 

Kent was convicted in April 2006 on three felony charges: grand theft, possession of heroin and possession of methamphetamine, and served a one-year detention in his home in Contra Costa County. Prichett is a member of the city’s Police Review Commission subcommittee that investigated the Kent issue and has made recommendations to the City Council, which the council will consider Tuesday. 

Prichett said she will speak at the forum Saturday about the need for the city to do further investigation. 

The subcommittee and a unanimous Police Review Commission is recommending, among other proposals, that the council ask the city manager to further investigate 286 envelopes containing drug evidence that had been tampered with, and to ask the chief to consider reassigning all officers currently assigned to the drug evidence room who had worked with Kent in the drug evidence room during the time he was stealing drugs.