The FBI is investigating allegations that the head of the Oakland Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division nearly nine years ago beat a drug suspect who later died and then ordered subordinate officers to lie about it, according to police sources, some of whom federal agents have recently interviewed.
The beating allegations are just one aspect of a wide-ranging FBI probe, covering many of the department’s recent high profile problems, including the handling of the 2007 slaying of journalist Chauncey Bailey, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of workplace reprisals.
Capt. Edward I. Poulson, who heads Internal Affairs, was suspended by the department Thursday.
Poulson, of Danville, did not return messages Thursday. Police Chief Wayne Tucker refused requests for an interview. In a written statement released Thursday night, Tucker said the department was cooperating with the FBI.
The FBI is investigating allegations that Poulson, working with an undercover team in April, 2000 kicked a drug suspect, breaking his ribs, the sources said. The suspect, Jerry Amaro, died about a month later of pneumonia caused by broken ribs and a collapsed lung, according to police documents. Before Amaro died he told several people about the incident, according to police reports.
Internal Affairs investigators at the time found that Poulson ordered subordinate officers to lie about his involvement, and they called for his firing, according to the sources. Then-Police Chief Richard Word instead suspended Poulson for two weeks. No charges were brought in Amaro’s death following a homicide investigation, the sources said.
During that investigation, officers who arrested Amaro said they saw no use of force as he was captured, according to homicide case notes obtained by the Chauncey Bailey Project.
But during a subsequent Internal Affairs investigation, the same officers said Poulson ordered them to protect him, according to an officer familiar with their statements. It was those statements that that led to administrative charges against Poulson and the two-week suspension.
Officers with knowledge of the matter said colleagues were angry that a member of the command staff who had been punished for interfering in an Internal Affairs investigation was later put in charge of Internal Affairs, and they alerted the FBI. Two senior members of the department said Thursday that Tucker had been advised last year not to put Poulson in charge of Internal Affairs becasue of the Amaro case.
The investigation of Poulson comes as the Internal Affairs Division remains under the oversight of U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson and a team of independent monitors under the Negotiated Settlement Agreement reached following the infamous Riders corruption case in 2001.
The U.S. Attorney for Northern California, Joseph Russanello, said Thursday he couldn’t confirm nor deny the investigation, adding that the only confirmation could come from people FBI agents interviewed.
Mayor Ronald Dellums was returning from inauguration festivities in Washington and could not be reached on Thursday.
A former federal officer with knowledge of the matter said two teams of agents are conducting the investigation – one concentrating on possible civil rights violations and the other on public corruption.
Two police officers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Thursday FBI agents have interviewed them in recent days about the Amero’s arrest and death, and a raft of other incidents that include:
• The department’s handling of Bailey’s Aug. 2, 2007 slaying, for which police arrested only one person on murder charges. The Chauncey Bailey Project reported in October that the lead detective in the case, Sgt. Derwin Longmire, failed to document in his case notes evidence of a conspiracy pointing to former Your Black Muslim Bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV’s involvement in the killing.
• The recent scandal involving the falsification of search warrants. Department leaders last week notified 11 officers of their intention to fire them. Another officer was fired last month.
• A whistle-blower complaint that police Lt. Lawrence Green filed last month alleging that Tucker squashed a rank-and-file vote of no-confidence in his administration by promoting then police union president, officer Robert Valladon, to “acting sergeant,” a move that increased Valladon’s pay and boosted his eligibility for a higher pension.
• Allegations that former City Administrator Deborah Edgerly’s last year leaked news of a pending drug raid to a nephew who was a gang member.
• The conduct of Deputy Police Chief Jeffrey Loman who is accused of sexually harassing a subordinate female officer and is also being investigated for his supervision of Longmire’s work in the Bailey case.
The FBI probe comes nearly three months after Dellums requested the state Justice Department conduct a parallel investigation of an internal affairs probe of how the Bailey case was handled.
Since then, the department fired officers in the warrant-falsification scandal, sexual harassment charges were filed against Loman, and Green filed the whistle-blower complaint about Tucker and Valladon.
In the statement he issued Thursday night, Tucker urged Oakland residents “not to allow recent allegations misconduct to overshadow the successful policing efforts achieved by” the department.
City council members provided a harsher view.
“We are in chaos and no end in sight to some of the problems we are facing here when it comes to the police department,” City Council member Ignacio de la Fuente, a frequent department critic, said Thursday.
Council President Jane Brunner said Poulson’s record should have been considered.
“The lead Internal Affairs investigator should have been vetted,” Brunner said. “It’s like in Congress and the person who is leading the ethics commission, you need to vet the people doing Internal Affairs to the point that they need to be squeaky clean.”
Oakland Tribune reporter Kamika Dunlap and Roland De Wolk, of KTVU-TV, contributed to this report.Thomas Peele is an investigative reporter for the Bay Area News Group. Bob Butler is an independent journalist. Reach them at Tpeele@bayareanewsgroup.com and Bobbutler7@comcast.net. CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING