Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan ordered an armed sergeant to an Oakland Tribune reporter’s home at 12:45 a.m. Friday to demand changes to a story he had filed hours earlier, the Tribune reports.
Reporter Doug Oakley had covered a raucous community meeting Thursday night in which Meehan attempted to explain to about 150 residents his department’s failure to provide information to the public in the days after the Feb. 18 Berkeley hills beating death of Peter Cukor, 67. Residents were angry that police did not immediately respond to a first call for help from Cukor.
According to the Tribune, Oakley had written that Meehan apologized to the community for the department’s slow response. Meehan though, said, he apologized only for not informing the public sooner about why the response was slow.
When the sergeant showed up at his door, Oakley changed two paragraphs in his story.
Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said the problem wasn’t that Meehan wanted the article altered, but that he sent an armed police sergeant to Oakley’s home in the middle of the night seeking the changes.
“It definitely crossed the line. It’s a violation of the First Amendment, let’s be perfectly clear,” Scheer told the Tribune. It “goes to such an extreme it’s hard to imagine.”
Even after Oakley made initial changes to the story Meehan early Friday continued to phone and email Oakley asking for additional changes. Oakley declined, saying he stood by his story.
City Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, who called the community meeting Thursday night, called Meehan’s actions “a little extreme.”
“On Monday, I will discuss it with the city manager,” Wengraf told the Tribune. “I’ve never heard of that happening before. I understand it was probably really disturbing.”