Michael Meehan, Berkeley Police Chief, Sent Armed Cop To Reporter's Home At Midnight, Potentially Violated First Amendment
Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan has come under fire after sending an armed sergeant to Oakland Tribune reporter Doug Oakley's home in the middle of the night to push for changes to a story.
According to the Oakland Tribune, Meehan claimed that Oakley misquoted him in a story. Minutes after reading the article, Meehan ordered Sgt. Mary Kusmiss to visit the reporter's home and request that he correct the article -- at 12:45 a.m.
"At first I thought something really bad was happening or they were coming for me, like I was going to be arrested," said Oakley to Berkeleyside. "It was really intimidating."
Oakley had reported on Meehan's comments at a community meeting regarding the murder of Berkeley resident Peter Cukor -- an incident that garnered significant media attention after it was reported that the police may not have responded immediately since they were busy with an Occupy protest.
According to Berkeleyside, Oakley originally wrote that Meehan had apologized for the police department's response during the incident. However, Meehan had actually apologized for the department's failure to communicate with the public about the incident, not for the police action.
"I would say it was an overzealous attempt to make sure that accurate information is put out," said Meehan in a statement apologizing for the late-night visit. "I could have done better."
However, some have argued that Meehan violated the First Amendment, using intimidation and censorship by sending an armed officer to Oakley's home at night.
"Ordering a police officer to a journalist's home in the middle of the night to demand changes to a story is an attempt at censorship by intimidation," said Executive Director of the First Amendment Coalition Peter Sheer to the Oakland Tribune. "It's a violation of the First Amendment, let's be perfectly clear.
"We both have a lot of power as a journalist and a police chief," said Oakley to Berkeleyside. "We both have to respect that power but I think he really abused it. What does that mean if the chief can send someone over to my house in the middle of the night?"
In the Daily Kos, an Occupy Wall Street writer also called out a First Amendment violation:
There is no way to spin this as being anything other than an intimidation attempt to have a reporter change what they wrote to suit an already powerful authority in a position to extract retaliation all the way up to death.
Meehan claimed that he did not mean to intimidate Oakley, and that he assumed he would not be frightened since he works with Sgt. Kusmiss regularly on stories.
The Berkeley Police Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Huffington Post.