In a late-night decision Tuesday, Berkeley's city manager pulled an item off the council agenda that would have given Berkeley a permanent police chief for the first time since early last year.
The Berkeley City Council had been set to appoint Jen Louis as the permanent police chief as part of its Nov. 15 consent calendar. She has served as interim chief since March 2021.
Early in Tuesday's meeting, council members moved the police chief item from the consent calendar to the action calendar — to allow a broad discussion — in the wake of explosive allegations raised last week about misconduct at the Berkeley Police Department.
The allegations and an accompanying series of leaked texts, put forward Thursday by terminated Berkeley Police Officer Corey Shedoudy, have constituted the biggest scandal faced by the department in a decade.
Just before 10:15 p.m., City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley announced that she was pulling the police chief item from the agenda pending the completion of an investigation into the Shedoudy claims, which included arrest quotas and "questionable legal tactics" in the BPD Bike Force.
Williams-Ridley told council members she had consulted with Louis and that they had decided to postpone the appointment due to community concerns surrounding the Shedoudy allegations.
"We both feel that it’s very, very valuable and important that we listen to the community and that we try and do everything that we can to ensure public trust, especially in this appointment," she told officials.
The texts had been a "horrible, horrible display of distrust to our community," Williams-Ridley told council.
Many officers have told The Berkeley Scanner in recent days that they were disgusted by the texts, which do not represent Berkeley police culture.
Misconduct claims have already had impacts
Interim Berkeley Police Chief Louis has said she was unaware of the misconduct allegations until they were raised last week and that she supports a full investigation.
On Monday, Williams-Ridley announced that the city would hire an outside firm to handle the misconduct investigation to ensure it is impartial.
On Tuesday afternoon, the city's Police Accountability Board voted to launch its own investigation into the disturbing allegations.
On Tuesday evening, the police union president stepped down from his leadership role with the Berkeley Police Association; it was his apparent text messages disparaging homeless people and minorities that prompted the most alarm pending independent confirmation of the more sweeping claims.
The police union said it supports a full investigation and has condemned "in the strongest terms any negative comments concerning the housing status or ethnicity of those we police and serve."
Alameda County public defender brings new claims forward
On Tuesday night, Williams-Ridley said she remained confident that an outside firm would clear Louis of any involvement in the matter.
That assertion provoked ire from a number of public commenters who said the city should not rush to judgment about the extent of the problems before the full investigation is done. They also asked that the City Council, not the city manager, oversee the outside firm's work.
Dozens of community members — many of whom shared their own experiences but also seemed to speak from a common script — spoke during Tuesday's council meeting. Many stayed past 11 p.m. to ensure their voices would be heard.
They said they were appalled by the recent allegations, which they believed were evidence of a long history of failures and racist practices by the department. They called for accountability and for change, including in BPD leadership.
Nathan Mizell, who is the vice-chair of the Police Accountability Board (PAB) but was speaking on his own behalf, told officials he had been relieved by the decision to call off the chief vote for now.
"The city manager made the right decision," said Mizell. "It may have taken several hours into this meeting to come to, but I am appreciative that it was the right decision."
Mizell also referenced the PAB's plans to begin its own investigation into the misconduct claims.
"We want to go in haste if we can, obviously do a thorough investigation but one without delays," he said.
Mizell and others said they had been particularly unsettled by comments made toward the beginning of the meeting by Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods.
Woods said his office had had problematic interactions in July with Berkeley police who interviewed several juveniles, that he had repeatedly emailed Louis about the issue and that she had not responded.
"To be honest, I do not have faith in the chief," he told officials shortly after 6:30 p.m.
In response to a subsequent inquiry from The Berkeley Scanner, Louis said she had been away for several weeks of scheduled vacation when Woods' emails came in. She said her acting chief had emailed Woods — The Scanner confirmed that he had — and advised her in mid-July that the matter "had been resolved."
According to emails Woods provided to the city Tuesday night, he had also emailed Louis in the first week of August requesting a conversation. She had not replied.
After Woods made his comments Tuesday, Louis emailed him and apologized for not personally responding, she told The Scanner. She said she has invited Woods to meet and also asked him to confirm whether the procedural issues had been addressed.
"I believe that the community and Council’s experience would reflect that I am extremely reachable and responsive in email, accessible to the community, and transparent in communication with the community and Council," she said.
Louis will remain in the role of interim chief at this time, the city manager told the City Council.
The Berkeley Scanner will continue to follow the story. Stay tuned for continuing updates.
This story was updated after the conclusion of the council meeting to include additional context from the discussion.