The city of Berkeley has hired San Francisco law firm Swanson & McNamara to investigate allegations of police misconduct raised last month by an officer who had been fired by the city in connection with problems of his own.
City staff released a statement about the contract Thursday afternoon in response to an inquiry from The Berkeley Scanner about the status of the investigation.
"The City has started working with a law firm to investigate alleged behavior described in images depicting supposed text messages among a unit of Berkeley police officers," the city said Thursday.
The allegations and an accompanying series of leaked texts, put forward in mid-November by terminated Berkeley Police Officer Corey Shedoudy, have already constituted the biggest scandal faced by the department in over a decade.
The Shedoudy allegations include arrest quotas and "questionable legal tactics" within the department's Bike Force, a proactive patrol team supervised by Sgt. Darren Kacalek.
According to Shedoudy, who was a member of the team, those tactics allegedly included "stop and frisk, probation searches with no reasonable suspicion of a crime, and a very loose interpretation of stay-away orders from UC Berkeley."
Officers familiar with the bike unit say there were no such orders or illegal practices. The city fired Shedoudy after evidence came to light that he had intentionally collided with a car in 2020, sources familiar with the investigation told The Berkeley Scanner last month.
As part of his letter, Shedoudy included dozens of text messages he said were group texts among members of the bike unit. The messages included offensive remarks that appeared to be written by Kacalek and included statements that have been described as racist and derogatory toward homeless people.
Kacalek, who had also been the head of the Berkeley police union, stepped down from his role on the union board and was later placed on administrative leave by the department pending the outcome of the investigation. He is still on leave.
Immediately after the Shedoudy allegations came to light, the city said it would launch an independent investigation into his claims.
"The alleged behavior is contrary to the values of our police department and our City," staff wrote in Thursday's statement.
The Berkeley Police Association has also condemned the texts.
The city's Police Accountability Board said it would initiate its own probe into the misconduct claims, and it has already begun that work.
Thursday's announcement was the first significant development to be shared by the city since its initial brief response in November.
Berkeley is now working to finalize the contract with Swanson & McNamara, the city said. Information about the cost of the investigation and its parameters were not immediately available.
But the work has already begun, city staff said in Thursday's prepared statement.
Ed Swanson. Swanson & McNamara
"The firm, Swanson & McNamara, has extensive experience conducting government investigations, including police misconduct," the city wrote. "The investigation will be led by Ed Swanson, who has significant experience in internal investigations, including being appointed by federal courts to conduct investigations into issues related to officer misconduct and discipline within the Oakland Police Department and the California Department of Corrections."
The Berkeley city attorney's office considered recommendations "from a wide variety of sources, including members of the Police Accountability Board," to determine which law firm would be "most capable, experienced and able to start quickly."
The city also noted that the "gravity of these allegations also requires that the investigation be high-quality, neutral, fair and thorough."
And the city said it was of critical importance to move forward with care.
"Investigations into government personnel matters require particular expertise to navigate the complexity of the law, especially state laws about disciplinary matters concerning law enforcement," the city wrote.
The Berkeley Scanner will continue to follow this story.