By Will Harper
Am I the only one who thinks Attorney General Jerry Brown shouldn’t be doing the “independent” investigation of the Oakland Police Department’s mishandling of the murder probe of journalist Chauncey Bailey?
Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson today even praised his favorite punching bag, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, for bringing in Brown’s office. And as far as I'm aware, the Chauncey Bailey Project -- the consortium of Bay Area news organizations investigating the circumstances around Bailey’s murder -- has raised no objections to the attorney general overseeing the probe of a police department led by someone Brown himself appointed chief when he was mayor of Oakland.
A little bit of background: Last year Bailey was gunned down in broad daylight in downtown Oakland. Soon after, police arrested a handyman, Devaughndre Broussard, working at Your Black Muslim Bakery for the murder. But many people have suspected Broussard was just a patsy and the real mastermind behind the crime was Yusuf Bey IV, the head of the militant group that ran the bakery. That’s where OPD comes in. The lead investigator in the Bailey homicide, Sgt. Derwin Longmire, is well-known to be friendly with Bey, and over the past few months suspicions have grown that Longmire has been covering up Bey’s possible role in the murder. Things came to a head this week after the Chauncey Bailey Project reported that Longmire hadn’t bothered to note that a tracking-device planted on Bey’s car put him in front of Bailey’s home hours before the crime.
Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t be objectionable to bring in the AG in a case like this where a local public agency can’t be trusted to investigate its own conduct. But these aren’t normal circumstances and Brown, in my view, can't be trusted to act as a neutral party in this case.
Even though the murder and investigation happened when Brown was no longer mayor, Brown appointed Chief Wayne Tucker, whose handling of his personnel in the Bailey murder case screams out for deeper scrutiny. The department’s brass put Longmire on the case even though, according to reports, the detective’s affinity for Bey and the bakery were well known around the department. For months, Tucker and his deputies failed to deal with this legitimate concern over his homicide detective’s conduct.
I think it’s a safe bet that any outside investigation will make Tucker and the department look bad. And any dirt that comes out of an investigation like this is bound to rub off some on Oakland’s politicians--including Brown, who is sure to be concerned about his public persona when he runs for governor in 2010.
Brown’s staff at the AG’s office may be perfectly capable of doing a decent job. But I think that the very least there’s an appearance of a conflict of interest here, and Brown should step aside and let the feds conduct a truly independent probe.