BY SARA TABIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto City Council on Monday (Dec. 16) will vote on whether to change its contract with the firm in charge of police department oversight so that the public never hears when officers accuse other officers of misconduct.
The proposed change is outlined in a report from City Attorney Molly Stump for council’s Monday meeting.
For months, the city has been stalling on the release of a report about Capt. Zach Perron’s alleged use of the N-word toward a black officer.
The Orange County-based Office of Independent Review (OIR) has been contracted by the city for several years to review the handling of all complaints against police officers.
The firm is supposed to produce a report about those cases, with the names redacted, and send it to the City Council so it is made public.
The outside review is called a police audit. City Council decided in 2006 to have an outside firm serve as independent police auditor following a series of scandals in the department.
City Attorney Stump is proposing to reduce the number of cases the auditor reviews, excluding those in which one officer files a complaint against another, such as in the Perron case.
Normally such a complaint, once it is dealt with by the department’s internal affairs apparatus, would go to the police auditor for review. Then the auditor’s report would go to council and the public.
Under the proposed change, such complaints would go to the city’s Human Resources Department, where its reports are confidential.
This change means that when one officer reports that another officer is using a racial slur, that complaint would never see the light of day.
LaDoris Cordell — retired judge, former Palo Alto councilwoman and former San Jose independent police auditor — said it’s fine by her if the police department wants to internally handle incidents that are strictly personnel matters.
But if officers are accused of being racist, violent, dishonest or homophobic then the public has the right to know about it, Cordell said.
Stump’s proposal could give cover to officers who might pose a danger to the public when the officers patrol the streets, she added.
Another close observer of the Palo Alto Police Department also raised red flags about the proposed change.
“I don’t want anything that would allow anything like the type of behavior alleged (of) Zach Perron to be handled internally,” said former public defender Aram James. “It’s a question of allowing racism in the police force to remain unchallenged.”
The independent auditor’s report on the Perron case was supposed to be released to the public in June, but has been delayed.
The city won’t give a date for the report’s release or explain why the report is tied up.
Perron, who is white, allegedly joked that “n***as don’t swim” to then-Officer Marcus Barbour after Barbour jumped into San Francisquito Creek to save a drowning black felon he was chasing on Jan. 28, 2014. Barbour is black.
Another officer lodged a complaint over the incident in 2017. The city had an outside law firm investigate the allegation, and the police auditor was supposed to review that law firm’s investigation.
Michael Gennaco, the lead attorney at OIR, told the Post in September that the “ball (was) in the city’s court” regarding the Perron report. A month later, he said that his office was still awaiting “further guidance” from the city about the report.
In September, an employee at the City Clerk’s Office, who would only identify herself as Kim, said the report was with the Police Department.
Stump did not answer a question from the Post on Friday about whether the Perron report will ever be released to the public.
She also did not answer a question about whether the proposed contract change would retroactively change the rules for police oversight to prevent the Perron report from going public.
Gennaco did not respond Friday to a question about whether the change will impact the Perron report.
When asked Friday about the changes to the contract with OIR, Councilman Adrian Fine pointed the Post to the council packet and didn’t comment further. Councilwoman Liz Kniss told the Post she didn’t know anything beyond what was in the council packet.
The city has been threatened with litigation over the police auditor this fall.
In October, city council huddled in a closed session to hear about several potential lawsuits over the city’s police auditor, according to the council’s agenda.
Because it was a closed session, no details about the potential litigation were provided to the public.
The item on the council’s agenda describing the closed session said: “Anticipated litigation … multiple potential cases. … Potential inclusion of Human Resources and Equal Employment Opportunity matters in (the) scope of police auditing and reporting services.”
The agenda item didn’t say what case or cases resulted in the threat of litigation.