BY SARA TABIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
The city of Palo Alto yesterday (Thursday) finally broke its silence about a 2014 incident in which a police supervisor used the n-word to a black officer.
But the report from City Manager Ed Shikada shed little new light on the incident other than to say an allegation against an unnamed supervising officer was “supported” by an investigation. Any punishment the officer might have received wasn’t mentioned in Shikada’s report.
On May 21, 2019, the Post revealed that Capt. Zach Perron was investigated for using the n-word in 2014 while making a joke to former Palo Alto Officer Marcus Barbour, who is black. Barbour had been honored for saving a black suspect who had jumped into the San Francisquito Creek. Perron allegedly joked to Barbour that “n***as don’t swim.” Barbour has since left the department.
In 2017, Palo Alto police Agent Marianna Villaescusa submitted a complaint to then-City Manager Jim Keene.
Normally, such a complaint would first be investigated by an officer’s supervisor. But because Perron is a high-ranking police official, the city decided to hire an outside law firm to investigate the complaint. The city has refused to release the law firm’s report, saying it was a HR matter. HR issues are confidential under state law.
But in the fall of 2018, the Post began investigating the incident after interviewing Villaescusa.
A Post reporter checked with the police auditor, who normally reviews internal investigations of police officers. The city contracts the job of police auditor to the Office of Independent Review, or OIR, a firm in Playa Del Rey, Calif., headed by Michael Gennaco and Stephen Connolly.
Auditor wasn’t told
When the Post asked OIR about the Perron allegations in 2018, the auditors said the city hadn’t told them about them.
Reports from OIR are supposed to be released to the public every six months. But the police auditor reports stopped in October 2018.
In an introduction to the new report, Gennaco and Connolly said they had received numerous questions over the past year about when their next report would be released. The introduction to the report says they learned about an allegation of racially inappropriate language by a supervisor from an “outside source” in September 2018.
When OIR asked the city about the allegations, the police department said the case was being treated as a HR issue and was outside of OIR’s purview.
OIR was subsequently asked to review that case and three other HR investigations by department.
OIR prepared a draft report in April 2019 which included the HR cases.
City officials held up the report for almost a year, until after the city’s contract with OIR expired, while they debated whether to release the HR cases.
Auditor’s draft report held
“Upon receipt of our draft report, different city officials revisited the question of whether PAPD personnel issues investigated through HR were — and/or should be — included as part of our standard review protocols,” reads the auditor’s report. “Per the request of those city officials, we held our draft report in abeyance pending further direction on this matter and received no additional direction in the months preceding the October 2019 expiration of our current contract.”
Palo Alto City Council renewed the contract with OIR in December after a discussion about whether HR issues should be reviewed by the auditor. Council decided OIR won’t review HR matters. Instead, City Manager Shikada promised that he and Police Chief Robert Jonsen would release a supplementary report of their own summarizing any HR matters.
Shikada’s report was released yesterday with a new report from OIR.