Bailey colleagues hold detectives accountable

The Chauncey Bailey Project is shaking up California authorities from Oakland to Sacramento, after alleging misconduct by police–including mishandling or withholding evidence by the chief detective investigating their colleague’s murder. Evidence recently published by the project, a rare, ad hoc consortium of committed journalists, has led the Alameda district attorney to open an independent oversight investigation, and the Oakland mayor to demand a separate, state investigation of the Bailey murder case.

The project’s new evidence has further compelled the Oakland Police Department and Assistant Chief Howard Jordan, who has long denied police misconduct in the case to various San Francisco Bay-area news outlets as well as to CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” to take the unusual step this month of issuing a lengthy, two-page statement. Titled “Oakland Police Department’s Response to the Chauncey Bailey Project,” the November 1 release defends various actions by police, as well as the detective leading the investigation. Although the police department’s Web site regularly posts press releases it has not posted this one; CPJ is making the statement available here. The release, while maintaining that the police had acted properly, also confirms several pieces of evidence announced on October 25 by the project. The statement further sheds light on a conflict of interest first reported earlier this year by “60 Minutes.”

The founding members of the project met in one of Berkeley’s better Chinese restaurants less than one month after Bailey’s murder in August 2007. One of the Bay area’s most unforgettable and respected journalists, the twice-divorced father of one young teenage son was killed by a masked figure firing a shotgun three blocks from his Oakland newspaper office. From the beginning, evidence pointed to a small local business whose proprietors and employees alike had rap sheets longer than the line of yellow Post-it notes Bailey was prone to paste up and down his arms.

His colleagues, many of whom were still grieving, shared one Mandarin dish after another as they organized a project that would monitor the Oakland police investigation. Convened by Sandy Close, who runs the California-based New America Media, attendees included Paul Cobb, the slain journalist’s boss who had just made Bailey his top editor, Neil Henry, soon-to-be-confirmed dean of the nearby UC Berkeley Journalism School, editors and reporters from the San Francisco Bay Guardian, The Oakland Tribune and the Bay Area News Group, a host of other staffers and freelancers reporting for Bay-area print, TV, and radio news outlets, as well as myself, representing the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Chauncey Bailey was the first journalist murdered in the United States in 14 years. He was a dynamic journalist who reported for African-American and other minority communities. The investigative project launched in his name was soon funded by the Maynard Institute, Knight Foundation, National Association of Black Journalists, Society of Professional Journalists, and the Newspaper Guild, among others. It was further supported by Investigate Reporters and Editors, whose own experience reporting in the footsteps of a slain journalist in Phoenix, Arizona, more than 30 years earlier had left a weighty impression.

The Chauncey Bailey Project began uncovering irregularities in the Oakland Police Department’s investigation from the start, asking why only one suspect was charged as an alleged lone gunman when evidence points to a wider conspiracy. By the following summer, American Journalism Review‘s Sherry Ricchiardi called the project “the biggest journalistic show of force since 1976, when [IRE co-founding member] reporter Don Bolles’ car was blown up by a bomb while he was investigating organized crime in Phoenix.”

Crimes including vandalism, extortion, fraud, car theft, kidnapping, torture, sexual abuse of minors, and murder have been linked through felony convictions, charges, and press reports to the proprietors and employees of Your Black Muslim Bakery, the local business whose finances Chauncey Bailey was investigating when he was murdered. Oakland police this month confirmed that they suspected members of the bakery within hours of the murder.

“Within the first 24 hours of our investigation, it became apparent that members of Your Black Muslim Bakery, including [the current proprietor] Yusuf Bey IV, were involved in the murder,” reads the November 1 Oakland police press release. The Chauncey Bailey Project recently reported that shotgun shells found at the scene of the crime matched those found at another shooting linked to the bakery. The next day, police raided the bakery, arresting suspects–including Bey–on unrelated charges of the alleged kidnapping and torture of two women over a drug debt.

Police later charged one man arrested at the bakery, kitchen helper Devaughndre Broussard, known to others as “Dre,” in Bailey’s murder. Accused by police of being a lone gunman, according to news reports, Broussard remains the only suspect charged.

For reasons that Assistant Chief Jordan described to Anderson Cooper of “60 Minutes” as being “unusual, but not unethical,” the Oakland police assigned a detective, Sgt. Derwin Longmire, to investigate the Bailey murder, even though the same police detective had a longstanding personal relationship with the bakery proprietor, Bey. By then, Bey was wanted on various felony charges in addition to being a suspect in Bailey’s murder. He has been incarcerated since the bakery raid awaiting trial, and from jail he recently admitted but qualified his relationship with Longmire.

“Longmire and I have no special relationship, we respect each other as brothers,” Bey wrote in August 2008 from prison in a blog called “Sgt. Longmire – Inside Connection or Mutual Respect?” on a Web site that his followers started to proclaim his innocence and that of other bakery associates, including his brother, who is awaiting trial on various charges. Bey has also denied any role in Bailey’s murder.

Earlier this year, “60 Minutes” revealed that Longmire took the unorthodox step of placing suspects Bey and Broussard together in an interrogation room hours after they were both arrested. Police failed to record their conversation. Broussard told “60 Minutes” that Bey had ordered him to confess in the interrogation room, which Broussard did immediately after their conversation. He later recanted his confession, and told Cooper that he would reveal who killed Bailey at his own trial.

But the most shocking piece of evidence that police have yet to fully explain is a video secretly filmed by San Leandro police just four days after Bailey’s murder. In the video, which includes a police imprint, date, and time, Bey is heard telling his brother and another bakery associate about the Bailey murder. The video was obtained by the project and posted online. It has also been reported or aired by various Bay-area broadcasters.

In the video, Bey says he put the gun used to kill Bailey in his closet after the shooting. He mocks the fatal blast to the journalist’s head He boasts that Longmire was protecting him from being charged, and that together he and Longmire decided to blame Broussard alone for the murder. Bey later said in an interview, according to the Chauncey Bailey Project, that he made up stories to mislead police in the interrogation room conversation captured on video.

The project also recently reported that other police detectives investigating crimes prior to Bailey’s murder had placed a tracking device on Bey’s car, and that the device placed the car outside Bailey’s apartment building the night before his murder. The November 1 Oakland police statement confirmed for the first time that the tracking device was indeed in place on Bey’s car before the murder, and that police consider the data it revealed to be evidence.

The Chauncey Bailey Project also obtained Bey’s cell phone records, reporting that they show that Bey made a series of calls to his bakery associates and others within minutes of Bailey’s murder. The recent police statement in response confirmed that Bey’s cell phone records are also considered to be evidence in the murder.

Concerning the secretly recorded police video in which Bey seems to implicate himself, Alameda District Attorney Tom Orloff told San Francisco Bar Association journal The Recorder in July that the video would at best implicate Bey as an accessory to the crime after the fact, and that there wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges against him. This week, however, Orloff confirmed to the project that his office was opening an independent investigation into the murder.

Orloff did not return CPJ’s repeated calls asking for comment. The recent police department statement defends police conduct in the case and the investigation led by Longmire. Oakland police spokesman Officer Jeff Thomason confirmed to CPJ that Longmire remains the case’s chief detective. Longmire did not return a call from CPJ seeking comment.

Last week, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums asked California Attorney General Jerry Brown to open another independent investigation. “It is imperative that an investigative agency outside the city also conduct an investigation,” he wrote to Brown, his predecessor as Oakland mayor. Dellums previously told journalists he was making the request in response to the October 25 report by the Chauncey Bailey Project.

In all the smoke still surrounding the shotgun blasts that killed Bailey in the street more than a year ago, one thing emerges clearly: The colleagues who formed a project in his name have shined a light on a hazy police investigation, and they are not about to go away.