Sandra Spagnoli

Sandra Spagnoli is the Chief of the San Leandro Police Department. She was hired and started working in January 2011, after the City of San Leandro settled a lawsuit brought by female police officers for sexual harassment and discrimination.

Spagnoli at first gave indications that she would use “best practices” in the running of the police department. She reorganized the department and created new policies. She also appeared to reach out to the community with frequent “Coffee with the cops”.

It soon became evident, however, that Spagnoli’s attitude towards crime in San Leandro was one of “everybody is a suspect and everybody should be treated as one”. The SLPD has become less and less transparent under her rule. She has interfered in the city’s politics, both by trying to organize lobbying of the City Council during work hours and using public resources, and by seemingly interfering with city elections (during the 2012 campaign she failed to investigate a leak of a warrant against a candidate, and chose to run a press release about a suspect with the same last name than that same candidate during election day). Spagnoli has also gotten in trouble for issuing press releases falsely accusing people of crimes they did not commit. The City of San Leandro recently settled a lawsuit based on a “sting” she authorized to try to catch homosexual men soliciting sex in public. In June 2012 the SLPD issued a press release accusing a respect High School teacher of possessing child pornography, which seems to be a complete fabrication.

Spagnoli has also earned the dislike of community members for trying to restrict bee-keeping citing the made-up danger of “over pollination”, providing false information to the City Council about the “dangers” of marijuana dispensaries and trying to place surveillance cameras throughout town without alerting the community.

She makes it a habit to provide the Council and the Community with false information. For example, she has repeatedly claimed that San Leandro’s rising clime is due to the early release of inmates due to re-alignment, when no such releases have happened. She told the City Council that the City only had one working license plate camera, with 2 about to be installed – when in reality it had 3 installed and 2 more on the works. She claimed that he department receives an average of one complain about chickens a week – when records show only one complain has been recorded in two years. We could go on.

Oct 292013
Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli

Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli

Dear City of Oakland:

I know you are looking for a new Police Chief.  Please take ours!  SLPD Chief Sandra Spagnoli doesn’t work cheap  and crime may have gone up under her, but she speaks well and smiles enough.  Surely appearances do count.  She fooled us, she can fool your residents as well.

Spagnoli is a hard worker (sure, she has about 90 days off a year, in addition to weekends, but that’s standard for public executives) and has an unmitigated commitment to social cleansing. She doesn’t discriminate between gays, the mentally illblacks, liberals or even gun-advocates – in her book everyone is a criminal that needs to be put down.  Dirty cops, however, are to be left alone – at least until they are so overt in their dealings that citizens end up alerting the Mayor and the DA.    But if you want your racial tensions – in particular those between blacks and Asians – to rise, she has a recipe for that!

One teenzy weenzy little problem with Spagnoli is that she’s not particularly married to facts.  I mean she loves facts, as long as she gets to invent them, but independently gathered and confirmed facts are nasty things that get in the way of actual police work.  Police Chiefs’ opinions should be trusted without question, and if reality interferes with your trust, then you really should disavow reality.

Take for example her claim that crime rates have gone up in San Leandro because of the release of prisoners due to re-alignment.  It’s a good story, one that she can use to get surveillance cameras that she can use to spy on troublemakers (aka community activists), so why should the fact that there has been no early release of prisoners stop her from telling it?  Or take her opinion that marijuana is a gateway drug and that marijuana dispensaries attract crime – sure, the studies that look at the actual data show that those are myths, but shouldn’t her intuition count for more than pesky studies?  Her latest kick is surveillance cameras.  She knows in her gut that they work and we should believe her despite all the data that shows that they neither prevent nor help solve crimes.

You should also not hold it against her that she often makes false statements to the City Council.  It’s not as if the Council would rely on what she says in order to pass the ordinances she advocates, right?  For example, can we really blame her for telling the Council her office received one complaint a week about backyard chickens, when in reality they only have records about one complaint being filed in the last two years?  She needed the Council to have a good excuse to give the Police access to people’s backyards without probable cause in violation of the 4th amendment, so can she be blamed for a little white lie?  And why does the Council need to know exactly how many license plate cameras the Police Department has? So what if it’s 5 rather than the 3 she acknowledged? They’re both single digits, right?

Look, our City Manager, Chris Zapata, is perfectly OK with her “truth impairment” as is our Mayor, Stephen Cassidy.  Surely the Oakland City Council and Mayor Quan won’t have higher standards than their San Leandro equivalents.

There are many more things that you can praise Sandra Spagnoli for.  She has no patience for street musicians or artists – if you want someone to intimidate your budding arts community, she’s the woman for you.   And she has pretty much eliminated all complaints against SLPD officers.  Sure, she did it by getting rid of the Internal Affairs Department, but the non-numbers of complaints speak for themselves.   Finally, she is so committed to her law enforcement job, that she doesn’t let the law stand on her way.  Really, do you want a Police Officer who respects the law or someone who catches others not doing it?

So in my name and in that of many, many, many other citizens of San Leandro, I ask you, I plead with you, I beg you to hire her and get her off our hands.


Margarita Lacabe

PS I forgot to mention that Chief Spagnoli is already very experienced with the Oakland crime problem. Indeed, when she’s not blaming realignment for San Leandro’s crime problem, she’s blaming Oakland. She already has a plan to put surveillance cameras aimed at the Oakland border to know which of your miscreant citizens dare to come into our town.

Spagnoli also has a plan to deal with youth crime: eliminate youth. She tried to put it into effect on Halloween when, after promising crossing guards for a Trick-or-Treat events put out by local businesses, she prohibited them at the last minute. Unfortunately for the Chief, nobody got killed, but I know she won’t let that deter her from finding ways to endanger kids’ lives n the future.

Sep 052013
Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli

Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli

But will the Council and City Manager let her get away with it?

Tuesday night, San Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli was caught lying to the San Leandro City Council several times.

Two lies are so blatant, that there can be now wiggle room around them.

1 – She told the City Council that the SLPD only has one police car equipped with license plate scanners mounted on them.  But as Mike Katz-Lacabe, my husband pointed out, it has 3.  He’s taken pictures of them, in case there are any questions.

2- She told the Council that license plate scanners only get the “photo of the license plate”.  Again, a lie, as the license plate picture below shows.

Now, these are by no means the first lies the Chief tells the Council.  She’s lied about the effects of marijuana dispensary on crime and she lied about how long license plate information is kept for, for example.

And as Councilmember Jim Prola pointed out when I brought this matter up to him, last night she repeatedly tried to mislead the Council (Prola wouldn’t commit to using the word “lie”) when she claimed that license plate data had to be retained for a year because they are sharing it with the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (everyone who drives in San Leandro is a suspected terrorist, it would seem).  Under questioning by Prola, the representative from the Center reluctantly admitted the Council could set whatever term in wanted for keeping the data.

And she’s lied directly to the community about things such as how realignment works.

But the thing about these two lies last night is that there is no room for ambiguity.  Either license scanners only take pictures of the license plates as she claims or they don’t, as the picture shows.  Either there is one car with a scanner or there are three, as the other photos we have show.

The City Council knows now without a shadow of a doubt the the Chief of Police has so little respect for them that she will lie and lie to their faces.  Meanwhile, she asks them to “trust her”.

Mayor Cassidy wanted to see one of the “audits” on the Police Department, done after an SLPD narcotics officer was convicted of selling drugs to an informer.  The Chief  denied him access to it, claiming it has sensitive information.   “You have to trust on your Chief of Police” she said.  But how can the Council – and the citizens of San Leandro – trust a Chief who has repeatedly been caught lying?

I don’t have much admiration four our City Council.  But do any of them have any self-respect?  They must know the Chief doesn’t have any for them – otherwise she wouldn’t lie – and yet they let her get away with this type of behavior.

I have a call to the office of City Manager Chris Zapata for comments.  Zapata is ultimately her boss.  Is she lying with his knowledge? His approval? Is she completely insubordinate?

I have also contacted the Mayor and City Council for comment.  I will update this article if I hear back.

Photo of my family, car and home taken by an SLPD license plate scanner and obtained through a CPRA request.


Jul 162013
Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli

Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli

Racial tensions in San Leandro don’t seem to be high enough for Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli.  To fuel them, today the San Leandro Police Department issued a press release about a residential robbery, specifying that the suspects were two, young, black males and the victim was a Chinese family.

There is no legitimate reason for the race of the victims to be mentioned.   Indeed, a quick look through other SLPD press releases on robberies and burglaries shows that while they always mention the race of the suspect, they never mention the race of the victim.  There sole exception was a press release about two robberies perpetrated last April in which the perpetrators were described as black males and the victims as Asian females.

There are many petty reasons why the SLPD maybe trying to exacerbate racial tension on the wake of the Zimmerman verdict.  But it is unconscionable that they do.  San Leandro residents, of all races, deserve much better.

Jul 102013

watimesheadlinesLast year, City Manager Chris Zapata abrogated his responsibilities for running much of the city by giving carte blanche to the Police Chief to set public policy both for her department, and the City. Now, he has decided to become the Chief’s propaganda minister.

In today’s City Manager Bulletin, Zapata direct readers to an article praising the use of surveillance cameras that appeared in the Washington Times.  As I’m sure he knows, the Washington Times is a Moonie (as in Rev. Moon’s church) owned newspaper, founded with the expressed goal of disseminating Moonie and far-right propaganda.  In comparison to the Washington Times, Fox News can actually make a case for being “fair and balanced”.

That said, it perhaps should not surprise us that Spagnoli and Zapata would look at the arch-conservative Washington Times for support with their own arch-conservative public policy.  The Times position on gay-rights (against them) seem consistent with the anti-gay policies that have gotten the SLPD sued; but they are not positions that reflect a majority of San Leandrans.

Meanwhile, in the last couple of weeks there has been a plethora of newspaper articles, by trustworthy publications, on how police surveillance of individuals violates basic civil liberties.  Several of those articles, including one by the San Francisco Chronicle and one by the Oakland Tribune, referenced San Leandro.  As you would expect, neither was mentioned in Zapata’s weekly bulletin.

I don’t expect much of our current City Council.  Neither Mayor Cassidy nor City Council members Michael Gregory, Ursula Reed, Benny Lee, Diana Souza and Pauline Cutter have much of a backbone, but 2014 is around the corner.

Jun 132013

stynerHeaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned

William Congreve, The Mourning Bride

When I wrote my preliminary analysis of the criminal charges filed against San Leandro High School Teacher Richard Styner, I relied purely on the facts as reported by the media.  I have now obtained the actual court documents filed in this case.  These include the charge sheet filed by the District Attorney, and the “declaration of probable cause” on which those charges are based, executed by San Leandro Police officer Cathy Pickard.  Based on them, I can say without much difficulty that the charges against Styner are bogus and they should be dismissed.

Styner was charged on two counts: residential burglary and possession of child pornography.  He plead non-guilty to both.  He was released on his own recognizance.

The residential burglary charge is based on allegations that Rick Styner entered the home of a friend (referred to as “Jane Doe” in court documents, but known to be former San Leandro High School principal Amy McNamara Furtado), while she was out of town, using a key she had given him for emergencies.  Once there, he allegedly opened her closed dresser drawers and took pictures of her underwear and unidentified “personal”, “intimate”  items.   He also is alleged to have removed her running pants and underwear from the drawers, laid them out and photographed them.  The declaration does not indicate the alleged purpose behind this conduct.

Unfortunately for the DA and Ms. McNamara,  this conduct does not constitute a crime.  Under California law, a residential burglary is the unlawful entrance of a dwelling with the intention to commit a larceny or another felony.  Styner is not charged with larceny and, contrary to media reports, the police declaration does not state that he removed any item from McNamara’s home or that he had any intention to do so.   The police declaration also fails to allege any conduct by Styner that could constitute a felony under California law.  The SLPD had wanted the court to charge Stnyer with “disorderly conduct,” under a Penal Code provision (PC 647(J)(1)) that criminalizes the use of a camera to spy on a person – but this section is very clear that the person has to be present.   In any case, that would be a misdemeanor.

What seems likely is that the DA charged Styner with a serious felony, hoping to intimidate him into pleading to something else.  At the arraignment, the judge commented on the weakness of this particular charge.

The child pornography charge stems from a single photograph allegedly found in a folder in the school computer, also allegedly belonging to Styner (some news stories mistakenly reported that 200 photographs had been found, but only one is described on the declaration and he is only charged with one count of possession).  The photograph showed a woman posing so as to show her buttocks and part of her labia (in a pose probably similar to this one).   According to Officer Pickard the model “appears to be under the age of 18”.  Under California law, a charge of child pornography requires both that the subject of the photograph be underage and that the person in possession of the photograph know it.   Given that the Police does not claim to have identified the woman in the picture and that the only indication of the woman’s age is Officer Pickard’s appraisal of her buttocks (which begs the question of how much experience Officer Pickard has in assessing women’s posteriors), it seems unlikely that any reasonable juror would believe that Styner “knew” her to be a minor.

There is a more technical problem with this case: the chain of custody.  In order for the DA to be able to use the evidence found in the school computer, he must show that after Styner relinquished the computer to the school authorities, proper forensic procedures were followed so as to make it unlikely that anyone would have tampered with the computer files.  This includes making a copy of the hard drive and doing any analysis of its contents on the copy, not the real thing.  Neither the District nor the Police have released information as to who took control of the computer and what procedures were followed, but if a proper chain of custody is not established, the whole case will be thrown out.

I have tried to do a quick summary of the evidence in the Styner case.   The charges are weak.  They are likely to be thrown out of court, but he can expect to have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on legal fees.  Both he and his wife are teachers, he is now in unpaid leave, and regardless of what happens with the criminal charges, it’s likely that he will lose his job.  The gist of this is that these charges, however groundless, have destroyed his reputation in this community, threaten his freedom and his financial stability – as well as his family’s.

I don’t take this lightly.  If it happened to Rick Styner, a well-liked teacher and a pillar of this community, it can happen to any of us.

The San Leandro Police Department acted at best irresponsibly and at worse maliciously and criminally.  It is now incumbent upon the San Leandro City Council both to engage an independent investigator to look into what seems to be a pattern of malicious arrests and press releases by Chief Sandra Spagnoli and the SLPD.  It must also pass an immediate policy prohibiting the SLPD from issuing any press releases about any person that has not been convicted of a crime, and to provide a public accounting of the status of the cases of all subjects of prior press releases.