Dewayne Stancill was once one of San Leandro's best street cops. According to a decade's worth of performance reviews, he was an officer with growing leadership skills and a genuine empathy toward wayward youth. His expertise with at-risk teenagers was no accident; he was once one of them, a young black kid who grew up on the mean streets of East Oakland. As an officer in the San Leandro Police Department, his colleagues vouched for his talent, as did police brass. But things changed dramatically in 2007 when he was promoted to the rank of sergeant.
It should have been one of many career milestones, but in a city with a troubled history surrounding race, Stancill says the color of his skin became a point of contention for some in the police department. His promotion also appeared to have sparked jealousy among cops. And then a handful of officers, mostly white women, who themselves had been consistently passed over for promotion, unleashed a backlash against Stancill that ultimately led to him losing his job, public records and interviews show.
According to two investigative reports commissioned by the city and recently obtained by the Express, the female cops, along with a high-ranking member of the police union, worked in concert to go after Stancill. The reports also concluded that the group of officers had repeatedly exaggerated charges of sexual harassment against Stancill, who says he was then shunned inside San Leandro PD.
At the center of it all, according to the second investigative report, was Anne O'Callaghan, a female officer who apparently was angered by the entrenched old boys' network in the department. Either as a clerk or cop at the department for seventeen years, O'Callaghan had regularly been passed over for promotion. That was no surprise — only one woman has ever risen above the rank of officer in the department's history.
In 2007, O'Callaghan finished fifth on the department's sergeant's exam, two spots behind Stancill, and was passed over for promotion. According to one of the investigative reports commissioned by the city, O'Callaghan reacted angrily to the exam results. She allegedly told other officers that Stancill was unqualified for the promotion, and that he was "stupid" and an "idiot." "They're sure promoting a bunch of winners around here," another female officer said, according to the report.
O'Callaghan's complaints, on their own, may have gone nowhere, but she's married to Sergeant Mike Sobek, one of the department's most powerful officers. At the time of Stancill's promotion, Sobek was vice president of the San Leandro police union. He would later ascend to president of the union, a position he holds today.
According to the second investigative report, the husband-and-wife team of Sobek and O'Callaghan, along with Catherine Pickard, another San Leandro police officer who was O'Callaghan's close friend and who also sat on the police union's board of directors, worked together to convince other white female officers to accuse Stancill of sexual harassment.
In some ways, because of his rough-hewn manner of speaking and his propensity for making salty comments, Stancill was an easy target for building a wide-ranging — but ultimately deemed false — cache of sexual harassment claims. The complaints ranged from Stancill commenting on the fit of a female officer's jeans to allegedly shooting another in the ass with a paint gun during a police exercise seven years earlier. Stancill also was alleged to have asked for sex with a close colleague on the force. But an investigation commissioned by the city found the charges to be without merit — too old and below the threshold of sexual harassment in the workplace. Stancill, though, was not out of the woods. In fact, it was just the beginning of an ugly series of events that ultimately cost him his job.
Undaunted by the city's investigation, the six female officers decided to sue San Leandro, its police department, and Stancill himself, in federal court claiming their civil rights were infringed by the city's long and woeful history of bypassing female officers. Some, like O'Callaghan, claimed gender and age discrimination, while other complaints simply revolved around being a woman in the department, even though some were not interested or eligible for promotion. The city ended up paying $1 million in court settlements alone and much more in legal fees, including $225,000 to O'Callaghan and Sobek — the wife and husband whom the city's investigators concluded had started the whole thing.
Although many of San Leandro's elected leaders were left in the dark over the scandal's basic facts, there is reason to believe that the events may have led directly to the resignations of two police chiefs and possibly even the city manager. There's also evidence that the mess helped oust the mayor from office.
As for O'Callaghan and Sobek, they remain entrenched at San Leandro PD, and there's even a possibility that both could get promotions.
Among cops at the San Leandro Police Department, Dewayne Stancill was different, according to statements made by co-workers to investigators. Although the context of their statements sometimes appeared to drip with racism and elitism, in many ways they were right on one point: Stancill was not like other police officers in San Leandro.
He came from little. His family survived on Section 8 assistance in East Oakland. As a child he and three other older siblings crowded into dilapidated housing — if they could get a home at all. He remembers standing in line at the local church for periodic handouts.