By MEGAN GALLEGOS
OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – The Oakland Unified School District threatened a police officer with jail and economic ruin if he did not change his testimony about a fellow officer he saw shoot a man to death, the officer claims in court.
Jonathan Bellusa sued the O.U.S.D. Board of Education, its attorney Jacqueline Minor, Superintendent Anthony Smith, its former Police Chief Peter Sarna, and current chief James Williams, in Federal Court.
Bellusa claims that he and fellow Officer Barhin Bhatt made a traffic stop on Jan. 22, 2011, which concluded “with Sergeant Bhatt firing multiple shots at passenger Raheim Brown, resulting in his death.”
Bhatt is not a party to this lawsuit.
The complaint continues: “Subsequent to the incident, while Bhatt and Bellusa were being simultaneously interviewed at Oakland Police Department headquarters pursuant to established protocol, District officials, including Superintendent Anthony Smith and General Counsel Jacqueline Minor, interrupted the interviews and proceeded to contaminate an otherwise sterile debrief process. Later, as various investigations and legal processes developed, Sergeant Bellusa communicated to District lawyers and officials that his testimony regarding the events of January 22, 2011 would diverge from the testimony of Sergeant Bhatt, and that Sergeant Bhatt may have unnecessarily fired the bullets that killed Raheim Brown. After District officials and their agents learned of Sergeant Bellusa’s likely testimony regarding the shooting, they attempted to coerce
Bellusa to conform his testimony to the version proffered by Bhatt, but to no avail.
“On July 18, 2011, Peter Sarna, the Police Chief of the District Police Department, engaged in a drunken, racist rant in which he uttered outrageous and offensive epithets concerning African American and Asian American children and police officers; Sarna also threatened to kill two officers present, including Sergeant Bellusa. Bellusa also witnessed a subsequent racist remark by Chief Sarna, and proceeded to file a written complaint with District General Counsel Minor. Bellusa met with Minor regarding the complaint, and during that meeting Bellusa also sought to discuss his concerns regarding the January 22, 2011, shooting of Raheim Brown. Minor responded by ordering Bellusa out of her office and notifying other District officials, including Superintendent Smith and Police Chief Sarna, of Sergeant Bellusa’s concerns.
“As a result of Sergeant Bellusa’s formal complaints regarding Police Chief Sarna’s racist and derogatory remarks, and as a result of Sergeant Bellusa’s resistance to the efforts of District officials and their agents to suborn testimony he believed to be false regarding the shooting of Raheim Brown, District officials collectively and individually engaged in acts of retaliation against Bellusa. Superintendent Smith and General Counsel Minor accused Bellusa of lying. Superintendent Smith selected Bhatt as interim Police Chief (after Peter Sarna resigned under duress), despite Sergeant Bellusa’s testimony that Bhatt may have been responsible for the unnecessary killing of Raheim Brown. Sergeant Bellusa filed formal complaints regarding various acts of retaliation that he suffered – which only led to further retaliation. Without legitimate
justification, the District placed Bellusa on administrative leave; deprived him of his duty weapon and badge; subjected him to an Internal Affairs investigation; and ordered him to submit to repeated fitness for duty examinations.
“Sergeant Bellusa brings claims for retaliation based upon protected whistleblower conduct under California Labor Code §1102.5 and the Reporting by School Employees of Improper Government Activities Act, Education Code §§ 44110-44114. He brings a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for retaliation based upon protected disclosures of racist misconduct and another claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for retaliation based upon protected First Amendment conduct. He also brings claims for retaliation based upon protected First Amendment conduct. He also brings claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and threats of violence in violation of California’s Bane Act, based upon the coercive conducts of certain District agents and officials who threatened that Bellusa would be ‘sitting in jail’ and would face economic ruin if he contradicted Bhatt’s testimony regarding the shooting of Raheim Brown.”
Bellusa claims that he particularly questioned “whether it was necessary for Sergeant Bhatt to have fired a second volley of approximately five shots at Mr. Brown some seconds after his first two shots.”
Bellusa seeks punitive damages. He is represented by Dan Siegel with Siegel & Lee.