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Murder of Chauncey Bailey could have been avoided, says RSF

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has voiced outrage on learning that a delay in a police raid on Your Black Muslim Bakery - a business and community organisation based in Oakland, California, which was suspected of criminal activity - could have cost "Oakland Post" editor Chauncey Bailey his life.

Bailey was gunned down by a masked man on his way to work on 2 August 2007. The police raided the bakery the next day, suspecting some of its employees of being involved in the killing. One of them, Devaughndre Broussard, confessed to the murder but later retracted. Yusuf Bey IV, a community leader and the bakery's manager, is also suspected of involvement.

Reporters Without Borders welcomes Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums' call on 16 December 2008 for more transparency in the state investigation and for it to be expanded to include the delay in the raid. The press freedom organisation also urges Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, as soon as he is confirmed, to make sure a federal investigation is launched. State attorney Edmund G. Brown could face a conflict of interest when investigating a police department he was in charge of when mayor of Oakland.

The Chauncey Bailey Project, a cooperative effort by San Francisco Bay area journalists investigating the circumstance around Bailey's death, reported on 15 December that a raid on the bakery was planned for 1 August 2007 but was delayed for 48 hours to accommodate the vacation schedules of two SWAT commanders. Bailey was killed on 2 August 2007.

According to the Chauncey Bailey Project: "That decision came over the objection of the homicide detectives who suspected bakery members in two July 2007 gun slayings and feared a killing spree had begun. The detectives wanted immediate action to prevent additional bloodshed, although they had no indication Bailey had been targeted. If not for the delay, Bailey might be alive."

Police Chief Wayne Tucker, who first denied the raid had been delayed, later admitted he was the one who made the decision to delay it.

Reporters Without Borders said: "The more we look into the Oakland police's handling of the case, the more failures and misconduct emerge. We were already very concerned by evidence uncovered last summer suggesting that local police officials may be protecting those responsible for Bailey's death. The new revelations regarding the raid - how Chauncey Bailey's life would have been spared if it had not been delayed - could be just the tip of the iceberg."

The press freedom organisation added: "It shows the incompetence of the Oakland police chief and casts serious doubts about the motives and integrity of Tucker and some of his men, including lead detectives Derwin Longmire and Ersie Joyner III. The investigation now seems so marred by local conflicts of interests and corruption that the best option would be to transfer the case to federal investigators, in order to ensure a thorough and independent investigation. It will not bring Bailey back but at least it will honour his memory and send a strong signal to those who think they can kill a journalist and cover up the truth with total impunity."

"Everything should be on the table," Mayor Dellums told the Chauncey Bailey Project when asked about Tucker's contradictory statements. "This is a public matter that has raised confidence issues in the public sector. Then at the end of the day, the result of that ultimately needs to become public."

Dellums said a state justice department investigation he requested in October to parallel the department's own probe should include looking at the timing of the raid and what Tucker and other police commanders have said about it. This investigation is parallel to the current internal police investigation of the case's lead detective, Derwin Longmire. Dellums has also asked retired superior court judge Henry Ramsey to oversee the probe in a role Dellums described as "a special master."

The Chauncey Bailey Project had already released a series of articles earlier this year that highlighted several irregularities in Longmire's handling of the case. On 11 December, it was announced that the head of the Oakland police homicide detail, Lt. Ersie Joyner III, a 17-year veteran who ran the department's controversial investigation into the Bailey murder, had been transferred to patrol duties.

Joyner said his transfer "was not due to anything regarding the investigation" and that he was told that he was being sent to patrol because he was in line to be promoted to captain.

Robert Rosenthal, executive director of the Centre for Investigative Reporting and the Bailey Project's executive editor, told Reporters Without Borders on 17 December that, "Mayor Dellums' call for a wider investigation is good news. We believe that there is still much to explain around Bailey's murder. Our work has raised many questions that have yet to be answered."

Bailey had been working on a story about Your Black Muslim Bakery's financial troubles at the time of his death. The Alameda county district attorney's office has already begun an independent investigation into whether there was a conspiracy to murder Bailey.

Updates the Bailey case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/98186

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