Sgt. Bobby Lopez, the former San Jose police union president, ignited a firestorm last month when reports surfaced that he boasted of having a spy in the Independent Police Auditor’s (IPA) Office. Now he has hired an attorney and won’t talk.
Two weeks ago, the usually loquacious Lopez announced that he would run for his old job as president of the San José Police Officers Association (POA). Lopez said he believes George Beattie, his media-shy successor, is a weak leader.
A few days later, on July 1, an independent investigation report concluded that no mole or spy had burrowed its way into the IPA’s office.
On the day the results of the investigation were released, LaDoris Cordell, the retired judge and Stanford Law School assistant dean who now heads the office, said: “I am greatly relieved that the investigation has determined that there are no leaks of confidential information by any member of my staff.” Six days later, she fired her senior analyst, Suzan Stauffer.
The move was praised by local community groups, who saw the sacking as confirmation that Cordell was doing what she could to remove a suspected informant from her midst.
Though she acknowledges the firing, Cordell still maintains that nobody was providing a back channel to Lopez.
“I have said this several times publicly, and I’ll say it to you: no one—including the person who is no longer on my staff—no one has ever, ever leaked confidential information to Bobby Lopez, or anybody else,” Cordell says. “I firmly, absolutely believe that. Period.”
Lopez won’t say why he’s lawyered up, and declines to comment further. However, a source who has worked with Lopez and the IPA’s office says the longtime cop believes there are forces inside San Jose City Hall who do not want to see him re-elected to his old post.
“He’s concerned that if the friggin’ ACLU can get an IPA employee fired before an investigation is even completed, they’ll go after him next,” the source says.
The imbroglio resulted from a June 9 article by Mercury News reporter Sean Webby, which reported that an IPA staffer had “repeatedly leaked confidential information” to Lopez, and quoted Lopez confirming that he had a spy in the auditor’s office during his time as POA president.
The story sparked outrage from local activists, and strained the already shaky relationship between San Jose police and some community leaders.
“Let me just say that I have no idea who Bobby Lopez is,” Cordell says. “I have never had a conversation with him. I don’t know why he says the things he does. I have no idea.
“My way of dealing with people is to always be objective and not go in with biases. All I know of him is what I have read in the newspaper, and the investigative report. And that doesn’t really tell me much. In fact, it leaves me a bit confused about who this person is.”
Cordell was already aware of the concerns about a mole in the IPA’s office by the time the Merc story hit the streets, having been tipped off by former local ACLU head Skyler Porras—one of Webby’s main sources.
The investigative report by attorney Mike Moye of Hanson Bridgett LLP states that Lopez told Webby straight up that he never received information on specific confidential complaints.
“Lopez makes clear that he received no confidential information from anyone on the IPA staff and that the news article was not accurate,” the report says on page 19.
Moye goes on to say that at the beginning and end of Lopez’s June 8 interview with Webby, Lopez told the reporter unequivocally that no confidential IPA information had been passed to him. The Mercury News has since reported that this exchange did not happen.
Lopez agreed to show up for a face-to-face interview for this article, but canceled the interview last week. He explained that in light of “the Pete Constant situation,” his lawyer has barred him from talking to the press.
“As you know most cops don’t like to give interviews,” Lopez said. “It’s the conception that we are going to be misquoted. And I can honestly tell you that I was.”
Lopez said he believes that the Mercury News is going to try and do everything it can to defend Webby’s reporting of the IPA spy story. “Otherwise, he’s toast.”
“I understand where they are coming from and what they were trying to do,” Lopez says, “but it doesn’t negate the fact that I didn’t do anything unethical, or anything wrong.”
San Jose District 1 Councilman Pete Constant, a retired police officer himself, says he believes Lopez is being untruthful.
“I talked to Sean [Webby] about it, and Sean told me that [Lopez] told him more than once. Sean said he even clarified with him what he meant. And now he’s completely recanting and saying something different.
“One can only assume one of two things: that he lied the first time, or he’s lying the second time, because they’re not the same story.
“It worries me whenever we have issues like that, because as a police officer, your credibility is you. He’s not just a police officer, he’s a police sergeant. That carries a lot of authority in our police department, and that concerns me.”
Lopez has still never named Stauffer as his source. That said, he has characterized his leaker as a “whistleblower” who let him know about potentially “unethical” practices being perpetrated by former IPA head Barbara Attard.
Cordell, who took over the IPA position in May, continues to refuse to comment further on Stauffer’s firing because it’s a “personnel matter.” She says that if Lopez is elected to become head of the POA again, she will not bring up this situation at all in their interactions.
“I have no interest whatsoever in why he said what he said, or why he does what he does,” Cordell repeated. “He can be helpful to me as leader of the POA by helping my office do the best that it can. I welcome that.”
Cordell points to her newly proposed officer-citizen mediation program as a solution to easing tensions between the community and police. She also just wants to get back to focusing on her job as IPA.
“I’m moving forward,” Cordell says. “There is no way I can operate by looking back. We did an investigation. Done. Life is short, and I have a lot of things I want to do here in this office.”
For his part, Lopez has his November election to think about. And apparently he has other concerns as well: before canceling his interview, he mentioned to Metro that his wife, Kathy, is “getting kind of pissed” at him for igniting this whole controversy in the first place.