OAKLAND -- An Oakland schools police sergeant filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday claiming district leaders pressured him to change his statements about an incident in which his partner shot and killed a 20-year-old man outside a high school dance in 2011.
Additionally, the lawsuit alleges the district retaliated against Sgt. Jonathan Bellusa for filing written complaints against his superiors, including one charging that an Oakland schools police chief hurled racial slurs and threatened to kill officers in a drunken rant.
Lawyers for Bellusa announced the civil rights lawsuit against the district and outgoing Superintendent Anthony Smith in a news release issued Tuesday.
The suit centers around conflicting accounts of an incident on Jan. 22, 2011, in which Bellusa and Sgt. Barhin Bhatt conducted a traffic stop on 20-year-old Raheim Brown, who was parked with the car's hazard lights on, near a Skyline High School dance.
The stop quickly turned deadly. According to reports at the time, Bhatt said he saw Brown stabbing at Bellusa with a screwdriver; district officials later said Bellusa, the commanding officer, then ordered Bhatt to shoot Brown, fatally wounding him.
In his lawsuit, Bellusa said Superintendent Smith and General Counsel Jacqueline Minor interrupted his statements to police, and officials later tried to "coerce Bellusa to conform his testimony to the version proffered by Bhatt."
According to Bellusa's version, he was struggling over the screwdriver with Brown when Bhatt fired two shots at Brown, allowing Bellusa to move away from Brown and the screwdriver. Bhatt then reloaded and fired more bullets into Brown, the lawsuit says.
Though the Alameda County District Attorney's Office declined to file criminal charges and district lawyers said the action did not violate any policies or practices, the shooting of Brown was believed to be the impetus for a federal grand jury investigation. The U.S. Department of Justice notified the district about the investigation in May 2012.
The district has its own police force, which includes about a dozen sworn police officers patrolling the district's 100 schools.
Bellusa was put on medical leave in September 2011 and remains on unpaid administrative leave.
He claims he was a target for retaliation for filing a written complaint against then-Oakland Unified School District Police Chief Pete Sarna for a racist rant against fellow officers. Sarna later resigned.
District spokesman Troy Flint said district leaders did talk to Bellusa and Bhatt after the shooting in front of Oakland police department officers but in no way tried to influence their statements.
"Belussa is rather unscrupulously trying to claim whistleblower status to mask other issues related to his employment at the department," Flint said. "If this case goes to trial, which actually would be quite refreshing so the facts could come out, more detail would come out. Belussa himself has been known to engage in the behavior he is accusing Sarna of."
David DeBolt covers breaking news. Contact him at 510-262-2728.