Chauncey Bailey Project

Articles on Editor’s Killing Made a Difference

Originally published in the New York Times:

When Chauncey Bailey, the editor of The Oakland Post, in California, was gunned down in broad daylight on a city street 18 months ago, it was not the end of his journalism. In some ways, it was a new beginning.

After his death, a group of reporters — some retired, some out of work — with support from foundations and the University of California, Berkeley, banded together to continue his investigation into a local business called Your Black Muslim Bakery and to look at any role the bakery may have played in Mr. Bailey’s murder and at the role of the police in its investigation.

The group, named The Chauncey Bailey Project, has had a deep impact on the city’s public life, broadcasting a jailhouse videotape that suggested a wider conspiracy in the murder and which the police seemingly ignored, and helping force the resignation of the Oakland police chief, Wayne Tucker.

The group has said that much of its work is done, but it says it will not shutter the operation completely until the investigation of Yusuf Bey IV, a son of the founder of the bakery, has been completed. Mr. Tucker suggested that an indictment was likely during a news conference after his resignation and that it would show a larger conspiracy in the murder of Mr. Bailey. Mr. Bey has denied culpability in the murder in an interview with one of the reporters on the project.

Rebecca Kaplan, a City Council member, publicly credited the group of reporters with airing the police’s dirty laundry.

“Even if everything was an honest mistake, the Chauncey Bailey case is shining a light on what we need to be looking at,” Ms. Kaplan said.

Robert Rosenthal, the executive director of the Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit organization based in Berkeley that became the headquarters for the project, said the participants came together in part as a result of the decimation of local media, which precluded large-scale investigative work.

“I think the issues of downsizing and economic turmoil are the catalyst for this,” said Mr. Rosenthal, a former editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Mr. Bailey had a place in Oakland newspaper lore not necessarily as a gifted reporter but for his ubiquity in the community and ear for neighborhood chatter. He was once fired from The Oakland Tribune for an ethical breach, but had another act as editor of The Oakland Post.

There, he began to look into Your Black Muslim Bakery, now defunct but once a prominent institution in the city’s black community. It sprouted in the late 1960s against the backdrop of the Black Power movement and was once praised for giving jobs to young African-Americans.

The bakery went bankrupt in 2006, leaving a wake of violence, an unpaid loan to the city of Oakland, problems with the Internal Revenue Service, and unrest. Its founder, Yusuf Bey, died in 2003. His son Yusuf Bey IV was briefly the leader of the organization, but now sits in jail, charged with kidnapping, torture and carjacking. The charges are not related to the Bailey investigation.

On Aug. 2, 2007, Mr. Bailey was shot three times with a sawed-off shotgun as he walked to work after eating breakfast at McDonald’s. Days later, a former dishwasher at the bakery, Devaughndre Broussard, was charged with the murder.

The project formed in the fall of 2007. It modeled itself on The Arizona Project, which was created after the 1976 car-bomb murder of Don Bolles, an Arizona Republic reporter who had been writing about organized crime.

The reporters began by examining the bakery.

“Pretty soon, we found the bakery was a cesspool,” said Bob Butler, an independent journalist who was a longtime reporter for CBS Radio before he was laid off in 2006.

In a series of articles published last year in The Tribune, The Contra Costa Times and on KTVU-TV, a Bay Area television station, the journalists reported a longstanding relationship between the detective in charge of the Bailey case and the younger Mr. Bey, a connection first reported by The San Francisco Chronicle. It also found that the detective had not included in his case notes data from a tracking device on Mr. Bey’s car that showed him outside Mr. Bailey’s apartment the night before the murder, the articles said.

Mary Fricker, a retired reporter who had worked for 20 years at The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, pored over databases and old files and documented a pattern of sexual assault and misconduct by the founder of the bakery. She joined the project, even though she lives two hours north of Oakland in wine country, and spent many nights on a colleague’s couch.

“Could the local media have done this story? No, especially because it came at a time when local media was imploding,” Ms. Fricker said.

The pivotal point for the project occurred on an afternoon last spring. Over a sushi lunch in a downtown Oakland restaurant, a source slipped Thomas Peele, a reporter for The Bay Area News Group, a videotape.

The tape, secretly recorded by the police, showed Yusuf Bey IV sitting with associates in a jailhouse room, bragging about being a part of Mr. Bailey’s murder. First reported by The San Francisco Chronicle, the tape raised critical questions — still unanswered — about why the police had not charged Mr. Bey in the murder.

The reporting also led to a number of investigations by agencies outside Oakland. The Bailey murder case has been taken from the Oakland police and turned over to the Alameda County district attorney’s office. Jerry Brown, the California attorney general, is investigating the way police handled the case.

More recently, the Federal Bureau of Investigation stepped in to investigate allegations raised by the project that the chief of internal affairs at the department had beaten a drug suspect, who later died. The project also reopened a decades-old murder case in Santa Barbara, Calif., where a precursor to the bakery operated in the 1960s.

Last month, Chief Tucker, the head of Oakland’s police, announced he would step down, in part as a result of the handling of the Bailey murder investigation.

“We made mistakes on that case,” he said at a news conference, and acknowledged that Yusuf Bey IV is “the one we want” to complete the case.

Reporters involved in the project gently point out that they have pushed the inquiry further than Mr. Bailey might have.

Mr. Bailey, who was posthumously named Journalist of the Year by the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for his “fierce commitment to investigative journalism in the face of personal danger,” was not regarded as an investigative journalist. He had written a draft of an article on the bakery, but it had been killed because its reporting was subpar, according to Paul Cobb, the publisher of The Oakland Post.

“There’s been more scrutiny of the Oakland Police Department because of his death than he ever would have accomplished at The Oakland Post,” Mr. Peele said.

Martin Reynolds, the editor of The Oakland Tribune and an executive with The Bay Area News Group, the paper’s parent company, has been heartened by the strong reaction to the project.

“The response from our readers has shown that the best way to preserve our relevance is through investigative reporting,” said Mr. Reynolds, who has steadily cut his own company’s newsrooms. “It’s what we can still do better than anyone else.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 26, 2009
An article on Monday about the Chauncey Bailey Project, a collaboration of journalists that has been investigating the murder of an Oakland newspaper editor, referred incorrectly in some editions to the source of a jailhouse videotape of the suspect that was slipped to Thomas Peele, one of the reporters on the project. While Mr. Peele did not identify the source by name, he also did not say a police source gave it to him.

In addition, the article may have left the incorrect impression that the Chauncey Bailey Project was the only news organization investigating Mr. Bailey’s death. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the existence of the videotape before the project acquired that tape and broadcast it; the project did not first report the tape’s existence. And while the project reported on a relationship between the suspect and a detective on the case, The Chronicle established that connection and reported details of it. The Chauncey Bailey Project did not first report the suspect’s relationship with the detective.

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