Our Backyard: The Mayor vs. Police

Can Trish Spencer remain unbiased about Alameda police when her husband claims the department illegally targeted him?


Mayor Trish Spencer.

Chris Duffey/File photo

Joel Spencer, the husband of Mayor Trish Spencer, appears to be laying the groundwork for a lawsuit against Alameda and its police department. He claims that he and his wife are victims of an illegal conspiracy. And if he files a case, it will set up a situation in which he and, by extension, the mayor are essentially at war with the city she serves.

The clash stems from Joel’s March 17 arrest for alleged drunken driving. According to court documents, Alameda police stopped Spencer for speeding and driving through a stop sign. He was later booked into county jail on suspicion of DUI, and the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office filed a misdemeanor charge against him, saying his blood-alcohol level was 0.15 percent, or nearly twice the legal limit. He has pleaded not guilty.

Yet his arrest only became noteworthy after the mayor intervened in another incident involving the same cop who pulled over her husband. In September, Alameda Magazine published a news story noting that Trish Spencer often involves herself in the day-to-day operations of the city in apparent violation of Alameda’s City Charter.

Then on Sept. 16, Joel Spencer filed a notice of claim against the city—usually a precursor to a lawsuit—contending that police had no valid reason to pull him over, made “false/untruthful claims” about his behavior, and then repeated those claims to the media, “thus damaging his reputation and that of his family.” Spencer has yet to produce any evidence to back up his assertions.

Under conflict of interest laws, Trish Spencer must recuse herself from city council discussions concerning her husband’s claim and any potential lawsuit. As his spouse, she stands to financially benefit, or suffer, from the case.

But there’s also an argument to be made that the mayor should recuse herself from all matters involving Alameda police until this situation is resolved. After all, her husband is basically accusing police of illegally targeting him and falsifying evidence in order to embarrass them both. Those serious charges raise questions as to whether she can remain unbiased about the department and its employees.

Published online on Oct. 27, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

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