Oakland's police chief apologizes for misconduct scandal
Posted July 10
SAN FRANCISCO — Oakland's new police chief apologized Monday in federal court for a sexual misconduct scandal involving a teenage prostitute and vowed to clean up the city's troubled police department.
"This is repairable," Anne Kirkpatrick told U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson.
Henderson oversees the department as part of a 2003 settlement of an unrelated police corruption case, and he had previously ordered the department to make a number of reforms.
He said Monday that it appeared the department was ready to shed court oversight until he was told in May 2016 of a shoddy, cursory internal affairs investigation into a teenage prostitute's relationship with several officers. He said he would now order more court oversight, which will require the department to report more frequently to the court.
Henderson will issue a written ruling later.
Civil rights attorney Jim Chanin and John Burris, who filed the police corruption lawsuit in 2000, urged the judge to order a deeper investigation and to punish any top police officials found to have played a role in bungling the investigation.
So far, four officers have been charged criminally and four punished internally. No top official has been disciplined aside from former chief Sean Whent, who was forced to resign in June 2016 for his mishandling of the case.
Assistant city attorney Otis McGee told the judge the department agreed with the findings of a court-appointed investigator that police mishandled the case from its start and that top officials failed to inform the mayor, district attorney and judge until eight months later.
The department will adopt the nine recommendations made by the court-appointed investigator on new policies and training procedures when a police officer becomes a suspect in a crime, McGee said.
The judge said the case was "extremely troubling" and "severely mishandled," but said he was optimistic that te department can repair its tarnished reputation under its new chief.
Henderson is retiring at the end of the month and the case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge William Orrick III.
Mayor Libby Schaaf attended the hearing but didn't speak. Outside court, she said she wants the police department to be "self-examining" and "self-correcting."
She and the chief declined to answer questions of whether any command staff officers were facing discipline for their roles in the bungled investigation that started with officer Brendan O'Brien's suicide in September 2015.
O'Brien discussed his relationship with the teenage daughter of a dispatcher in his suicide note and said several other officers were involved with the woman who worked as a prostitute.
Lawyer Ed Swanson, the court-appointed investigator, concluded that the internal affairs investigation was deeply flawed and superficial and that high-ranking police officials downplayed allegations that several of their subordinates had sexually exploited the teenage prostitute, including when she was 17 years old.
Swanson said detectives treated the victim like a suspect in their only interview with her and that no officers were disciplined. Swanson placed most of the blame on the chief, who he said appeared disinterested in the case and failed to notify the judge, mayor or district attorney about the investigation.
Swanson also faulted the mayor for not keeping close tabs on the internal affairs investigation at the end of last year. Schaaf said a Dec. 2 fire that killed 36 people in an Oakland warehouse and the search for a new police chief briefly took her attention away from the investigation.
The city has paid the victim almost $1 million to settle her legal claims against the police department.
The Associated Press doesn't generally identify victims of sexual abuse.