OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Evidence indicates an extramarital affair that happened more than a decade ago may have led to interim Oakland Police Chief Ben Fairow’s dismissal from the position by Mayor Libby Schaaf Wednesday.
For the second time in less than a week, the Oakland Police Department has suddenly jettisoned its chief at the behest of the mayor.
Schaaf on Wednesday abruptly announced the replacement of after deciding his appointment to temporarily lead the department was a mistake.
In a press release issued early Wednesday afternoon, Schaaf said that Fairow had been hired as interim chief as “an individual who understood the dynamics in Oakland and who, based on his previous employment with OPD, could hit the ground running.”
“However, I have just received information that has caused me to lose confidence in Ben Fairow’s ability to lead the Oakland Police Department at this particular moment in time,” the press release stated.
In the statement, Schaaf said, “State law prohibits me from further elaborating on the specific factors that led to this decision.”
Fairow will be replaced by Assistant Chief Paul Figueroa, according to the Mayor
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Figueroa “will temporarily serve as Acting Police Chief effective immediately while we identify an Interim Chief and conduct a national search to fill the role of Chief permanently,” according to the press release.
The mayor continued by saying the decision to appoint Fairow was a mistake.
“I made the decision to appoint Ben Fairow, I also own the decision to remove him,” Schaaf said. “I firmly believe that when you make a mistake, you need to own it, and act quickly to correct it.”
At a Wednesday afternoon press briefing, the mayor said, “I need to be confident that our chief is 100 percent effective in making cultural changes” in the way that the department operates.
Schaaf admitted that “the process was very rapid” when she hired Fairow in the wake of Whent’s departure and said, “I own the mistake and I’m not trying to hide.”
Schaaf said she had worked with Fairow during his 21 years with the Oakland Police Department, where he rose to the rank of captain before joining BART five years ago, and said he had “a good reputation.”
The mayor said she wants to bring in someone from outside of Oakland to serve as interim chief while she conducts a search for a permanent chief but said she won’t rush to bring in an interim chief.
Schaaf said she wants Figueroa to return to being assistant chief because “I like the current command structure” in the department.
Schaaf said she expressed her concerns to Fairow on Tuesday and said he was “very professional in his understanding of the situation” when she told him that she was firing him.
Fairow is set to return to his position as Deputy Chief with the BART Police Department.
Schaaf was clear when she spoke that she could not and would not talk about the reasons behind Fairow’s firing.
“I want to begin by reminding everyone that California law prohibits me from discussing personnel information regarding a police officer, and that law extends to police chiefs,” said Schaaf.
Struggling with the current sex scandal within the police department, Schaaf stated she had no choice but to make the move.
“We are dealing with disgusting allegation that upset me greatly, and I believe that the leadership at this time is critical in order to rebuild confidence that the culture of this department does not tolerate unethical behavior, sexual misconduct or lying,” said Schaaf. “These things are very important to me.”
While Fairow did not speak to the media, his current boss may have revealed to the reason behind his ouster.
BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey released a statement welcoming Fairow back Wednesday evening.
“The BART Police Department welcomes back Deputy Chief Ben Fairow to his role commanding the Support Services Division,” the statement read.
It continued, “We are confident in Deputy Chief Fairow’s ability to fulfill his important role, and we are confident in our due diligence in hiring Ben Fairow in 2011. We did a thorough background check on Ben at that time.
Ben has shared information with me that, while he was married, he had a personal relationship with a consenting adult more than a decade ago, none of which precludes him from serving as a sworn law enforcement officer or as one of my Deputy Chiefs.”
Addition sources have corroborated that the extramarital affair was what spurred Fairow’s dismissal by Schaaf after less than a week on the job.
The sudden change in department leadership is just the latest challenge facing the force in the wake of a sex scandal involving an underage prostitute who goes by the name Celeste Guap and numerous officers.
Last week, Police Chief Sean Whent abruptly resigned from his position. While Schaaf maintained that the chief had stepped down for his own reasons, skeptics including local news reporters and city politicians speculated his departure was connected to the scandal.
Earlier this week, a Contra Costa County sheriff’s deputy became the most recent law enforcement official to be placed on leave in connection to the sex scandal, joining the five Oakland police officers already on administrative leave.
A number of Richmond police officers are also being investigated by their department in connection with Guap.
City Councilman Larry Reid, who’s been on the council since 1997 and previously served as chief of staff under former Mayor Elihu Harris, said after Schaaf’s news conference, “I have never experienced anything like what the city of Oakland is going through now.”
Reid said he and other council members “are trying to figure out what’s going on” but state confidentiality laws have prevented Schaaf and her staff from briefing them about everything that’s going on in the Police Department.
“It’s very frustrating,” he said.
Reid said he’s heard the information about Fairow’s past that led Schaaf to fire him but said he’s not at liberty to disclose that information.
“If it’s true, it’s troublesome to me,” he said.
Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris, whose misconduct lawsuit against the Police Department led to a 2003 federal court settlement that mandated reforms that the department still hasn’t completely complied with, said he was “stunned” to learn about Fairow’s departure.
Referring to the turnover in the department’s leadership, Burris said, “This is musical chairs.”
He added, “This is a terrible day in Oakland.”
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