SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A federal judge Monday indicated he will seek no further discipline against high-ranking Oakland police officials implicated in botching the initial investigation into the recent sex abuse scandal, despite concerns raised by civil rights attorneys that controversial promotions indicated a different standard for commanders than for low-level officers.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick, who took over the Oakland Police Department’s long-running reform case from Judge Thelton Henderson in August, said during a status conference Monday afternoon that he found further discipline in the case was unnecessary.
A dozen officers were disciplined in the scandal, which started with the suicide of Officer Brendan O’Brien in 2015 and eventually implicated numerous officers in departments across the Bay Area in sexual encounters with the underage daughter of a police dispatcher.
A report commissioned by the court and released in June found deep flaws in the investigation, including by the internal affairs and criminal investigations division. At the time, Deputy Chief John Lois was overseeing investigations and Lt. Roland Holmgren was overseeing homicide and would have been privy to the investigation into O’Brien’s suicide.
In May, police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, who had just taken over the department in March, promoted Lois to assistant chief and Holmgren to captain and put him in charge of criminal investigations.
At Monday’s hearing, Kirkpatrick said that she’d worked with retired Judge Wayne Brazil to question the officers in detail about their decision-making in the scandal. She hadn’t known about their role when she promoted them — the report hadn’t come out yet — but she concluded that she wouldn’t seek further discipline.
“Before I made those promotions I engaged in extensive due diligence,” she told the judge. “I was looking for men and women of good character.”
She said she conferred with rank and file police officers, the department’s command staff, the Oakland Police Officers Association, officials in City Hall and the two civil rights attorneys in the case, Jim Chanin and John Burris, before making her decision.
“These promotions were mine to make and I made them,” she said. “The willingness of these individuals to engage in true self-reflection and constructive problem solving reassured me that my decisions are sound.”
Chanin in particular was still troubled by the promotions but didn’t argue the point in detail because the judge indicated he’d already made up his mind.
“We just don’t see the individual responsibility being adjudicated the same way for command staff as it is for line officers,” Chanin said.
Burris also raised the possibility that there might be racial disparities for discipline within the department, that black officers might be punished for misconduct that white officers aren’t.
An attorney for the city suggested that there could be an audit to determine the consistency of discipline.
Moving forward with the case, the main issues will be the department’s continued efforts to reduce racial disparities in stops, searches and arrests as well as the renewed efforts to ensure that internal affairs is able to hold officers accountable.
Kimberly Bliss from the Oakland City Attorney’s Office outlined some of the recent reform efforts made using data collected and analyzed by Stanford University. Professor Susan Eberhardt has been analyzing stop data and body camera footage and even leading implicit bias trainings at the department.
One such study showed that officers spoke more respectfully in general when interacting with white people than black people. Because of this, the department has implemented new bias training but Bliss said it hasn’t provided individual training for officers based on their behavior in the study.
The reason for this, she said, is that the footage is about four years old so officers have changed positions since then. Instead, she said their plan is to conduct a new analysis with more recent footage to see how the training is going.
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