OAKLAND (CBS SF) — In a hastily-called news conference Friday evening, Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf dropped some bombshells.
“As the mayor of Oakland I am here to run a police department, not a frat house,” Schaaf said as she revealed a new scandal rocking the beleaguered police department. She denounced the department’s “toxic, macho culture” and vowed to root out “the bad apples.”
Schaaf announced that acting chief Paul Figueroa has stepped down from his position as the city’s top cop after just two days on the job, making him the third person to do so in the past eight days. An unspecified number of officers are now under investigation for sending and receiving racist text messages.
Figueroa was assistant chief but will return to the police department in as captain.
“He has gone on leave and has asked to return, as is his right, to the position of captain,” Schaaf said.
The mayor said she is not appointing another acting chief and instead will have the command staff of the department report to the city administrator, Sabrina Landreth.
“I feel this is an appropriate time to place civilian oversight over this police department,” she said.
“I want to assure the citizens of Oakland that we are hell-bent on rooting out this disgusting culture and holding those responsible accountable for their misdeeds,” Schaaf said.
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Schaaf was asked repeatedly for details about the investigation and the officers involved, but said that she was not at liberty to disclose that information under state law.
“At this time, I don’t want to share any information that would impede my ability to achieve the strongest discipline possible against the officers involved,” she replied.
The racist text allegations come after allegations of sexual misconduct between several Oakland police officers and the underage daughter of a police dispatcher that have rocked the department in recent months.
Schaaf said the number of officers involved is not as widespread as those involved in the sex scandal, but cautioned that the investigation was ongoing. One of the officers under investigation in the text scandal has been placed on leave, she said.
Some of the officers being investigated were “engaging in hate speech,” and others were “tolerating it” by receiving offensive messages and not reporting them, Schaaf said.
Former chief Sean Whent resigned on June 9 and interim Chief Ben Fairow was fired on Wednesday by Schaaf.
“This matter is not related to Chief Figueroa that I know of at this time,” Schaaf said. “It is also not related to the sex scandal.”
Figueroa’s dismissal marks the third time in a week the Oakland police department has suddenly jettisoned its top cop.
On Wednesday, interim Oakland police chief Ben Fairow’s was dismissed by Mayor Schaaf, with evidence indicating an extramarital affair that happened more than a decade ago may have led to the move.
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.
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 department, where he rose to the rank of captain before joining BART five years ago, and said he had “a good reputation.”
On Wednesday, Schaaf said she wanted Figueroa to return to being assistant chief.
The sudden changes in department leadership represent a formidable challenge facing the OPD 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.
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