OAKLAND (CBS SF) — One of the Oakland Police Department’s most highly decorated veteran officers alleged Tuesday that top police and city officials retaliated against him for suspecting that rookie Officer Brendan O’Brien killed his wife in 2014.
Sgt. Mike Gantt, who has worked for the department for 27 years and has won more than a dozen awards, said the retaliation began after he joined other officers in investigating the death of Irma Huerta-Lopez, who died of gunshot wounds at the home she shared with O’Brien in the 8000 block of Greenridge Drive in the Oakland hills on June 16, 2014.
Oakland police ruled that Huerta-Lopez’s death was a suicide. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf asked the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office to conduct an independent review and on July 25, it backed up the Police Department’s conclusion, saying that the police investigation was conducted “professionally and thoroughly.”
O’Brien killed himself at the couple’s home on Sept. 25, 2015, and the District Attorney also said the police investigation concluding that his death was a suicide was also conducted properly.
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But Gantt, who spoke at a news conference Tuesday at the office of veteran Oakland attorney and one-time mayoral candidate Dan Siegel, said in his claim that his “review of the evidence at the scene and his interview with Officer O’Brien led him to reasonably conclude that the death of Ms. Huerta-Lopez was potentially a homicide and that Officer O’Brien should be viewed as a suspect in his wife’s death.”
However, Gantt said former Sgt. Caesar Basa, who was his homicide unit partner and is now an inspector with the district attorney’s office, interrupted him, spoke to former Lt. John Lois, who’s now a deputy chief, and Lois removed him from the investigation.
In his claim, Gantt said he “believes that he was removed from the investigation to avoid a finding that Officer O’Brien had killed his wife.”
Gantt said at the news conference that he thinks that if O’Brien had killed his wife, his motive was that she was mad at him because she had found out that he was dating another woman.
Gantt said that in July 2014, about a month after he was taken off the Huerta-Lopez investigation, several homicide inspectors improperly obtained and viewed his confidential personnel records. When he complained about the misconduct, no action was taken against the people involved.
In August 2014, he asked to be transferred out of the homicide unit because of the “harassment” he was experiencing, he said.
Gantt said that in April, former Police Chief Sean Whent placed him on administrative leave as a result of a domestic dispute he had with his wife but no one was injured in the incident and neither wished to seek charges against the other.
However, the claim alleges, “The city of Oakland has failed and refuses to complete that investigation, leaving Sgt. Gantt in limbo while depriving him of a major portion of his compensation,” since his pay while he’s on administrative leave is much less than his regular pay.
Gantt said he’s also upset that Mayor Schaaf and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth held a news conference in June about an officer, later disclosed to be Gantt, on leave for having his girlfriend help him prepare transcripts or recordings in important homicide cases.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office said on June 23 that its investigation found that Gantt hadn’t engaged in any criminal misconduct because he hadn’t shared any confidential police documents with his girlfriend.
Siegel said he thinks Oakland officials disclosed the investigation into Gantt to “distract attention” from a police sexual misconduct scandal in which the teenage daughter of an Oakland police dispatcher allegedly had sex with officers in Oakland and many other cities.
The teen has filed multi-million dollar claims against the cities of Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco, and Livermore, and Alameda County. Five officers have been criminally charged and other officers have been fired in the ongoing scandal.
O’Brien allegedly was involved with the teenage woman. Police haven’t disclosed the contents of his suicide note except to say that information in it prompted them to begin investigating the sexual misconduct scandal.
Defense attorney Michael Cardoza, who represents Oakland Officer Giovanni LoVerde, who’s charged with felony oral copulation with a minor, said recently that he has seen O’Brien’s note. In it, he said he killed himself because the teen was falsely threatening to accuse him of having sex with her while she was a minor, Cardoza said.
Gantt told reporters, “I’m just tired of being made out to be the bad guy and the scapegoat.”
He displayed about a dozen of his awards on a conference table in Siegel’s office, including the “Top Cop” award from the National Association of Police Organizations in 2001, four medals of merit from the Oakland Police Department, the runner-up officer of the year award from the Oakland Police Officers Association and the Oakland Captain’s Certification of Commendation.
Gantt said he wouldn’t engage in any misconduct “because my reputation is on the line” and said all of the homicide cases he’s presented to the district attorney’s office have resulted in successful prosecutions.
Siegel said he expects the city of Oakland to deny Gantt’s claim and when that happens, he’ll fill a lawsuit against the city, Schaaf, Landreth, Assistant Police Chief David Downing and Lois.
Siegel said the claim seeks to clear Gantt’s name and “bring to light what’s going on in the Police Department.”
In an odd juxtaposition, Gantt and Siegel were joined at the news conference by several members of the Anti-Police Terror Project, an anti-police group.
Cat Brooks, the group’s co-founder, said the group believes the Oakland Police Department “has a long and bloody history of corruption and misbehavior” and alleged that Mayor Schaaf “is upholding that behavior.”
Brooks said when the police sexual misconduct scandal came to light, Schaaf “feigned shock and awe that such behavior could occur at the Oakland Police Department” but said the mayor shouldn’t have been surprised and should do more to address what she said are the department’s “deep and wide problems.”
The mayor’s spokeswoman Erica Derryck said in a statement, “We are legally prohibited from disclosing personnel information about any police officer and we do not comment on pending litigation.”
Derryck said, “Given the city of Oakland’s firm commitment to holding officers to the highest ethical and professional standards, we expect that some officers will exercise their right to challenge discipline actions.”
She said, “There is a clearly defined legal process for handling these claims and we welcome the opportunity to present the full set of facts.”
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