Written by Associated Press
(AP) — Oakland city leaders renewed their pledges to straighten out the troubled police department after a court-appointed investigator concluded they mishandled a teenager’s allegations that she was sexually exploited by officers.
Mayor Libby Schaaf agreed Wednesday with the investigator’s conclusions that she didn’t pay enough attention to the investigation of the police department. She said her focus shifted in December and January to a warehouse fire that killed three dozen people and to finding a new police chief.
In a court filing, investigator Ed Swanson put most of the blame for the bungled probe on former Police Chief Sean Whent, who resigned under pressure last year.
Swanson said Whent appeared disinterested in the case from the start and his attitude set the tone for the rest of the department.
Whent told investigators he “misread” O’Brien’s suicide note and a lieutenant’s email message that the case was being sent to internal affairs. Whent said he did not grasp the importance of the note and email, an excuse Swanson called “not credible” in his report.
Whent failed to notify the mayor, district attorney and the federal judge about the suicide note and internal affairs investigation. Swanson said it is unclear why Whent downplayed the case.
The chief retired under pressure in June 2016 after news of the scandal emerged. His phone rang unanswered Wednesday after the report was released.
Swanson also said investigators dismissed the victim’s claims because she worked as a prostitute.
“We agree that tone comes from the top,” said Schaaf, who recently announced plans to seek a second 4-year term as mayor in 2018. “That’s why we set out to find a new chief.”
She swore in Chief Anne Kirkpatrick on March. 1.
City administrator Sabrina Landreth said she agreed that investigation took too long to conclude, but she said city officials didn’t want to interfere with the criminal prosecutions of the officers.
Four officers were fired and face criminal charges. Eight others were disciplined.
Swanson, the investigator, was appointed by a federal judge who oversees the troubled department as part of a 2002 settlement of a civil rights lawsuit. Swanson has no authority to order changes in the department, but the judge does. Swanson recommended a number of training reforms and policy changes, including involving the district attorney in internal investigations of officers under criminal suspicion and consulting the city attorney.
The department implemented many court-ordered reforms during Whent’s three years as chief and was close to shedding the court oversight when officer Brendan O’Brien killed himself in 2015. O’Brien in his suicide note denied having sex with the victim despite her claims that he did.
O’Brien also implicated several officers who he said had sex with the girl.
“It’s a pretty devastating report,” said lawyer John Burris, who represents the victim and is the lead attorney on the 2002 civil rights case that led to court oversight. “I thought the department was making real progress.”
The court oversight began after the city settled with 119 plaintiffs, all but one African-American, who were paid $10.5 million after four rogue officers allegedly beat and planted evidence on them.
Criminal investigators initially closed their probe after a strained, two-hour interview with the victim, who gave muddled and conflicting accounts. During that interview, they watched her delete messages on her phone sent by officers.
Swanson’s report also faulted police internal affairs investigators for lackluster work. The victim was interviewed once on the phone. And two officers implicated by the victim were considered witnesses, rather than targets.
One of those officers said he was mentoring the victim to get her out of prostitution, but then admitted he texted her a photograph of his penis.
The city paid the victim almost $1 million to settle her legal claims.