Oakland sex scandal: Judge says city must respond to report within two months or face sanctions
Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson, City Administrator Sabrina Landreth, Mayor Libby Schaaf and police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, from left, leave after a federal hearing at the Phillip Burton Federal Building and United States Courthouse in San Francisco, Calif., on Monday, July 10, 2017. Schaaf, Kirkpatrick and Landreth attended the hearing to respond to criticism over the police department’s handling of an underage sex scandal case. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
OAKLAND — In the wake of a hearing Monday, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson on Wednesday ordered the city of Oakland to file a detailed response to a court-commissioned report critical of the police department’s handling of a sexual misconduct case or else face possible sanctions or contempt of court proceedings.
Henderson, who oversees Oakland police’s federal reform program, gave the city a deadline of September 15. The judge’s order was filed two days after top Oakland city and police officials were summoned to a San Francisco courtroom to explain what they are doing to get the police department back on track in the aftermath of a June 21 report by attorneys Edward Swanson and Audrey Barron.
Swanson and Barron concluded that OPD’s top brass, including then-Police Chief Sean Whent, failed to thoroughly investigate claims of officer sexual misconduct with a teenager detailed in a September 2015 suicide note by Officer Brendan O’Brien. O’Brien wrote that fellow officers were sexually involved with the girl, previously known as Celeste Guap. She is the daughter of a police dispatcher.
The attorneys wrote that investigators did not take the victim’s statements seriously: the Criminal Investigation Division closed its inquiry into the matter after one week; Internal Affairs recommended only one officer face discipline; and Chief Whent pressured the internal affairs commander to close the case.
For six months, from September 2015 to March 2016, no one at OPD informed the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office or the federal monitor about the case, the lawyers wrote. Henderson hired Swanson and Barron to conduct the investigation.
Kim Bliss of the Oakland City Attorney’s Office told Henderson on Monday that the city is committed to investigating the identified failures. Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, who joined the department in January 2017, echoed that commitment at the hearing.
“I appreciate that Mr. Swanson and Ms. Barron did say that all of these failings are repairable,” the chief said. “I am not only committed to repairing the errors of the sex scandal but I am committed to compliance and most importantly I’m committed to a sustainable future.”
The scandal and subsequent criminal prosecution of four former and current Oakland officers could prolong the city’s federal reform program. What was supposed to be a seven-year program stemming from a civil lawsuit over the Riders police misconduct scandal of 2000 — in which officers allegedly beat and planted drugs on residents — is now in its 14th year.
Henderson’s order requires the city to analyze the failings of its investigation outlined in the Swanson and Barron’s report, and use their investigation “as an opportunity to create necessary cultural change.”
“For any changes not yet fully implemented, the city shall include a timeline for implementation, as well as a list of responsible persons who may, if warranted, be subject to contempt proceedings or other sanctions for any missed deadlines,” the judge wrote.
City officials are ordered to appear in court on Oct. 2 in front of Judge William H. Orrick III, who is replacing Henderson upon his retirement in August.