What in the Actual F*ck Is Going On with the Oakland Police Department?
Tom Cahill | June 20, 2016
Today’s story out of Oakland, California, is like The Wire meeting Game of Thrones. Except that fiction can never be this unbelievable — or as grim.
The Oakland Police Department has gone through three police chiefs in less than ten days in the midst of a potential murder cover-up, child trafficking scandal, and racist texting scandal. The scandal tearing the OPD apart at the seams isn’t a “sex scandal” involving an “underage prostitute,” as local media have described it. Rather, the OPD is destroying itself with a “toxic, macho culture” rooted deep in the force. And those are the mayor’s words.
As of this writing, the eighth largest city in California has no police chief and won’t have one for the foreseeable future. The quickest rundown of how one of the nation’s most corrupt police forces started devouring itself alive is this viral series of tweets from journalist Aura Bogado:
Oakland police officer accused of killing wife, OPD accused of covering up a murder
In June of 2014, Irma Huerta Lopez, the wife of Oakland police officer Brendan O’Brien, reportedly committed suicide in her apartment. Her sister, Paulina Huerta, told the East Bay Express that Lopez’s entire family was suspicious of the circumstances around Irma’s death, accusing O’Brien of killing his wife. Lopez was killed with her husband’s off-duty gun, and two shots were fired.
“Why were there two shots if she killed herself?” Huerta said.
The Express also reported that no gun residue was found on Lopez’s hands, and speculated over whether OPD mishandled evidence to cover up a potential murder:A sheriff’s department detective covered Huerta Lopez’s hands with paper bags and ordered an OPD crime scene technician to gather evidence to test for gunshot residue, which would indicate she fired the pistol that killed her. It’s unclear if OPD conducted the gunshot residue test.
Huerta Lopez’s coroner’s report, however, noted that there was no visible gunshot residue on her hands. There is no mention of whether O’Brien’s hands were ever swabbed or tested for traces of gunshot residue in the report.
Paulina Huerta told the Express that the OPD never released Lopez’s personal property to the family, including the cellphone she was using the night of her sudden death. The family was also never given a copy of the police department’s autopsy report on Lopez’s body, despite multiple requests. Huerta became further convinced that her sister was murdered when learning the details of her sister’s final moments:According to Huerta Lopez’s coroner’s report, O’Brien and his wife had been shopping earlier in the evening. They returned home, but got into an argument. O’Brien told responding officers that he had last seen his wife alive fifteen minutes prior to going to a local gas station near the residence, and that, when he returned to his apartment at 10:52 p.m., he “found his wife unresponsive on the bed” with a gunshot wound to the head.
Oakland police officer’s suicide unveils child sex trafficking scandal
In September of 2015, Officer O’Brien killed himself in his apartment and left a suicide note spilling all the details on how he and his OPD colleagues had multiple trysts with an underage sex trafficking victim, who was revealed by local media as Celeste Guap.
In several Facebook posts, Guap confirmed that Officer O’Brien had sex with her, even before she turned 18, making him complicit in statutory rape. Guap told the Express that she had sex with 14 Oakland police officers (three while she was underage), three Richmond police officers (including a lieutenant and a sergeant), and four Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies “as a form of protection” from law enforcement.
“I think cops are fine. They’re cute and all, but it’s like one less officer that’s gonna arrest me,” Guap told the Express.
In March of this year, US District Judge Thelton Henderson condemned the OPD for mishandling the sexual misconduct inquiry. Henderson handed the investigation over to independent police monitor Robert Warshaw, questioning the OPD’s ability to conduct a thorough investigation of its own officers.
OPD officer Luis Roman, who had sex with Guap after she turned 18, met her through fellow officer Giovanni LoVerde. In explicit text messages obtained by the Express, Roman solicited nude pictures of Guap while on duty:
Terryl Smith, another officer who had sex with Guap, leaked undercover operations to her, even sharing police reports and criminal records, which is a violation of department policy.
“He frequently tipped me off to stings,” Guap told the Express. “He’d be like, ‘Don’t go out there’s an undercover operation tonight.”
One officer that Guap had saved as “Superman” in her phone, who never disclosed his name to her, was outed by the Express as Brian J. Bunton, who has been on the force for a little over a year. In another thread of text messages shared with the Express, Officer “Superman” warned Guap to stay away from a prostitution sting:
After this news surfaced, the City of Oakland dismissed police chief Sean Whent, at first claiming he was resigning for “personal reasons.” However, it was later revealed that Whent, a 19-year OPD veteran who led the department’s internal affairs division for years, knew that Guap had multiple sexual relationships with his officers while she was underage.
Guap, whose mother is a police dispatcher for OPD, had tried coming forward to law enforcement, telling both officers and sergeants, along with Whent’s wife, about her underage trysts, to no avail. Warshaw, OPD’s independent monitor put in place by a federal court, ordered Whent’s resignation after it was revealed he knew about Officer O’Brien’s relationship with a child sex trafficking victim.
Whent was replaced by BART Police Deputy Chief Benson Fairow, who was meant to serve as an interim chief while a national search was conducted for a full-time replacement. But less than a week later, Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf fired Fairow for undisclosed reasons, saying that she wasn’t legally allowed to share the details of his dismissal.
Fairow was replaced by OPD Assistant Chief Paul Figueroa — the same officer who shot Occupy Oakland protester and Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen in the face with a tear gas canister — who would go on to resign two days later.
Racist text messaging scandal and detective scandal follow child sex trafficking scandal
Figueroa’s resignation came on the heels of explosive revelations that a high-ranking OPD officer sent racist text messages to multiple officers. NBC Bay Area obtained several of the texts, sent by Trevelyon Jones, who is listed in the City of Oakland employee directory as “Lieutenant of Police” with the OPD’s Internal Affairs department.
High-level misconduct within OPD didn’t stop at child sex trafficking or racist texts, either. The OPD’s incompetency was exposed yet again with the news of the department’s lead homicide detective sharing private department investigations with his girlfriend. Sergeant James Michael Gantt, who joined OPD in 1988, allowed his girlfriend to write up homicide reports, giving her access to sensitive investigative files.
The Express reports that Gantt left the case file for the 2013 murder of local woman Judy Salomon at his girlfriend’s house. After Gantt’s girlfriend discovered Gantt was married, she posted a photo of the case file to social media and called OPD to tell them about his long history of allowing her to write his paperwork. The defendants accused in the Salomon murder still have yet to be tried, with court appearances both today and next month.
Attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin are now fighting to have the OPD’s training and recruitment processes taken over by federal authorities, citing the multiple scandals as justification to strip OPD of control in who it hires and how it trains new officers.
The City of Oakland fights back against a citizen uprising
As news of the scandals spreads across the Bay Area, the Oakland activist community has been staging frequent protests at OPD headquarters. Several days ago, protesters hung a banner accusing the OPD of being guilty of human trafficking and statutory rape:
AJ+ ✔ @ajplus
BREAKING: Amid a sex trafficking scandal involving Oakland police, activists have hung this outside the dept:
4:49 PM - 17 Jun 2016
Protesters are also donning bloody rags and standing outside department headquarters with signs saying “If you knew, your hands are bloody too,” “We have the right to know their names” and “Jail predator cops.”
.@aptpresponse calls out OPD for being guilty on all charges: child trafficking, rape, murder and a cover up.
8:05 PM - 18 Jun 2016
In response to the community outrage, the Oakland police union issued a statement distancing itself from the scandals, claiming that the “blemish” of multiple scandals shouldn’t be an indictment of the entire police force:
Darwin BondGraham @DarwinBondGraha
Oakland police union statement regarding scandals, turmoil.
7:32 PM - 18 Jun 2016
Dan Kalb and Noel Gallo, two members of the Oakland City Council, responded by introducing a proposal for a ballot measure that would establish a new, independent police commission that would have complete authority over the OPD, including disciplinary authority for rank-and-file officers, hiring and firing police chiefs, and having unfettered access to all police records.
However, other members of the council have tried repeatedly to stall the measure with parliamentary procedure in order to disqualify it from the 2016 ballot, as all ballot measures for this year’s elections must be approved by July 25. The final hearing for the ballot measure will be in early July, according to the East Bay Citizen. The Oakland Police Officers’ Association has vehemently opposed the ballot measure, saying it “eliminates due process rights available for generations.”
City council member Desley Brooks told the Citizen the multiple scandals within OPD show a lack of compassion toward city residents from Mayor Schaaf and City Hall.
“The administration is unable to look out for the residents of this city,” Brooks said.
While it’s clear the people of Oakland want an overhaul of their police department, it remains unclear whether or not the police department’s allies on the city council will succeed in preventing the ballot measure from making it to the November 8 ballot this year. However, given the breadth of the scandals and the outrage of the community, political retribution is likely for council members who are delaying the measure. Five of eight Oakland City Council seats are up for election this year, and Mayor Schaaf is up for reelection in 2018.
Tom Cahill is a writer for US Uncut based in the Pacific Northwest. He specializes in coverage of political, economic, and environmental news. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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