Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Grand Jury: Oakland City Council President Had Conflict of Interest, Violated Ethics Rules to Undermine Housing Project

Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney faces city censure.

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Jun 21, 2016 at 11:24 AM

Lynette Gibson McElhaney's home and the empty lot where a five-unit townhouse was planned for construction. - BERT JOHNSON
  • Bert Johnson
  • Lynette Gibson McElhaney's home and the empty lot where a five-unit townhouse was planned for construction.
Oakland City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney violated government ethics and conflict of interest rules when she used her council office resources to prevent a developer from building a townhouse project next to her Oakland home, according to the final report of the Alameda County Grand Jury that was issued today.

As the Express first reported in February 2015, a developer submitted a building application to the city in 2014 to build a five-unit townhouse project next to Gibson McElhaney's home. Gibson McElhaney and her husband opposed the project because they objected to multi-unit housing next to their home, and they did not like the architectural design of the townhouses.

According to the Grand Jury, "Shortly after submitting the building application on January 23, 2014, the property owner was contacted by the next-door neighbor who stated that his wife was an Oakland city councilmember and further stated that he and his wife would be working to stop the project if the design was not changed to their liking."

McElhaney then contacted Rachel Flynn, Oakland's director of planning and building and voiced her objections to the townhouse project. The Grand Jury investigation discovered that after speaking with Gibson McElhaney, Flynn visited the property and conducted her own review of the proposed design. Flynn attempted to change the design to Gibson McElhaney's liking. City staff said that Flynn's personal involvement was highly unusual.

But even after the developer made some changes to the project design per Flynn's recommendations, Gibson McElhaney and her husband filed an appeal and argued to the planning commission that the project shouldn't be approved.

The project became so bogged down that the owner and his architect appear to have given up. According to the Grand Jury: "The property was then listed for sale and as of the writing of this report, the project has not been built. The property owner is concerned that further battles with the city may occur while attempting to obtain permits and constructing the townhouse project."

The Grand Jury concluded that Gibson McElhaney had a conflict of interest for personal gain, and that she should not have used her official position to influence the planning and building department's staff.

"Here, the councilmember privately contacted a department head three levels above the staff person handling the project to register discontent with the project," the Grand Jury found. "This conduct directly violated ethics rules and alienated staff."

The Grand Jury also found that Gibson McElhaney used city resources to fight the housing project. She directed her chief of staff Zachary Wald to write her appeal against the project.

The Grand Jury also criticized the Oakland Public Ethics Commission for not investigating Gibson McElhaney and enforcing Oakland's applicable laws.

The City Council also was criticized by the Grand Jury for failing to censure Gibson McElhaney.

Gibson McElhaney did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. The Oakland Public Ethics Commission also did not return a phone call.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Residents Complain AC Transit Turning Downtown Oakland Park Into De Facto Bus Terminal

by Alex Barreira
Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 5:19 PM

Residents and business owners around Lafayette Square in Old Oakland are up in arms after many learned last week that their beloved park may soon become a de facto bus terminal.

Earlier this month, AC Transit announced a plan that would eliminate metered parking spaces along one side of the downtown park and replace them with a red curb for buses during layovers. The change would provide a resting plac
A proposal from AC Transit for Lafayette Square would surround three sides of the park with buses.
  • A proposal from AC Transit for Lafayette Square would surround three sides of the park with buses.
e for bus drivers in-between routes. The planned changes is part of AC Go, the department's largest service expansion in their history, which begins on June 26.

But some residents and shop owners say they were not given notice of the impending parking changes prior to this past Monday. Now, they’re concerned that buses will bring noise and air pollution to Lafayette Square and block sight lines into the park, which will reduce vigilance and increase crime.

According to neighbor Wes Radez, AC Transit told him that the decision to park buses at the park was made by staff only and without public feedback.

“They’re building a miniature Transbay Terminal in the middle of Oakland and they’re treating it like they’re removing a few parking meters,” he complained.

But AC Transit says it gave sufficient notice to several businesses and residents directly across from the affected parking spaces earlier this month. One side of Lafayette park, along 11th street, is already used as a bus layover, AC Transit spokesperson Robert Lyles noted.

“Before we activated any of this, it was legislated by our board. There was extensive outreach to the communities that would be affected,” Lyles explained.

According to the notice letter sent by AC Transit on June 7, the park was chosen in part for the presence of public restrooms available to bus drivers. There’s currently a bus stop at the corner of the park, along Martin Luther King Jr. Way, as well. But Ron Wolf, chairman of Old Oakland Neighbors, says he seldom sees it used.

“It’s maybe convenient for the bus drivers to go to bathroom while waiting for next bus to start, but there’s gotta be a better reason than that,” Wolf said.

While the park comes alive at times, such as on Earth Day, neighbors say it’s earned a troubled reputation as the site of crime and occasional drug deals. Some residents have grumbled that the city has done little to help relocate the homeless population that lives in the park.

“That park is not a good place,” Wolf said. “We’ve put thousands of man hours into making it viable.”

Those who live nearby have proposed moving the bus layover to an empty block in front of the long-mired construction site known as the “Shorenstein Pit.”

According to Lyles, a public-notice period for the plan will remain open through tomorrow, June 21, and no immediate action will be taken along Lafayette Park. He described the letter as a notice for public input, rather than an announcement of plans.

Residents remains skeptical that their communication with AC Transit will lead to a better solution. “What’s ultimately in place might be the best answer among a host of terrible answers,” Radez said. “But how on Earth do you know that if you don’t notify the community directly next to the place you’re going to affect?”

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Town Business: 'Delete' the Police Academy, Fund a Police Commission

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jun 20, 2016 at 7:24 AM

screen_shot_2016-06-20_at_7.26.30_am.png
Until a few weeks ago, the goal of reaching 800 Police Officers by 2017 was something both Oakland's mayor and city council could agree on. That's no longer the case.

Now it's likely that millions of dollars in the city's mid-cycle budget will be diverted away from hiring more cops. Instead, the new revenue will be spent on efforts to reform the Oakland Police Department, or fund social services.

Mayor Libby Schaaf's original mid-cycle budget adjustment released in May called for adding a 3rd police academy this year at a cost of $3.17 million. That was before Oakland burned through three police chiefs in a week, and before allegations and evidence surfaced that multiple OPD officers sexually exploited a minor.

OPD's recruitment and training programs have come under criticism for allowing men of poor character to join the force. Younger officers who joined OPD since 2013 appear to be responsible for much of the recent misconduct, including alleged sex crimes.

CITY OF OAKLAND.
  • City of Oakland.
Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Desley Brooks have responded to OPD's problems by proposing a budget adjustment that would simply "delete" the 3rd police academy and save the city $3.17 million. Under the councilmembers' proposal, this money would instead be spent on early childhood education, renters' rights education, neighborhood jobs centers, a homeless camp pilot program, and other social services.

The councilmembers' proposal also calls for capping police academies at 45 cadets "to improve the teacher to cadet ratio," so that when Oakland does re-start its police academy it's less likely that bad apples will make it through training.

Mayor Schaaf has devised her own response also. Her updated budget adjustments, released the day after Kaplan and Brooks filed their plan, includes funding increases for most of same social services asked for by Kaplan and Brooks.

Schaaf's revised budget adjustment is also calling for "delaying" the 3rd police academy until after May 2017. This would allow the city auditor and OPD's inspector general to complete their audit of OPD's recruitment and training practices to figure out's what's broken, and how it can be fixed.

Instead of funding a new police academy, Mayor Schaaf is now proposing to set aside $1.5 million for a police commission, pending approval by voters.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Everything You Need To Know About Oakland's Sex Crime Scandal and Firing of Three Police Chiefs in a Week

A complete rundown of all the Express' reports and investigations.

by Nick Miller
Sat, Jun 18, 2016 at 8:22 AM

cv_3836.jpg
News is flying about Oakland police's sexual misconduct and revolving door police-chief situation. So, here's a quick roundup of all of the East Bay Express' reporting by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston on OPD's explosive sex-crime and human-trafficking scandal, and also Mayor Libby Schaaf's unprecedented week of canning three police chiefs.

First, the Express blew the story wide open a week ago, on June 10, with this exposé on the firing of OPD chief Sean Whent. This was the first reporting to really lay out the scope of the Oakland police sex-crime scandal: the many officers from multiple agencies who slept with a teenaged sex worker, how the scandal extended to top police brass, how officers leaked the victim confidential information on undercover operations, how police leadership covered it all up, and why the mayor really fired former chief Whent. This piece also was the first media account to discredit Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf's claim that chief Whent resigned for "personal reasons." Whent was fired on the morning of June 10, and this story dropped that evening.

We followed this story up with a richer, narrative-driven piece on June 15, Badge of Dishonor: Top Oakland Police Department Officials Looked Away as East Bay Cops Sexually Exploited and Trafficked a Teenager

Less than a day after "Badge of Dishonor" was published, Oakland's mayor dismissed interim chief Ben Fairow after less than six days on the job, citing something in Fairow's past that made him unfit to lead OPD at this time. She tapped assistant OPD Assistant Chief Paul Figueroa as the next interim boss.

But then, yesterday, Mayor Schaaf fired Figueroa, the third police chief in a week to be removed.

Figueroa's firing came just hours after the Express broke a story that a top OPD detective was put on leave and is being investigated for making his girlfriend file his police reports, even giving her access to sensitive and confidential murder-case documents.

Also this week, the two attorneys responsible for putting OPD under federal court oversight announced that they intend to pursue an effort to place the department's recruiting and training of officers in receivership. The Oakland Police Department would be the largest local law-enforcement agency in the state to lose local control if it heads down this path.

You can listen to Express reporters BondGraham and Winston discuss all this and more on radio here.

Meanwhile, it's little surprise that unions and electeds are turning against law enforcement, including the possible green-lighting of a tougher police commission ballot measure for this fall. For a while now, the city of Oakland has debated the best way to watch over its police department. City Hall has also worked to delay and obstruct any ballot measure making it to November.

Last month, the Express was the first to report that the Oakland police sex-crime scandal expanded to other Bay Area law-enforcement agencies.

This story began on May 12, when the Express linked reports of three officers on leave to Officer Brendan O'Brien, who committed statutory rape of the victim last year before committing suicide in September 2015.

The Express later showed how cops used social media to traffic the victim, who goes by the name Celeste Guap, among their ranks and with their buddies.

Keep checking EastBayExpress.com for more on the sex-crime and human-trafficking scandal, and pick up next week's issue for additional coverage.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Oakland Mayor: Police Culture is 'Toxic,' 'Macho,' and 'Disgusting'

Schaaf announces dismissal of third police chief this week.

by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston
Fri, Jun 17, 2016 at 8:55 PM

Protesters at the Oakland Police Department's headquarters on Friday, June 17. - ALI WINSTON
  • Ali Winston
  • Protesters at the Oakland Police Department's headquarters on Friday, June 17.
"We are hell bent on rooting out this disgusting culture," said a visibly angry Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf at a Friday evening press conference.

The conference was called to announce acting Police Chief Paul Figueroa's abrupt departure. Figueroa is the third OPD chief removed within the week.

Chief Whent was eliminated Thursday, June 9. BART Deputy Chief Ben Fairow replaced Whent a week ago. Fairow lasted only five days before being fired. Replacing Fairow was OPD Assistant Police Chief Paul Figueroa, appointed acting chief on June 15.

Figueroa will be demoted to captain.

This evening, Schaaf and Landreth dropped more bad news on a city that is already reeling from multiple police scandals: command-level officers are now being investigated for sending racist text messages. At least one officer has been placed on leave because of the racist texts.

Until a month ago OPD was a national model for police reform and appeared to be on the verge of completing a 13-year federal oversight program imposed after the Riders scandal. That's all in ashes.

Schaaf (right) and Landreth at City Hall on Friday, June 17. - ALI WINSTON
  • Ali Winston
  • Schaaf (right) and Landreth at City Hall on Friday, June 17.
"I'm running a police department, not a frat house," said Schaaf. The mayor said she intends to root out a "toxic macho culture" from the police department.

Schaaf declined to identify the officers who allegedly sent racist text messages, but they reportedly include commanders in the department.

Now OPD has no police chief.

City Administrator Sabrina Landreth is running the Oakland Police. "I feel this is an appropriate time to place civilian leadership over the department" said Schaaf.

For weeks, OPD has been careening out of control. Oakland now resembles Game of Thrones sans tunics, swords and dragons. New secrets emerge daily that undermine the legitimacy of the department's top leadership. On the streets, OPD's rank and file officers appear visibly ashamed. The city's political leaders seem to be unaware of the department's systemic problems.

A sign with the Latin phrase "Et tu, Brute?" was briefly posted in a locker room in OPD's administration building on the day of Fairow's ouster.

A photograph of Figueroa's face superimposed on a rat's body was circulating this week within OPD's social circles.

In response to a question from the Express, the mayor said she's hoping to not have to fire anyone else from OPD.

Landlord Being Sued for Allegedly Pushing Out SRO Tenants

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Jun 17, 2016 at 5:48 PM

524 8th Street. - DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • Darwin BondGraham
  • 524 8th Street.
The City of Oakland and housing rights attorneys filed a lawsuit today against real estate investors who recently purchased a downtown Oakland SRO. According to the lawsuit, the investors are trying to push low-income Chinese families out of a downtown Oakland SRO building.

Green Group, LP, an investment company, bought the building at 524 8th Street last year. In October 2015, James Kilpatrick, who helped Green Group purchase the building, and who owns a five percent stake in Green Group, told the San Francisco Business Times that he and his co-investors plan to upgrade the 38-unit SRO and rent it out to students and tech workers.

But Robert Salinas of the Sundeen Salinas & Pyle law firm told the Express Kilpatrick and his co-investors are trying to push out the building’s tenants. Salinas said that his law firm, along with Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker and the Asian Law Caucus will ask the court to enjoin Kilpatrick’s company from engaging further in activities that appear designed to pressure the building’s current tenants to leave.

“Almost all the residents are monolingual Cantonese speakers,” said Salinas. “They live and do their business in Chinatown. They’re low income. Some of them are elderly, and it’s a vulnerable population.”

Salinas alleged that Kilpatrick’s company recently tore out a communal kitchen in the building and removed bathrooms, making the building close to uninhabitable for the twenty-five families living there. He characterized the landlord’s actions as a form of constructive eviction.

James Kilpatrick of Lakeside Investment Co. - JAMESKILPATRICK.COM
  • jameskilpatrick.com
  • James Kilpatrick of Lakeside Investment Co.
"Landlords sometimes do calculated things to make tenants want to leave their homes like tearing out a floor, creating construction zone, constantly asking them to leave, even after tenants say their not interested, stopping garbage services," said Salinas.

Kilpatrick said far from pushing out tenants, he and his co-investors have made the building safer for them.

"When we took over this building, despite having 39 residential units, it had zero smoke detectors, there was raw sewage I the basement, and raw meats being cured on the fire escapes with flies," said Kilpatrick.

"We repaired basement, hired a pest company to cure the rodent and roach issues they were having," said Kipatrick. "If we were really trying to be jerks and push people out, those aren’t steps we would have taken."

New: Oakland Fires Yet Another Police Chief (Third in a Week!)

Yes, really, three Oakland police chiefs in one week.

by Nick Miller
Fri, Jun 17, 2016 at 5:28 PM

Soon-to-be former acting OPD police chief Paul Figueroa this past Tuesday at city council, before his appointment on Wednesday (and, apparently, with something to smile about). - PHOTO BY ALI WINSTON
  • PHOTO BY ALI WINSTON
  • Soon-to-be former acting OPD police chief Paul Figueroa this past Tuesday at city council, before his appointment on Wednesday (and, apparently, with something to smile about).
This is developing: Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf just announced a 6:30 p.m. press conference, where it is being reported that currebt OPD chief/assistant chief Paul Figueroa is out.

To recap: former chief Paul Whent was out last Thursday night/Friday morning. Interim chief Ben Fairow was out on Wednesday. And now Figueroa is out.

Look for more updates soon ...

Veteran Oakland Homicide Investigator Mishandled Evidence in Ongoing Murder Case

Sources say detective had girlfriend do his paperwork, gave her confidential documents.

by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston
Fri, Jun 17, 2016 at 11:49 AM

OPD Sergeant Mike Gantt (center) in 2011. - ALI WINSTON
  • Ali Winston
  • OPD Sergeant Mike Gantt (center) in 2011.
Late Thursday evening, Oakland officials requested the Alameda County District Attorney open a criminal investigation into an Oakland Police Department officer for misconduct. This misconduct is unrelated to the sprawling sex trafficking scandal. Mayor Libby Schaaf and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth wrote in a press release that on Saturday, June 11, they became aware of "alleged criminal misconduct" by an OPD employee.

"We are still not at liberty to discuss details of any ongoing investigation without risking compromise of the investigation and potentially jeopardizing our efforts to hold wrongdoers accountable. However, given the current climate we felt it necessary to make this announcement," the mayor said in her statement.

Multiple sources close to OPD told the Express that the target of the investigation is Sergeant James Michael Gantt, a veteran homicide investigator.

Gantt, a New York City-native who joined the department in 1988, is married, but allegedly had an affair with a local woman for several years. According to sources, Gantt allowed his girlfriend to access sensitive OPD investigative files so that she could write up his homicide reports and do his administrative paperwork.

Police sources say Gantt's girlfriend became angry when she discovered he was married. She reportedly posted to social media a photograph of evidence from a case that Gantt had left at her house. She also contacted OPD and informed the department about the investigative materials Gantt gave her access to.

These sources say the evidence Gantt placed with his girlfriend was part of the criminal file assembled against Mario Floyd, one of the two men charged with the 2013 murder of Judy Salamon, a 66-year-old Maxwell Park resident who was shot in broad daylight on July 24, 2013. According to court documents, Gantt was the lead investigator in Salamon's murder. Salamon was shot after she used her cell phone to record Floyd and Stephon Lee earlier that day. Salamon believed that Floyd and Lee were involved in a burglary or robbery that occurred earlier in the area. Her murder caused widespread outrage in Maxwell Park and led to the hiring of private security guards for the area. According to court documents, Lee is the probable shooter.

The trials of Floyd and Lee are ongoing. Floyd has a court appearance on Monday, June 20. Lee has a court appearance in July.

Gantt has been on leave for at least a year because of an unrelated incident, according to sources.

The allegations that Gantt mishandled evidence in an OPD homicide investigation comes on top of other recent scandals that have rocked the Oakland police.

OPD Chief Sean Whent was fired on June 9 because he allegedly covered-up a sprawling sexual misconduct investigation involving the trafficking of a teenage sex worker. The sex-crime scandal has already led to the resignation of two cops, the suspension of three more officers, and a former OPD captain who is now an Alameda County District Attorney's inspector has been placed on leave.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Attorneys Burris and Chanin Want Feds to Take Over Oakland Police Recruitment and Training

by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston
Wed, Jun 15, 2016 at 4:24 PM

John Burris (left) and Jim Chanin. - DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • Darwin BondGraham
  • John Burris (left) and Jim Chanin.
Attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin announced today that they are "moving in the direction" of asking a federal judge to put the Oakland Police Department's recruitment and training unit under federal receivership.

Burris and Chanin told reporters at a press conference in Oakland earlier today that they are "disgusted" by new details emerging about multiple Oakland police officers who appear to have sexually trafficked a teenager. The attorneys said it also appears that other cops, including supervisors, knew of the misconduct but failed to report it.

"I'm very angry and disappointed," said Chanin about the botched investigation into the sexual misconduct. "The failure by command staff to take prompt action shows that court oversight is still necessary."

"We have come to the conclusion that the supervisors have not done their jobs," said Burris about OPD's leadership. "Checks and balances were not in place."

The attorneys said most of the cops implicated in recent scandals are younger officers who joined the force since 2013.

For example, last December, Oakland police officer Cullen Faeth allegedly forced his way into a stranger's home in the Oakland hills and assaulted a woman. Faeth was reportedly drunk when he carried out the home invasion. Faeth joined OPD in December 2013 after graduating from a lateral police academy.

In February, officer Matthew Santos pulled a gun on a workman in his apartment building while off-duty. He was arrested by the Emeryville police. Santos was a graduate of OPD's 171st Academy in 2014.

Burris and Chanin said they're most upset by the unfolding sex-crime scandal, which involves several OPD officers who may have sexually trafficked a commercially exploited minor, and other officers who had sex with the girl after she turned 18. Some officers also appear to have shared confidential law-enforcement information with the girl.

Officers Terryl Smith and James Ta'ai were identified by the East Bay Times as the two officers who quit OPD after being investigated for sexual misconduct. The Express identified officer Giovanni LoVerde as a third officer who has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation. The Express also identified officer Luis Roman as having exchanged text messages wit the girl at the center of the scandal.

Smith and Ta'ai graduated from the 168th Academy in 2013. LoVerde and Roman graduated from the 170th Academy in 2014.

"All these officers are young," said Burris. "This raises serious questions about hiring and recruitment practices."

Chanin called allowing these officers into OPD "an insult" and "affront to the rest of the hard working people at the department."

Last Friday, at a press conference announcing the removal of Police Chief Sean Whent and hiring of BART Deputy Chief Ben Fairow as interim-chief, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf also announced that OPD's Inspector General and the Oakland City Auditor are both conducting an audit of recruitment and training to uncover problems. (Schaaf fired Fairow as interim-chief today, citing information that caused her to lose confidence in him.)

Burris and Chanin said today that they want the city's recruitment and hiring audit to immediately include the Independent Monitor Robert Warshaw. They said the audit should be completed as quickly as possible, and that it should be made public. If Oakland doesn't include Warshaw in its audit, or release the audit publicly, they said they will ask U.S. District Judge Thelton Hendreson place OPD's recruitment and training sections in receivership.

"We're moving in that direction," Chanin said about receivership.

When reporters asked the attorneys to speculate on the factors that have allowed so many unfit men to join OPD over the past several years, they speculated that the city's elected officials could be pushing too fast to reach a goal of 800 sworn police officers, allowing quality to slip.

Burris said the teacher-to-student ratio for OPD academies could be too low, as well, preventing police instructors from identifying unfit cadets and removing them before they're allowed on the force.

"I don't want to play the blame game," said Chanin in response to a question about whose fault it might be. "But the push to fill Oakland up with police officers is probably a factor in this."

Oakland Mayor Schaaf Fires Interim-Police Chief

He lasted less than a week.

by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston
Wed, Jun 15, 2016 at 1:12 PM

Ben Fairow (right) served only five days on the job as Oakland's top cop before being fired. - DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • Darwin BondGraham
  • Ben Fairow (right) served only five days on the job as Oakland's top cop before being fired.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced today the immediate removal of interim Police Chief Ben Fairow. Fairow was appointed last Friday to replace Chief Sean Whent who was forced out of the job by a court-appointed monitor who has been working for 13 years to try to reform OPD.

Schaaf said in a statement issued today she can't explain why she is firing Fairow because state law does not allow her to release details.

But the Mayor did say in her statement: "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. OPD staff, members of our community and City leadership deserve to have complete trust and confidence in our Chief, especially during this critical transition."

"I made the decision to appoint Ben Fairow, I also own the decision to remove him," said Schaaf in the statement. "I firmly believe that when you make a mistake, you need to own it, and act quickly to correct it."

Paul Figueroa.
  • Paul Figueroa.
OPD Assistant Chief Paul Figueroa will be made acting Oakland Police Chief.




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