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Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown Calls Express Story ‘Dishonest,’ ‘False,’ and ‘Under-Sourced,’ but Fails to Offer Evidence

John Geluardi Jul 20, 2018 14:11 PM
In an email sent last week to the entire Richmond Police Department, Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown criticized a recent Express story on the firing of Captain Mark Gagan, calling it “sensationalistic,” “false,” “dishonest,” “under-sourced,” “a hit piece,” and “arrogant.”

The story, which was published on June 27, questioned the circumstances around the investigation and termination of Gagan, the department’s lead public information officer, who has a reputation in the community for being trustworthy. It also revealed how the police department, which was once a national model of reform, initially tried to cover up a sexual misconduct case involving several Richmond police officers and a teenage victim named Jasmine Abuslin, and sent a police lieutenant and his girlfriend, the police chief’s secretary, on three out-of-state trips at taxpayers’ expense. Additionally, the story recapped how the department failed to adequately respond to a domestic violence call, which may have contributed to the murder of a young mother.

In his response, the police chief did not directly challenge anything in the story, choosing instead to make broad-stroke criticisms without any information to support his comments.

Brown claimed he could not address some of the specifics in the story due to confidentiality protections offered to police officers under state law. While that may apply to some aspects of the story, it would not preclude the chief from commenting on the descriptions of taxpayer abuse, the department’s responses to domestic violence calls in general, and the chief’s attempt to tightly control information about the Abuslin sex scandal during the spring and summer of 2016.

The story was supported by hundreds of pages of documents obtained through the California Public Records Act. Neither Brown nor several other senior command staff officers in the Richmond Police Department agreed to be interviewed.

Brown’s tendency toward secrecy and deflection began in March 2016, when he removed Gagan from his post as lead public information officer and replaced him with Lieutenant Felix Tan, who is Brown’s chief of staff. In his response, Brown said that when rumors began to circulate about the Abuslin sex scandal, he directed “all news media inquiries be forwarded to Assistant Chief Bisa French exclusively for comment, in order to avoid miscommunication and to protect the ongoing investigation.”

But French was appointed as the sole person to respond to all sex scandal media queries on July 5, 2016 — long after Abuslin began speaking to the media, when the department could no longer publicly deny the story. For six weeks prior to French being made sole contact, Brown denied to KRON 4 reporter Haaziq Madyun any knowledge of his officers having sex with a teenage victim, even though in March of 2016, word had begun to spread — thanks to Oakland’s internal investigation — that Richmond officers had also been involved with Abuslin.

On May 28, the Richmond Police Department’s new lead public information officer, Felix Tan, and information officer Lieutenant Andre Hill told KPIX 5 reporter Leslie Donaldson that the department had no records of Abuslin, who was then known as “Celeste Guap.”  This statement of denial was repeated with numerous other media requests during May, June, and early July.

It’s worth noting that the two public information officers, Tan and Hill, were among the five officers named in Abuslin’s $30 million sexual misconduct claim against the city. Both Tan, who also holds the influential position of chief of staff, and Hill were investigated. The allegations were sustained and Tan received a chief’s letter of reprimand and Hill was fired, although he is currently trying to get his job back. Abuslin later filed a lawsuit against the Richmond Police Department, in which Tan was not named. Abuslin ultimately dropped the suit after Oakland awarded her nearly $1 million in damages.

Furthermore, when Abuslin began to speak with the media in early May 2016, Brown dismissed her claims as “overreach.” A senior command staff captain, now retired, responded to Brown’s email that it would be acceptable for officers to have sex with Abuslin because of her “profession,” and that any claims against Richmond police officers would be a “Witch hunt.”

Brown said the three secret, taxpayer-paid trips Tan took with his girlfriend, Yvette Medina, the chief’s secretary, were legitimate. He did not explain why the trips were hidden from the department’s Telestaff records and the weekly Personal and Training schedule, which is maintained by Medina. He also said the trips were paid for by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and not Richmond taxpayers. However, city financial records show that the DOJ, using taxpayer funds, reimbursed the city for only one of the trips. Brown also failed to mention that on one the nights, the couple only booked one room at the Boston Marriott. Nor did he address the 14.5 hours of overtime (an estimated $1,624) Tan charged Richmond taxpayers during two of those secret trips, which ultimately cost taxpayers upwards of $5,000.

Furthermore, Brown said the RPD has no responsibility whatsoever in the death of Rashanda Franklin. “Lawyer McBride is the person solely responsible for the April 4, 2017 murder of Rashanda Franklin,” Brown wrote. “Our internal review found no policy violations or failure to exercise duty in the enforcement of criminal law with the regard to the handling of an April 3, 2017 call for service related to Ms. Franklin.”

Franklin had called 911 the night before she was murdered. That night, her ex-boyfriend Lawyer Dushaun McBride showed up to her front door. McBride had been stalking her for weeks and had previously attacked her, yet the two officers who answered the call did not conduct a "Domestic Violence Lethality Assessment" as required and did not arrest McBride, although they had cause to do so. They also did not write a domestic violence report. The next day, McBride murdered Franklin.

While it would be extremely difficult to prove that the two officers are directly responsible for Franklin’s murder, it’s clear they failed to follow protocol, and that may have contributed to her death. Furthermore, the two officers were never investigated, counseled, or disciplined for their failed response and possible dereliction of duty.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story included confusing wording about the DOJ paying for the trips. We have clarified the language in this version.