Friday, July 20, 2018

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

by John Geluardi
Fri, Jul 20, 2018 at 2:11 PM

richmond_police.jpeg
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.

Far from Home and Alone: Unaccompanied Immigrant Youth Find Refuge in Oakland Unified

Alameda County has second-highest number of unaccompanied minors in California.

by Carolyn Jones of EdSource
Fri, Jul 20, 2018 at 7:59 AM

Thousands attended a rally in Oakland in June to protect President Trump's immigration crackdown. Nearly a third of Oakland's population is foreign-born. - THERESA HARRINGTON FOR EDSOURCE
  • Theresa Harrington for EdSource
  • Thousands attended a rally in Oakland in June to protect President Trump's immigration crackdown. Nearly a third of Oakland's population is foreign-born.

Thousands attended a rally in Oakland in June to protect President Trump's immigration crackdown. Nearly a third of Oakland's population is foreign-born.

One night three years ago, Milton kissed his mother gently on the head, careful not to wake her, and slipped out of their home in rural Guatemala where he had lived his whole life. As his parents and six younger siblings slept, he caught a bus north. His goal: reaching the United States. He was 14.

“If I told them, I knew they wouldn’t let me go,” said Milton, who’s now 17 and declined to give his last name because he still fears violence from home, both for himself and his family. “But it’s not safe there. They’re killing people where I come from. I knew the best way to help my family was to leave and get an education and a job so I could send them money.”

Traveling on foot, on busses and trains, often sleeping outside, Milton eventually found his way across the border and ended up in Oakland, where an aunt lives. As national attention focuses on immigrant children separated from their parents at the border, Alameda County, where Oakland is situated, has been absorbing unaccompanied immigrant children for years — and in fact has the second-highest number of unaccompanied minors in California, behind Los Angeles County. They’re drawn to Oakland and the East Bay mostly through family ties — networks of relatives who can help ease the transition to a new country and refugee groups that place them with foster families. Even under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, unaccompanied minors have continued to come to the United States.

Milton was 14 when he left his home in Guatemala. Since graduating high school in June, he plans to enroll in a local community college to study business.

Oakland Unified has embraced these students, offering a host of services to help them find housing and health care, academic tutoring, legal services, mental health counseling and other amenities. Since June 2013, when gang violence in Central America began to escalate, the district has enrolled more than 1,200 unaccompanied youth.

“In Oakland Unified School District, we are in the business of educating children, no matter where they came from or how they got here. We know the obstacles some of our young people have overcome to be here are unimaginable to most of us,” said Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell. “Anyone who needs to escape crime, violence and persecution in their own country, and who braves untold dangers on the journey to America deserves all the support we can give them.”

The district considers unaccompanied youth, and immigrant students generally, to be assets to the entire student population. “Our newcomer students are generally very hard-working, determined and inspire the rest of us every day with their tenacity,” said Nathan Dunstan, program manager for the district’s refugee and asylum program.

Using grant money from Salesforce, an internet advertising firm and the state and federal governments, Oakland Unified has hired social workers and opened “newcomer” centers at 15 schools to welcome immigrant students and help them acclimate. The Salesforce grant, $5.2 million, included funding for computer science and math education for all students districtwide, in addition to services for immigrant students.

The district’s unaccompanied youth come from dozens of countries, including Afghanistan and Iraq, Eritrea and Myanmar, Somalia and Bhutan. But most of these children are like Milton, teenagers fleeing violence and poverty in Central America. While they seek asylum to be safe from violence, most are poor and see the United States as a country where they can get an education and earn money to send back to their families.

Until recently, fleeing violence was sufficient grounds to apply for asylum in the United States. But in June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ruled that violence in an immigrant’s home country does not guarantee asylum in the U.S. In recent months Sessions also ordered a “zero tolerance” policy at the border that’s left hundreds of children separated from their parents and placed in detention facilities or foster care. Only a few of those children are in the East Bay. Most of the unaccompanied young people in Oakland arrived before that policy went into effect.

Oakland Unified offers legal referrals for its immigrant students to help navigate the lengthy and complicated immigration system. Most of these services are free. Catholic Charities of the East Bay and Centro Legal de la Raza are among the primary resources.

Oakland’s unaccompanied youth end up alone in many ways. Some come to the U.S. with their parents but are left here alone if their parents get deported. Those children — in some cases, younger than 5 years old — either move in with relatives or are placed in foster care. Of the 659 unaccompanied minors enrolled in Oakland Unified in 2017-18, 65 were in elementary school.

Another route is through refugee resettlement programs. Those children, either with their families or alone, arrive in the U.S. via international refugee programs and are assigned by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement to certain cities, such as Oakland, receiving help with housing, job placement, medical care and English language classes from nonprofits like Jewish Family Services and Catholic Charities.

Oakland Unified had 700 students in 2017-18 who arrived via refugee resettlement programs. Of those, 70 came without their parents. (They are among the 1,200 total unaccompanied migrant students that have enrolled in the district since 2013.)

Milton, quick-witted and athletic, is from a small town in Guatemala, where his parents work as merchants selling food, clothing and odds and ends, earning just a few dollars a day. Gang violence is commonplace: Milton’s cousin and grandfather were both killed by gang members, and Milton feared he’d eventually be killed as well.

So he saved his money and planned his exodus. He spoke no English, had no idea how to get to the United States, where he would go or what he would do once he arrived. He just kept heading north, often hungry and terrified, until he reached Texas. There, he was apprehended by U.S. immigration officials at the border and because he was under 18, alone and requesting asylum, he was allowed to stay, according to the policy at the time. He spent about a year in detention facilities in Texas and Florida before government social workers found an aunt in Oakland who could sponsor him.

But living with his aunt didn’t work out, and Milton moved into a house in East Oakland with other immigrants. He enrolled at Castlemont High School and learned English by listening to pop songs on the radio and watching TV.

Thin and muscular, he earns money to pay his rent by working after school and on weekends as a roofer and in a taqueria. Even living in one of the most expensive regions in the country, Milton still manages to send money home to his family. Here, he says, he can earn $50 a day, a fortune compared to the $7 a day his parents earn in Guatemala.

With help from his teachers, counselors and his soccer coach at Castlemont, Milton graduated high school in June. He plans to enroll at Oakland’s Merritt Community College in the fall to study business, in hopes of someday opening his own restaurant or construction business. His request for asylum was approved and he’s on track to become a U.S. citizen in a few years.

He talks to his mother every few days on the phone. The first few weeks after he left home she was frantic, he said, but later she came to understand why he left.

“I told my mom I want to be a different person. I want to get an education and a diploma. I want to do something with my life,” he said. “She’s proud of me. She’s not mad at me any more.”

Despite his successes, Milton says he’s still homesick. He hasn’t seen his family in almost three years and simply misses having them around. That, more than anything else, has been his greatest hardship, he said.

“I miss my brothers and sisters but I miss my mom the most,” he said. “She’s the best person in my life. What do I miss? Everything, all of it. She’s a very good cook. She did stuff for me like laundry so I didn’t have to do it. She’s always there for me.”

For students whose parents are thousands of miles away, teachers, counselors and coaches become the most reliable adult role models. Oakland Unified offers guidance for teachers on how to make unaccompanied youth feel welcome and safe at school. At some schools, Catholic Charities of the East Bay and other agencies provide counseling to unaccompanied youth to help them cope with the ordeal of leaving home and surviving on their own.

With enough support, unaccompanied youth can succeed in school and thrive in their new country, said Michelle Rostampour, case manager at Oakland International High School, where all 413 students are immigrants, 27 percent of whom came without their parents.

“They’re dealing with so many layers of trauma — from their home country, traveling to the U.S., acculturation once they get here, being separated from their families, living with people who might be strangers. Plus the usual stress of being in school and just being a teenager,” she said. “It takes an incredible amount of hard work and support, but in my eyes, the more they feel respected and cared for the more likely they are to succeed.”

Jackson, 16, a student at Oakland International High, has had a rocky time since he left his home in Honduras about nine months ago. His troubles actually started before that, when gang members at his high school ordered him to sell drugs for them.

“I said nope,” he said, declining to give his last name because he still fears gang violence. “They would have killed me. I told my mom. She told me I should leave to be safe.”

After saying goodbye to his mother and grandmother he joined an uncle heading north. They rode 27 days on top of a train, hanging on by attaching their belts to a railing, finally arriving at the immigration checkpoint in Calexico, on the California border. There, Jackson’s uncle was arrested and sent back to Honduras. As a minor, Jackson was allowed to stay.

Alone, Jackson spent 22 days in a detention facility in Southern California before social workers located a cousin in Oakland. Jackson lived with the cousin for a few weeks but then the cousin moved without telling him, leaving Jackson alone. After sleeping on the street a few nights, he ended up at a youth homeless shelter near downtown. There, case workers referred him to the Alameda County foster care system. He now lives in a private foster group home with other young people in Berkeley, as he awaits for his asylum case to move forward. Like Milton, he’s receiving free legal assistance to shepherd his asylum request through the courts. Although both boys could be deported at any time, they’re hopeful their legal cases will be successful.

Rostampour said being in foster care has benefits for Jackson. He doesn’t have to work to pay his rent and is entitled to certain benefits, such as job training and help getting into and paying for college. Jackson hopes to be an electrician someday.

And like Milton, Jackson has found solace in soccer. It’s helped him make friends, take his mind off his challenges and build self-confidence by doing something in which he has some expertise.

Quiet and pensive, Jackson doesn’t smile much. He said he’s homesick and doesn’t feel comfortable at the foster home, but he’s determined to succeed in the U.S., if not for himself, then for the sake of his family in Honduras.

“I want to graduate from high school and work, maybe go to college. I want to see my mom and grandma again,” he said. When asked if he likes Oakland International High School, he brightened a little, gestured around the campus and nodded. “This is good. All of it.”

Theresa Harrington contributed to this report.

This story was originally published by EdSource.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Oakland Yemeni Man Pleads Guilty in Terrorism Case

But Amer Alhaggagi's attorneys plan to defend him at an upcoming sentencing hearing, arguing that prosecutors 'slammed' the 23-year old with a 'dangerous statute.'

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Jul 18, 2018 at 5:44 PM

Alhaggagi's attorney Mary McNamara said her client has been "slammed by the legal system." - DARWIN BONDGRAHAM
  • Darwin BondGraham
  • Alhaggagi's attorney Mary McNamara said her client has been "slammed by the legal system."

Amer Sinan Alhaggagi, a 23-year-old Oakland man who was charged last year with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization, initially pled innocent, but today in federal court, he reversed course and pled guilty.

His attorneys said, however, that while Alhaggagi is guilty of the exact conduct federal prosecutors charged him with, he is "not a terrorist."

They requested an unusually lengthy full day sentencing hearing later this year at which they plan to elicit testimony from an expert who will describe reasons why Alhaggagi doesn't fit the definition of a radicalized terror suspect.

Mary McNamara, Alhaggagi's attorney, said after today's hearing that her client has been "slammed by the system" merely for opening five Twitter accounts, two Facebook accounts, and several Gmail accounts.

"This is really a case about what the appropriate sentencing should be," said McNamara.

Alhaggagi was charged one year ago with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State because he created social media accounts that were later used by two other foreign individuals to spread ISIS propaganda.

In a document attached to his new plea, Alhaggagi wrote that he was initially contacted by ISIS supporters through a chat app called Telegram in October of 2016. He admitted to engaging in "trolling" behavior, including falsely reporting other users of the app as Shiite Muslims in hopes moderators would block them. He re-posted pro-ISIS messages and was later approached by two individuals through the online forum who asked him to create social media accounts.

He did, and he shared the passwords to these accounts with the individuals, who were identified by federal prosecutors as ISIS members.

As part of his new plea, Alhaggagi admitted that knowingly opening these social media accounts for ISIS members constituted a "service" within the definition of providing "material support or resources" to a foreign terrorist organization.

"I deeply regret what I have done," Alhaggagi wrote. "And, since the time that I was charged, I have seen evidence that some of the Twitter accounts that I opened were in fact used to distribute news and other materials about ISIS."

US Attorney Waqar Hasib told Judge William Breyer he agreed with the need for a full day sentencing hearing. But he described Alhaggagi's conduct in far different terms.

Prosecutors also charged Alhaggagi with aggravated identity theft and possession of an illegal "access device" because he used a fake credit card to steal clothing from an online retailer.

The FBI set up a sting operation against Alhaggagi and, according to agents who worked the case, Alhaggagi expressed plans to plant backpack bombs around UC Berkeley, set fire to the East Bay hills, and distribute strychnine-laced cocaine at nightclubs in San Francisco. He made several other statements about his desire to carry out terrorist attacks.

But McNamara pointed out after today's hearing that the government did not ultimately charge Alhaggagi for any of his statements or actions that occurred during the attempted FBI sting operation.

In fact, said McNamara, when an undercover FBI agent asked Alhaggagi to shop for chemicals and bomb-making materials, he refused. He later broke off contact with one undercover agent.

Describing Alhaggagi as an "ordinary American kid who just had a big mouth," McNamara said that he is being prosecuted under a law that was vastly broadened after the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

She said the Congress should revisit the specific statute —18 USC Sec. 2339B(a)(1) — that defines the crime of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization and consider tightening up the language so that actual dangerous criminals are the focus of prosecutions.

She called it possibly a "dangerous statute" because of how many otherwise mundane actions like opening email and social media accounts can be defined as supporting terrorism.

About 100 of Alhaggagi's family and close friends packed today's court hearing in a show of support. McNamara said the young man's arrest and mark as a terror suspect has been a tragedy for the Bay Area's tight-knit Yemeni community.

For more on Alhaggagi's case, and other Bay Area terrorism cases, see our previous reporting.

Oakland Council Rejects Contract Extension with Stanford Researcher for Police Racial Profiling Project

The decision comes one day before a ‘rebuilding community police trust’ town hall featuring Mayor Schaaf, Police Chief Kirkpatrick and the Stanford team.

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Jul 18, 2018 at 12:39 PM

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The Oakland City Council's Public Safety Committee rejected a quarter-million-dollar contract extension with Stanford University researchers to assist the police department's implementation of a system designed to track and reduce racial profiling by officers.

Critics of the Stanford contract, including several longtime police accountability activists, said they feel the money would be wasted and that the police need to take responsibility and make the changes — not the university researchers.

Stop data is used by OPD to quantify the rates at which different racial groups are stopped, searched, handcuffed, and arrested.

Prior analysis of the data by the Stanford researchers revealed that OPD officers are more likely to stop and search Black people than other racial groups, even when they don't appear to have a reason. Black people are also more likely to be handcuffed without reason, and officers have been shown to use less respectful language when addressing Black people.

Stanford's team concluded, however, that there is "little evidence that disparate treatment arose from explicit racism or purposeful discrimination." Rather, they attribute the disparity to unconscious forms of "implicit bias."

The Stanford team made 50 recommendations to OPD as part of a larger project to help the department improve its relationship with the community.

At last night's committee meeting, OPD requested that the council continue to employ Stanford Professor Jennifer Eberhardt's team to finalize 2 of 50 recommendations.

But police accountability activists and two members of the public safety committee expressed skepticism that a quarter-million-dollar contract is required to implement the two recommendations.

They said Stanford's advice is helpful, but they placed responsibility on OPD.

"With all due respect to the work Dr. Eberhardt has done, we are not entirely comfortable with this proposal," said Rashidah Grinage, an activist with the Coalition for Police Accountability.

"The implementation has to be done by OPD," said Grinage. "The implementation cannot be done by a consultant. There seems to be no end to this."

Others criticized the approach taken by OPD and the Stanford team to characterize the more harmful impact policing has on Black people.

"I got off the Eberhardt train when she came up with this 'implicit bias' as being the reason for why officers may be engaging in racial profiling or excessive force," said Assata Olugbala, an Oakland resident who attends most council committee meetings. "That says you don’t know what you’re doing because you unconsciously do it. The other side is you’re very, very conscious of what you’re doing."

Councilmember Desley Brooks, chair of the public safety committee, also criticized spending money on the Stanford team's work and the concept of implicit bias.

"I don’t believe we call things as they are," said Brooks. "There’s a lot of talk about implicit bias because I know that’s the buzzword everybody uses, but out in the community, when people are being affected, they call it racial profiling."

Brooks also said she's frustrated that the city continues to pay millions on court oversight of the police department and that the department's stop data still shows wide disparities.

But Assistant Police Chief Leronne Armstrong defended the contract as a necessary tool for the department.

And Armstrong, who is Black and from Oakland, also offered his own theory, saying that racial disparities in policing are due to the fact that Black people commit most of the crime in Oakland. He stated:

"I think what’s important to understand is that when you practice intelligence-based policing, precision-based policing, you have to focus in on those [people] that are committing crimes. We have to use intelligence that’s driven by a community's communication, what they’re telling us, who’s calling the police and what are they reporting? Who is the identified suspects in the crimes that we’re following up on? I feel like the disparity obviously exists based on who commits crimes in this city. If we’re focused in our enforcement efforts, we expect our officers to focus in on those individuals engaged in crime, and use intelligence. And so what we’ve done with Dr. Eberhardt’s assistance is really better understand how to review the data that we're taking in so we can examine what our officers are engaged in."


Brooks pushed back on Armstrong's statement, saying, "There are many studies that talk about if you over-police a particular community, you will get more people from that community who are arrested as opposed to people who aren’t in that community. So it doesn’t bear out that people of color are committing all the crimes and that’s why we have the disparities."

Brooks also asked if the contract with Stanford is a requirement under Oakland's Negotiated Settlement Agreement, an oversight effort to reduce racial profiling that was enforced by U.S. District Judge William Orrick.

A public safety town hall featuring Mayor Libby Schaaf and Stanford Professor Jennifer Eberhardt is scheduled for tomorrow.
  • A public safety town hall featuring Mayor Libby Schaaf and Stanford Professor Jennifer Eberhardt is scheduled for tomorrow.
"This is not a court mandate," Armstrong said of the contract with Eberhardt. But he added that the court is requiring implementation of the 50 recommendations Eberhardt made in the "Strategies for Change" report on OPD's racial disparities.

Following a brief debate, the committee failed to approve the contract. Councilmembers Larry Reid and Abel Guillen voted in favor, but Brooks abstained and Noel Gallo voted no.

Toward the end of the committee hearing, Brooks, Reid, and others discussed the possibility of bringing the proposed contract back for reconsideration.

But the immediate rejection of the contract comes at an awkward moment. Tomorrow night, Eberhardt is scheduled to speak alongside Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, Assistant Chief Armstrong, and others at a public safety town hall at Laney College. They will discuss Eberhardt's work and the use of stop data by OPD as part of the community relations campaign.

"I am stunned a councilmember could vote against a study of such importance or abstain from a vote of such magnitude," Schaaf said in a statement this afternoon.

Schaaf said she'll work to reinstate Eberhardt's work.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Oakland to Settle False Arrest Lawsuit for $50,000

Five Oakland police officers were accused of lying about a 2016 narcotics sale.

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Jul 16, 2018 at 11:44 AM

oakland_police.jpg

The city of Oakland will pay $50,000 to a Sacramento man who alleged that five Oakland police officers framed him for selling narcotics in a West Oakland parking lot in 2016. The drug case against the man was later dismissed by the district attorney.

Shelly Watkins and Donna Reed were in Oakland on October 25, 2016, to attend a Bible study, according to a lawsuit they filed in federal court last year. Watkins had parked his car outside the 99 Cents Only Store on 7th Street, and while Reed was inside the store, Watkins asked a stranger if he had a light for a cigarette. In exchange, Watkins gave the man a cigarette and some pocket change.

A few minutes later, after Reed had returned from the store and the two drove away in their car, they were pulled over by Oakland Police Officers Brandon Hraiz and William Berger.

Hraiz and Berger arrested Watkins on charges of selling narcotics and took him to Santa Rita Jail where, according to court records, the police "forced Mr. Watkins to remove all his clothing and, while naked, to squat and cough."

The police did not find any drugs in their search of Watkins' vehicle or the strip search at the jail. The police did confiscate $13 from Watkins, however.

But three other officers involved in the arrest, Brenton Lowe, Cedric Remo, and Nathaniel Walker, attested that while they were conducting surveillance of the area, they observed Watkins selling drugs.

According to Berger's written declaration, Lowe, Remo, and Walker "observed Watkins arrive on scene and meet with another male black," and that they observed Watkins sell drugs to the man. When uniformed officers later stopped the man, they "recovered one small clear glass rock like substance, suspected methamphetamine."

Based on the officers' claims, Watkins was charged by the Alameda County District Attorney with sale of a controlled substance, a felony, and made to pay a $30,000 bond to get out of jail.

After four court appearances, the district attorney dismissed the charges against Watkins in April of 2017. Watkins had to obtain an order from a judge to recover the $13 the police had taken from him.

Several of the officers who arrested Watkins have been accused of racial profiling and excessive force in other cases.

Lowe, for example, was sued in 2014 for participating in a violent arrest of a Black man who alleged that he was racially profiled by two BART police officers. At the time, Lowe was off duty and waiting for a train with his father, Frank Lowe (who is a retired Oakland police officer). Nearby on the same train platform, two BART officers stopped Albert Burleson because, according to the police, he fit a suspect's description. The BART police proceeded to tackle Burleson and cuff him. Lowe and his father assisted the BART officers by forcibly restraining Burleson, who was jailed but never charged with a crime.

Berger and Hraiz were among the four officers who shot and killed Joshua Pawlik in March. Pawlik, according to the police, was lying unconscious between two West Oakland houses with a handgun. Officers surrounded him and fatally shot him when he failed to comply with orders, the police said in a press statement issued four months ago. The shooting is currently under investigation by the Oakland police and district attorney.

The Oakland City Council is scheduled to vote on final approval of the $50,000 settlement with Watkins at tomorrow night's meeting.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Stephen Buel Resigns as Publisher

by Stephen Buel
Sat, Jul 14, 2018 at 4:41 PM

Perhaps now more than ever before, the East Bay needs healthy independent journalism. Because my presence at Telegraph Media has become a threat to that mission — and to the careers of the hard-working people who produce the East Bay Express, Oakland Magazine, Alameda Magazine, The East Bay Monthly, and Bay Woof — I am stepping down as publisher of those titles.

Publications such as these depend upon the support of many people and institutions. I urge the advertisers, readers, journalists and community members who have long supported our publications to stand by them now — and not let my indiscretions threaten their survival.

During my 37 years as a journalist, I have worked to advance equality, seek truth, and fight injustice. The thousands of stories I have written or edited express my values far better than any self-righteous summation possibly could today. The cruel caricature I see of myself on social media does not reflect who I am, but I have sadly come to the conclusion that I cannot defend myself without endangering the journalism that is my legacy.

Following a brief transition period, longtime East Bay journalist Robert Gammon will replace me as our company's publisher.

Friday, July 13, 2018

An Apology and a Pledge

by Stephen Buel
Fri, Jul 13, 2018 at 5:50 PM

The past month has been a traumatic one at the East Bay Express. As the paper’s publisher and onetime editor, I consider furthering our journalistic mission to be my life’s work. Yet as the person most responsible for our current troubles, I now feel a need to directly address our readers.

One night about a month ago, I read some week-old online coverage that did not live up to my editorial standards. So, I took the stories down the next morning and promptly explained my concerns to the author and editors.

One story described white people singing along to live hip-hop songs that contained the N-word. This is a worthy topic for coverage, and I said as much. But while referring to hateful words subsequently reclaimed by the communities they once oppressed, I said a couple of those words aloud. I should not have done so and am extremely sorry that my remark caused others pain.

I also should not have unilaterally taken down the articles. Instead, I should have respected our editorial structure and taken my feedback directly to our editorial management so that the editors and author might have addressed my concerns without permanently removing the pieces from our website. I am sorry for the way I disrespected the writer and editors involved in that coverage.

As a journalist long devoted to holding other people accountable for their failings, I now must hold myself accountable for mine. This course of action feels all the more necessary given my abhorrence for the hateful racism of President Trump. I’m also writing as someone well aware of the East Bay’s current centrality in reframing the national understanding of topics such as race and injustice.

To address the concerns raised by my actions and leave no confusion about my goals or those of our company, I am committed to the following course of action:

* I pledge to keep working to increase the diversity of our company’s staff. Newspapers should reflect the makeup of their communities, and since my return to the Express last year, more than half our hiring has been of people of color. But we can still do better. In addition to this commitment, we will soon seek to fund an ongoing paid internship for a young journalist of color.

* We are convening a committee to create a code of conduct governing race, gender, diversity, inclusion, sexual orientation, and related topics. The resultant guidelines will apply to everyone on staff, myself included. As part of this initiative, I will attend implicit bias training and work to identify and eliminate any additional personal blind spots.

* We also will establish a clear policy that fully articulates how the publisher should address any future editorial concerns.

* Finally, we will convene a separate panel to codify our company’s editorial guidelines and ethical standards.

For almost four decades, the East Bay Express has been in the vanguard of helping its readers think about matters of race, diversity, and inclusion. But our vision has more often focused outside our walls than within them. Now is the time for that to change.

Before the year’s end, I’ll report back on how I have honored these commitments.


Stephen Buel is publisher of the East Bay Express. He has been a co-owner of the paper since 2007 and served as its editor from 2001 to 2010.

OP-ED: Why We Need to Encourage More Young People of Color to Seek Office

by Malia Vella
Fri, Jul 13, 2018 at 2:18 PM

Alameda city councilmember Malia Vella.
  • Alameda city councilmember Malia Vella.

As a millennial recently elected to local office, I am often asked what we need to do to get more young people of color engaged in American politics and why more of us don’t seek elected office. Between the implicit bias well established research tells us exists and the costs — both personal and financial — of running for office, the odds are against us.

Admittedly, I had an advantage due to my past work on campaigns and my professional experience in policy and law, and I sought office with my eyes wide open. These were relationships that provided the encouragement, support, and resources necessary to win. As fewer millennials identify with a particular political party, these kinds of relationships are harder to build and use in a run for elected office.

There are numerous special interest groups formed to help elect people with similar ideologies or particular personal attributes — gender, military service, ethnicity — but none specific to electing the next generation of leaders: millennials who are the most diverse generation and soon will surpass all other voting blocs.
While on the campaign trail, I heard a lot from people — future constituents, interest groups, and those already in office — about how glad they were that I was putting myself out there and how it was important to have a diversity of viewpoints at the table of power.

However, as much as people say they like the idea of diversity in government — in age, race, and economic status — the reality is that those in power are often reticent to accept people who aren’t like them. Although change is hard, we desperately need a diversity of people in government to effectively represent the diversity of our population. Otherwise, people are left out, misrepresented, or forgotten. In order to have meaningful governance, we also need to understand and remove the barriers that discourage young people of color from seeking office.

Even more barriers exist for young women of color. My own experience is a case study. In addition to working as a public interest attorney and a professor, I spent 20 hours a week for five months knocking on doors and talking with voters while campaigning. As a councilmember who still has two other day jobs, I spend (at least) the same amount of time with constituents and preparing for and attending council meetings, which leaves less time for a personal life, including caring for an ill family member. Public service is an honor, and one that needs to be prioritized and accommodated in our hectic lives.

Like every average millennial, I am not a trust fund kid; I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth. I needed loans for college and law school, and a hefty mortgage to buy my first home with my partner. We are diligently paying our mortgage and student loans, and are happy to pay for the American dream.

But, this means that I can’t self-fund, and was forced to fundraise to ensure a successful campaign. Even though I turned down money from corporations, the local firefighters, and developers that my colleagues accepted, critics complain that I have been influenced by the very contributions I declined. If there is a lesson here, it’s that fundraising is tough, but you can still be ethical, and until we have public campaign financing, it is a necessary evil.

In my 18 months on the Alameda City Council, despite being the highest vote-getter, I also have been the subject of numerous personal attacks and threats, including baseless allegations of misconduct that were found by an independent investigator to have no merit. The attacks range from the repetition of false, uninformed gossip (such as that I don’t live in Alameda) to outright malicious lies aimed to discredit and intimidate me (such as that my father knew someone involved in the Jill Keimach investigation). And, there has been a cost associated with these lies — tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees paid by me and my campaign.

Despite this, I am still committed to fulfilling the will of the voters and the job I set out to do. I continue to have hope, because I know that I am still at the table adding a new perspective to the conversation. And in cities across the U.S., there are other young elected officials who are making a difference. It is up to all of us to speak up, to make governing more representative, and to support and inspire our peers to get involved.

Malia Vella is an Alameda city councilmember.

Friday’s Briefing: Richmond Mayor Meets with ICE Detainees; California Creates New Rules for Shutting Off Power to Prevent Wildfires

by Kathleen Richards
Fri, Jul 13, 2018 at 10:13 AM

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt
  • Richmond Mayor Tom Butt

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt finally toured the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, after months requesting to do so. Some of the ICE detainees he met with said deputies are racist and don’t open doors when they’re supposed to. Others said they’re worried about where they’ll be taken now that the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office is severing its contract with ICE. (San Francisco Chronicle)

The ACLU of Northern California filed a lawsuit alleging that ICE transported nine women from the West County Detention Facility in Richmond to a detention facility in Bakersfield in a windowless, overheated van last year. (East Bay Times)

California regulators established new rules for the state’s utility companies if they decide to turn off, or de-energize, power lines to prevent fires. PG&E and other utilities must try to notify affected customers first before the power goes out, but only if notification is feasible. (San Francisco Chronicle)

The Art Institute of California in San Francisco and the Alameda campus of Argosy University will be closing in December because of declining enrollment. More than 200 employees will lose their jobs and students unable to finish their degrees will be eligible for tuition reductions or grants. (KTVU)

Three-quarters of Concord residents live in fear of being evicted, according to a new survey. Nearly half reported living with rodents, bedbugs or other pests, and 40 percent reported struggling with mold. The East Bay city has no rent control or just cause eviction protections. (East Bay Times)

UC Berkeley researchers have found that the sense of awe experienced in nature can dramatically reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. (Berkeley News)

Berkeleyside got into a Twitter feud with a right-wing website over a tweet by state Senator Kamala Harris about desegregation in Berkeley schools. (Berkeleyside)

Imports at the Port of Oakland reached a record high last month, possibly due to shippers rushing to beat import tariffs that began this month. (East Bay Times)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thursday’s Briefing: Oakland to Pay $2.2 Million Settlement to Ex-Black Panther; Berkeley to Vote on Affordable Housing Bond

by Kathleen Richards
Thu, Jul 12, 2018 at 10:11 AM

Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks - PHOTO BY STEVEN TAVARES
  • Photo by Steven Tavares
  • Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks

The City of Oakland will pay $2.2 million to settle a claim by ex-Black Panther leader Elaine Brown, who was injured in 2015 after Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks punched and pushed her. (AP)

Berkeley voters will consider a $135 million affordable housing bond this November. If passed, the measure would increase property taxes by $23.27 per $100,000 of assessed value each year, which the city would then use to acquire, improve, preserve, or build affordable housing. (East Bay Times)

Bay Area residents — including staff of the Express — have been receiving anti-Semitic robocalls on behalf of a Concord businessman running for Congress. John Fitzgerald denied his involvement with the calls, but his website is full of headlines that attack Jews and people of color. (KTVU)

The new movie Blindspotting, which is set in Oakland and was written by and stars East Bay natives Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, premiered at the Grand Lake Theatre last night. The movie officially opens July 20. (KGO)

Officials at the Contra Costa Event Park canceled the XO Music Festival amid controversy about the event just days before the three-day festival was to be held in Antioch, saying promoters did not fulfill “contractual obligations.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

East Bay resident Marshaunte Farris and her boyfriend Shamiek Sheppard filed a report with the CHP after a white woman yelled racial slurs at the couple while driving on Interstate 80 from Richmond to Emeryville on Monday. (East Bay Times)

UC offered admission this fall to more transfer students than it has at any point in its history. Nearly all of the admitted transfer students from California come from community colleges. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Plans have been scrapped for what would have been Oakland’s tallest building. The Planning Commission decided not to vote on the proposed 36-story highrise at 1261 Harrison St. in order to give the developer more time to redesign the project, which had been criticized for being too tall and for requiring the demolition of a historic building. (San Francisco Business Times)

Is there a white raccoon lurking around Lake Merritt? (NBC)

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