Monday, October 15, 2018

Monday’s Briefing: Council Candidate Charlie Michelson Drops Out of Race; PG&E Shuts Off Power to 60K to Avoid Fires

by Robert Gammon
Mon, Oct 15, 2018 at 9:52 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss for Oct. 15, 2018:

1. In a surprise move, Oakland City Council District 4 candidate Charlie Michelson ended his campaign on Sunday, citing personal reasons. Michelson, who was backed by Mayor Libby Schaaf and retiring councilmember Annie Campbell Washington, had been considered a frontrunner in the race.

2. PG&E shut off power to about 60,000 customers in 12 counties on Sunday in order to avoid sparking fires from downed powerlines during hot, dry, windy weather conditions, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The unprecedented move affected residents of Napa, Sonoma, El Dorado, Lake, Amador, and Calaveras counties.

3. Disgraced restaurateur Charlie Hallowell, who was accused by dozens of female employees earlier this year of sexual harassment and misconduct, announced that he’s returning to having more of a hands-on role in running his operation after undergoing a 12-step treatment program, reports Tracey Taylor of Berkeleyside. Hallowell sold two of his Oakland restaurants earlier this year — Penrose and Boot & Shoe Service — but still is co-owner of Pizzaiolo and is going forward with the opening of a new eatery in downtown Berkeley.

4. House GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s family “won more than $7 million in no-bid and other federal contracts at U.S. military installations and other government properties in California based on a dubious claim of Native American identity by McCarthy’s brother-in-law,” the LA Times$ found in an investigation.

5. And Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and plans to close 142 stores by the end of the year because of staggering losses, reports Anne D’innocenzio of the Associated Press.

$ = stories that may require payment to read.

Charlie Michelson Abruptly Withdraws from Oakland's District 4 City Council Campaign

But Michelson's name will still be on the ballot and some have already voted.

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Oct 15, 2018 at 8:53 AM


Oakland City Council District 4 candidate Charlie Michelson abruptly withdrew from the Nov. 6 election yesterday afternoon when he sent a surprising email to his supporters. He cited "deeply personal reasons" for his decision.

Michelson didn't describe the exact reason for his exit, and he didn't respond to an email seeking clarification.

But in his message, he wrote that it's the "right decision for me and my family."

Michelson was among the seven candidates vying for the seat of outgoing Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington.

Michelson was endorsed by Campbell Washington, as well as Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, but in a hint that something was wrong, a Laurel District campaign event for Michelson that was supposed to feature Schaaf was cancelled on Saturday.

Asked about Michelson's departure from the campaign, Schaaf's campaign issued the following statement: "As soon as Mayor Schaaf was apprised of allegations concerning Charlie Michelson, she immediately withdrew her endorsement of his candidacy for Oakland City Council, District 4."

Schaaf did not describe the allegations that caused her to drop her endorsement.

Michelson is the second candidate backed by Schaaf and Campbell Washington to suddenly drop out of the District 4 race. Earlier, Chris Young dropped out after facing criticism for misrepresenting his status as an attorney. On Monday morning, the campaign for candidate Pamela Harris announced that Campbell Washington had now solely endorsed Harris.

Michelson managed to win the endorsement of the East Bay Times because, according to that paper's editorial board, he has "an awareness that the budget challenges can’t be solved by piling more taxes on homeowners."

The retired executive of West Coast Ship Supply, Michelson sold the company, which he owned an equity stake in, several years ago.

Michelson had already raised $90,334 for his campaign as of Sept. 26. In his statement, he said he would work to refund the unspent portion of his contributors' money.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Oakland Review Agency Exonerates Police Chief Over False Statements Regarding ICE Raid

While trying to review the investigation, the police commission was told they're not allowed to inspect their own civilian investigative agency's police misconduct case files.

by Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Oct 12, 2018 at 11:08 AM

Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick being sworn in by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. - FILE PHOTO BY D. ROSS CAMERON
  • File photo by D. Ross Cameron
  • Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick being sworn in by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

According to Oakland's Community Police Review Agency, Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick did nothing wrong when she made multiple false and inaccurate statements about an ICE raid that OPD officers assisted in August 2017.

CPRA Executive Director Anthony Finnell closed the case and informed the Oakland Police Commission at its meeting last night about his findings.

But several commissioners expressed frustration with the results because of Finnell's refusal to explain exactly why he cleared Kirkpatrick, despite the existence of video in which the chief made false statements.

Commissioners also questioned why it took a year to complete the investigation.

And in a surprising revelation, Finnell also told police commissioners last night that they're not allowed to look at the contents of CPRA investigative files, even though they're tasked with reviewing cases and approving the CPRA's findings — and determining whether Finnell and his investigators are doing their jobs correctly.

"Why did it take a year to get here, and why are we getting it on the eve of 3304 when there’s almost nothing we can do about it?" Police Commissioner Andrea Dooley asked Finnell.

Under Section 3304 of the California Police Officer's Bill of Rights, cops can't be disciplined for misconduct unless the official investigation is completed within one year. By presenting findings in the Kirkpatrick case as this statute of limitation was running out, there was no possibility for the police commission to question the outcome or ask for further investigation.

In fact, Finnell's presentation of the case to the police commission fell one day before the one-year deadline state law requires misconduct investigations to be completed in.

Finnell, who reports to the police commission, defended the time it took to complete the investigation and his agency's findings.

"We interviewed several individuals and had to review a large volume of documents and sift thought those, so it wasn’t a simple case that could have been closed quickly," he told the commission.

But even if the commission wanted the CPRA to do more, it's unclear how the commissioners would know what to ask for. That's because Finnell contends that the commissioners are not allowed to inspect the contents of CPRA case files. This limitation, which Finnell explained last night  to the commissioners, came as a surprise to many.

And it actually means that in some ways, Oakland's new Police Commission, approved by voters in 2016, is weaker and has less access to information than the old Citizens Police Review Board that it replaced. The CPRB was able to inspect case files in closed session meetings to determine whether their civilian investigators conducted an adequate investigation.

"It never occurred to us that the commission would have less ability to scrutinize the investigations and investigative reports than their predecessors on the CPRB board," said Rashidah Grinage, a member of the Coalition for Police Accountability, the group that pushed for creation of the new police commission — through the 2016 ballot initiative known as Measure LL.

Although LL is silent on the question of whether police commissioners are allowed to examine investigative files in closed session, Finnell has interpreted LL to deny commissioners that ability. State law prohibits the discussion of investigative files in public — a fact that no one disputes.

Brian Hofer, chair of Oakland's Privacy Advisory Commission, filed the original complaint against Kirkpatrick regarding her statements about the ICE raid, and he called Finnell's CPRA investigation inadequate.

"By waiting until the statute of limitations expired, Mr. Finnell ensured that Chief Kirkpatrick would escape any punishment for her wrongdoing," said Hofer.

See previous coverage: Oakland Police Chief Made False Statements About ICE Raid

The August 2017 ICE raid targeted a house in West Oakland where federal immigration agents arrested one man and subsequently initiated a deportation case against him. Kirkpatrick assigned several Oakland police officers to help the ICE agents by blocking off the streets to through traffic. Mayor Libby Schaaf later defended Kirkpatrick's decision, before ultimately deciding that OPD should sever all ties with ICE.

OPD's assistance ignited a controversy because Oakland's sanctuary policies bar the police from working with federal agents to enforce immigration laws. (At the time, OPD was authorized to work with ICE in criminal investigations, however). In response to the incident, the Oakland City Council passed a resolution clarifying that any and all forms of assistance to ICE are prohibited.

But in the days and weeks after the ICE raid, Kirkpatrick claimed that OPD's assistance wasn't a violation of Oakland's sanctuary policy because ICE was carrying out a warrant in a "human trafficking" case. She repeatedly claimed the ICE raid was a criminal matter not involving civil immigration enforcement.

Several weeks later at a public event hosted by Councilmember Abel Guillen, Kirkpatrick again claimed that the raid was a criminal case involving human trafficking, and she specifically stated, on a video recorded by the Express, that "only one person has been charged with a crime, and there is not a deportation matter in this case."

In fact, at the time Kirkpatrick made this statement, no criminal charges had been filed against anyone as a result of the raid. The man who was arrested by ICE, Santos de Leon, was never charged with a crime. Instead, ICE had filed papers to deport him due to an alleged civil immigration violation, contrary to Kirkpatrick's claim.

Several Oakland residents asked the CPRA to investigate Kirkpatrick for making three specific statements about the ICE raid.
  • Several Oakland residents asked the CPRA to investigate Kirkpatrick for making three specific statements about the ICE raid.

Kirkpatrick also stated inaccurately in a press release that her department had severed its agreement with ICE before the Aug. 16 raid. But according to the city's own records, OPD didn't provide notice to ICE that it was withdrawing from the agreement until Aug. 25, and the agreement was in effect for another month because it had a 30-day notification clause.

In response to all of the false and inaccurate claims made by the chief, Hofer and several Oakland residents filed their complaint against Kirkpatrick with the Community Police Review Agency, the authority that works under oversight of the police commission to investigate police misconduct and recommend discipline.

The CPRA investigators concluded that Kirkpatrick was justified in providing false information in one instance, and that the other allegations against her were "unfounded."
  • The CPRA investigators concluded that Kirkpatrick was justified in providing false information in one instance, and that the other allegations against her were "unfounded."

Finnell informed the police commission last night that they found Kirkpatrick to be "exonerated" in one of the instances and that it was "unfounded" that Kirkpatrick made two other false statements about the ICE raid.

The "exonerated" decision likely pertains to Kirkpatrick's claim that OPD no longer had a formal agreement with ICE, known as an MOU, when the raid happened. Finnell's investigators concluded that "the act or acts which provided the basis for the complaint occurred; however, the acts were justified, lawful and proper and not violations under law and/or departmental policy."

Finnell did not specifically explain why the acts were justified and lawful, even though they amounted to the spreading of false information by the police chief. It's also unclear why Kirkpatrick made the statement that OPD's agreement was severed with ICE before the raid — when she had nonetheless decided to assign OPD officers to help in the raid. (Kirkpatrick later admitted that the OPD agreement with ICE was still in effect at the time of the Aug. 16 raid.)

The second and third complaints in the case pertained to Kirkpatrick's claims at Guillen's town hall event that one person had been criminally charged as a result of the raid, and that there was no deportation matter resulting from the ICE raid.

Despite the existence of video in which Kirkpatrick made these false claims, Finnell reported to the commission last night that there is "sufficient evidence to determine that the conduct did not occur."

The CPRA may have reached this conclusion based on the possibility that Kirkpatrick genuinely believed that ICE was conducting a criminal investigation and not an immigration raid and therefore wasn't willfully lying, but Finnell again declined to provide any specifics.

"At the time of our complaint's filing, no facts pertaining to the ICE raid in West Oakland were in dispute," Hofer said in response to Finnell's conclusions. "Indeed, the chief had admitted prior to our filing that the MOU with HSI/ICE was not terminated as she claimed. Mr. Finnell demonstrates his lack of credibility by saying none of the three claims were substantiated, when they were so easily and publicly proven."

"This information is useless," Police Commissioner Ginale Harris told Finnell at last night's meeting.

Under Oakland's police oversight laws, if the CPRA, which works for the civilian police commission, and OPD's Internal Affairs Division agree on findings in a case, the case is closed without further action. But if CPRA and IAD disagree, the case can end up coming before the commission's discipline committee for a review and action. Only in these instances would three police commissioners who serve on the discipline subcommittee get a chance to look at the contents of a case file, according to Finnell's interpretation of Measure LL.

"The cases are closed," Finnell said about the complaint against Kirkpatrick, indicating no disagreement with IAD.

Finnell also closed a separate case last night involving an Oakland police officer trainee who was arrested while driving drunk across the Bay Bridge last month. That officer faced no discipline because the cop resigned. The officer's identity and details about the case are confidential, per state law.

Frustrated with the lack information about why CPRA closed Kirkpatrick's case, the commissioners voted last night to explore a possible legislative change that would allow them to review detailed contents of cases in closed session meetings.

Hofer said after the meeting in an email to the Express that the whole controversy could have been averted had city officials simply acknowledged making a mistake.

"Neither the Mayor, City Administrator, or Chief Kirkpatrick have apologized to the innocent immigrant family for assisting ICE in the raid, and for slandering them as 'sex traffickers' of children," he said.

Friday’s Briefing: DA Investigator Admits Corruption; Gas Tax Repeal Would Halt Transpo Projects

Plus, BART fined $1.3 million for track worker deaths.

by Express Staff
Fri, Oct 12, 2018 at 9:58 AM

Harry Hu, left, confessed to corruption charges. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Harry Hu, left, confessed to corruption charges.

Stories you shouldn’t miss for Oct. 12, 2018:

1. Alameda County District Attorney investigator Harry Hu has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from his longtime informant in exchange for helping him avoid prosecution, the East Bay Times$ reports. Hu, who is also a former Oakland police officer, confessed to receiving from informant Wing Wo Ma free trips to Las Vegas and Reno and paid escorts. “Hu also admitted that he knew about the informant’s connection to a 2013 double murder in Mendocino County and that he lied to the FBI about his relationship with the informant.”

2. Proposition 6, a measure on the November ballot that would repeal California’s gas tax increase, would likely halt hundreds of transportation projects in the Bay Area and throughout the state if it passes, including the planned BART extension to San Jose and the extension of Caltrain into the Transbay Transit Center, reports Rachel Swan of the San Francisco Chronicle$.

3. BART was fined $1.3 million by the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday “for safety violations that resulted in the deaths of two track workers who were struck and killed by a train in 2013,” reports Rachel Swan of the San Francisco Chronicle$. “For the time being, the transit agency would only have to pay half of the fine: $650,000. The commission put BART on a three-year probation and will require the agency to pay the rest of the fine if it commits any safety violations during that period.”

4. A sexual abuse survivor is accusing the Catholic Diocese of Oakland of sheltering the priest who assaulted her, reports George Kelley of the East Bay Times$. Joey Piscitelli, a member of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, won a lawsuit against that priest, the Rev. Steve Whelan. Earlier this week, the diocese announced that it was commissioning an independent investigation into clergy abuse.

5. Zachary’s Chicago Pizza plans to open a new outlet in Grand Avenue in Oakland at the spot that Camino restaurant is vacating in December, reports Justin Phillips of the San Francisco Chronicle.

6. And Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry may host a PGA Golf Tour event in Alameda next year at the newly remodeled Chuck Corica course, reports Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle$.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Opinion: Will Berkeley Make Its Sanctuary City Status Real?

The Berkeley City Council is on the verge of enacting a law that will prohibit the city from doing business with vendors that help ICE target immigrants.

by Brian Hofer, Sameena Usman, Miya Sommers, and Malena Mayorga
Thu, Oct 11, 2018 at 11:02 AM

On Oct. 16, the Berkeley City Council is scheduled to vote on the Sanctuary Contracting Ordinance as proposed by the city’s Peace and Justice Commission. If implemented, the ordinance will prohibit the awarding of city contracts to vendors supplying ICE with data or extreme vetting services.

Unfortunately, American businesses are often far too eager to put profit over values. For example, companies like Palantir, Vigilant, and data behemoths like Thomson-Reuters use more powerful technology to enable ICE to carry out President Trump’s hate-driven ideology.

Local governments must join the tech workers’ revolts happening around the country and align with sanctuary and immigrants’ rights groups to have enough impact to change these harmful business strategies and counteract federal monies.

Berkeley’s Peace & Justice Commission reviewed the ordinance after it was referred by the city council and unanimously recommended its adoption. The ordinance is sponsored by Councilmembers Kriss Worthington, Kate Harrison, and Cheryl Davila. The city of Richmond enacted a similar law earlier this year.

Candidate Trump repeatedly called for surveillance of mosques and considered the idea of compiling a national database of American Muslims. As president, he has not wavered in his desire to intimidate and oppress immigrants. His proposed use of “extreme vetting” analytics tools against immigrants, including recently changed rules allowing the targeting of those who have already obtained a green card or naturalized citizen status, demonstrate that his xenophobia knows no limits.

By joining Richmond and other Bay Area cities that are now considering this same ordinance, our combined municipal purchasing power can be leveraged to have a real impact that will lead to meaningful change. This concept is only in its infancy, and yet it has already cost Vigilant multiple contracts and a million dollars.

It has become clear that in the Trump era, protection of our civil liberties must occur at the local level. Comments made by Trump and his cabinet members, and his executive orders targeting sanctuary cities and immigrants, make it more critical than ever that the Berkeley City Council do everything in its power to defend these targeted members of our community. By adopting a strong ordinance, Berkeley can take a step closer to being a City of Refuge.

Brian Hofer - Member of Oakland Privacy and the #DeportICE coalition, and author of the model sanctuary contracting ordinance. Sameena Usman - Government Relations Coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations – San Francisco Office, member of the #DeportICE coalition. Miya Sommers - Coordinator for Nikkei Resisters, member of the #DeportICE coalition. Malena Mayorga is the Director of Immigrant Defense at Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), and a member of the Alameda County Immigration Legal & Educational Partnership (ACILEP), member of the #DeportICE coalition.

Thursday’s Briefing: Hurricane Michael Lashes Florida; El Niño Grows in Pacific

Plus, Oakland’s biggest landlord puts a bunch of properties up for sale.

by Express Staff
Thu, Oct 11, 2018 at 10:10 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss for Oct. 11, 2018:

1. Hurricane Michael, a category 4 storm packing 155 mph winds, lashed the Florida panhandle on Wednesday, leveling homes and business and killing at least two people, The New York Times$ reports. The massive storm, one of the largest to ever strike the United States, caused widespread damage, leaving much of coastline in Panama City and Mexico Beach in ruins.

2. It’s looking increasingly likely that California will experience an El Niño winter this year as the Pacific Ocean continues to warm, reports Paul Rogers of the Mercury News$. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now estimates a 70 to 75 percent probability of an El Niño winter. El Niños are often accompanied by wetter than usual weather, although scientists cautioned that this one appears to be somewhat weak.

3. Oakland’s biggest landlord, CIM Group, is putting at least six buildings up for sale in the city, hoping to cash in on The Town’s red hot commercial property market, reports Hannah Norman of the San Francisco Business Times$. CIM Group is selling the commercial buildings 1 Kaiser Plaza (534,423 square feet); 2101 Webster St. (471,337 square feet); 1901 Harrison St. (280,610 square feet); 1333 Broadway (251,155 square feet); 2100 Franklin St. (216,828 square feet); and 2353 Webster St. Parking Garage.

4. A large warehouse in East Oakland that was occupied by a paint company was destroyed by a massive fire on Wednesday, the East Bay Times$ reports. The warehouse was to be torn down anyway to make room for an affordable housing project. No one was injured in the blaze.

5. ICYMI: A former inmate at Santa Rita Jail sued Alameda County and “four former sheriff’s deputies for ‘despicable’ attacks that included a plot to repeatedly douse him with feces and urine,” reports Megan Cassidy of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Fernando Miguel Soria accused the deputies of excessive force during his time in lockup, denial of medical attention, and a conspiracy to violate his civil rights.”

6. And House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco said Democrats would seek the release of President Trump’s tax records if they win back the House in November, reports John Wildermuth of the San Francisco Chronicle$. Trump has steadfastly refused to reveal his tax returns — unlike previous presidents — and is expected to mount a legal battle to keep them secret.

$ = news stories that may require payment to read.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks Alleges City Attorney Failed to Competently Represent Her in the Elaine Brown Lawsuit

by Darwin BondGraham
Tue, Oct 9, 2018 at 1:35 PM

  • Photo by Steven Tavares

Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks filed a claim against the city of Oakland on Tuesday alleging that City Attorney Barbara Parker failed to competently represent her in court when Elaine Brown sued Brooks and the city. Brooks believes that Parker's actions resulted in unnecessary damage to her reputation, emotional distress, and monetary penalties.

Brown, a former Black Panther turned nonprofit real estate developer, filed her civil lawsuit against Brooks over an incident that took place in the Everett and Jones restaurant in 2015. The case went to trial and in March of this year, and a jury found that Brooks had assaulted Brown by pushing her to the floor.

Because Brooks was sued in her capacity as a city official, the city was ordered to pay a fine of $3.75 million and Brooks was ordered to personally pay damages of $550,000. Later, a judge reduced the city's obligation to $1.2 million. The damages Brooks was ordered to pay were also reduced to $75,000. A judge also ordered the city to pay $1 million in legal fees.

Because Brooks was sued as a city official, City Attorney Barbara Parker was tasked with defending Brooks in court.

But in her claim against the city, Brooks alleges that Parker and several members of her staff "breached their duty of care by failing to present available evidence to refute Ms. Brown's claims."

Among the evidence that Brooks believes would have secured a more favorable outcome for her and the city are statements that were allegedly made by Brown before and after the fight, alcohol that Brown allegedly consumed before the fight, and a threat from Brown that allegedly included her going outside to her car to retrieve a pipe to beat Brooks with. Brooks claims that a witness heard Brown say "I'm going to get that bitch" as she went to retrieve the weapon.

Attorney Dan Siegel, who is representing Brooks, wrote in the claim that Parker failed to put up an adequate defense for Brooks and the city and that Parker and her team chose not to make objections at various points in the trial that could have helped the city's case.

"Overall, the quality of the representation provided by [City Attorney Parker and her staff] was far inferior to what should be expected in a high profile, high stakes case," Siegel wrote on behalf of Brooks.

In a press statement issued earlier today, Siegel accused Parker's office of causing the city and Brooks to lose the lawsuit "through a pattern of negligence, poor preparation, and/or lack of competence."

The Brown lawsuit also has become a campaign issue. Brooks faces four opponents in the election who have brought up the altercation and judgment against Brooks, and two political action committees were recently established to campaign against her.

Brooks' claim doesn't specify an amount of money being sought.

"Frankly, we are very surprised to receive this claim from Desley Brooks given this office’s professional and diligent defense in this case," Alex Katz, a spokesperson for City Attorney Parker wrote in an emailed statement. "It is not surprising that she is unhappy with the judge’s ruling that she committed perjury, with the judge’s and the jury’s findings of fact, and with their $75,000 punitive damages award against her personally. It is unfortunate that her claims are full of inaccuracies and falsehoods."

Katz wrote that Brooks' claim will be treated like any other.

Tuesday’s Briefing: Berkeley Whole Foods Gets Restraining Order Against Animal Rights Group; GOP Spends Big to Beat Prop. 10

Plus, BART rolls out earthquake warning system.

by Express Staff
Tue, Oct 9, 2018 at 9:50 AM

Stories you shouldn’t miss for Oct. 9, 2018:

1. Berkeley Whole Foods has obtained a restraining order against the animal rights activist group Direct Action Everywhere, which advocates for “total animal liberation,” reports Gabrielle Canon for the Guardian. Last week, the animal rights group held an “Occupy Whole Foods” demonstration, contending that the organic giant “sells animal products from suppliers who keep chickens in crowded sheds, without access to outdoors, even when they are labeled free-range.”

2. The California Republican Party has spent nearly $6 million to defeat Prop. 10, which would allow stricter rent control laws in the state, and Prop. 8, which seeks to limit profits for dialysis clinics, reports Taryn Luna of the LA Times$. The big spending followed donations to the GOP from business interests.

3. BART rolled out its new earthquake warning system on Monday, designed by “USGS and the UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory to warn transit systems, utilities, businesses and millions of people in California, Oregon, and Washington about impending temblors,” reports Peter Fimrite of the San Francisco Chronicle$.

4. The Catholic Diocese of Oakland said on Monday that it “will launch an independent investigation into clergy sex abuse and name priests credibly accused of abusing children as part of a worldwide call to address the scandal,” reports Matthias Gafni of the East Bay Times$.

5. And Alameda County is set to implement new rules that will finally legalize pop-up restaurants in Oakland and other East Bay cities, reports Peter Hegarty of the East Bay Times$. The county spurred controversy earlier this year when it ordered the closure of Oakland pop-up Nokni inside Oakland’s Kebabery.

$ = news stories that may require payment to read.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Accused of Terrorism and Jailed for Three Years, Adam Shafi Is Released Following a Mistrial

The federal government attempted to paint a picture of a dangerous man seeking to join a terrorist organization in the Syrian warzone, but jurors were “hopelessly deadlocked.”

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Oct 8, 2018 at 5:44 PM

Adam Shafi's hearing was at the federal courthouse last week.
  • Adam Shafi's hearing was at the federal courthouse last week.

There’s no doubt that Adam Shafi tried to fly out of the United States in the summer of 2015 destined for Turkey. And it’s very likely he was attempting to make it all the way into Syria. But was he going to join at terrorist organization as the government alleges? Or was he traveling for another reason?

Last week, U.S. District Judge William Orrick granted Shafi bail, releasing him from an isolation cell in Alameda County’s Glenn Dyer Jail in downtown Oakland, where he had been held for three years pending trial. Shafi walked out of Glenn Dyer on October 5 with his parents and is now home in Fremont.

His release — perhaps only temporary — marks the latest twist in a remarkable criminal case, one of the Bay Area’s handful of alleged terrorist plots in recent years foiled by the FBI.

Similar to other cases, prosecutors allege that Shafi became radicalized and took meaningful steps toward joining a foreign terrorist group, and that he was stopped in the nick of time. But Shafi’s attorneys and his family, along with several Arab and Muslim civil rights groups, have characterized the federal government’s case against Shafi as overreach against a young man suffering from depression.

FBI agents had surveilled Shafi for months in 2015. They tapped his phone and observed him as he exercised in a park near his parents’ house. They eventually came to the conclusion that Shafi was intent on joining the Al Nusra Front, a Syrian militia at war with the Assad regime. The State Department has classified Al Nusra Front as a foreign terrorist organization, making any effort to assist it a felony.
The government’s case against Adam Shafi’s began on Aug. 27 and ended with a hung jury.

On Sept. 17, the jury’s foreperson reported that they were “hopelessly deadlocked” and that there was “virtually no possibility of a unanimous verdict.” The split was 8-4 in favor of acquitting Shafi.

Afterward, the federal public defender’s office, which represented Shafi, filed a motion for his release pending retrial.

At a hearing last Thursday, Judge Orrick called Shafi’s parents to the front of the courtroom to stand alongside their son who was clad in the red and white stripes of a prisoner. They’d been asking the court for their son’s release ever since his arrest, but prosecutors successfully argued each time that he was dangerous and a flight risk.

Shafi’s father, Sal, broke down and wept as it became apparent that Orrick was going to release his son. “I’m sorry,” he said, wiping back tears. Several of Shafi’s relatives in the gallery also began to cry.

“There is nothing to be sorry about,” the judge replied.

Orrick told Shafi’s parents that he respected the love they had shown for their son, appearing at every court hearing, and going so far as to pledge their home as the security for his release.

But Orrick wanted to make sure they were aware of the gravity of their decision to become the custodians of their son. Shafi had shown a disregard for the opinions of his parents in the past, as evidenced in his attempts to travel to Syria, and in recordings of phone calls played during trial.

He had also made disturbing statements to two friends before he had been arrested, saying things like he had a desire to “kill some frickin’ people that were supporting America or American soldiers or something.”

In another intercepted phone call leading up to his arrest, Shafi had told a friend that “the U.S. is the biggest enemy of Allah.”

“If I grant your son release, one thing you’ll be doing is putting your house up,” Orrick said to Shafi’s parents. “Do you understand that if your son doesn’t follow through, people will be sorry, but they will exonerate the bond by taking your house.”

“Yes,” they answered.

Orrick also ordered Shafi to undergo psychiatric exam and counseling and to not access the internet or use computers or cellphones, among other strict conditions.

Orrick served as the trial judge for the case. He heard all of the testimony and considered all the same evidence as the jurors. He said during last week’s hearing that there was a lack of evidence that Shafi had continued in any way over the past three years to attempt to provide himself to the Al Nusra Front, as the prosecution alleged. The judge also seemed to be in agreement with Shafi’s defense team that the young man’s behavior, while shocking at times, displayed signs of depression and youthful indiscretion.

In his motion for bail, Assistant Federal Public Defender Hanni Fakhoury wrote that Shafi “likely would not be a defendant in federal court if not for his struggles with depression,” and that the young man had “thought of committing suicide in the past.”

This depression, according to Fakhoury, led to “poor choices,” including “certainly disgusting” statements about a willingness to commit violence. But Fakhoury maintained that the 22-year-old was never seriously intent on joining the Syrian Civil War on the side of Al Nusra Front.

The government plans to re-try Shafi’s case in January. After Orrick declared a mistrial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Waqar Hasib and several FBI agents approached members of the jury and asked them why they were deadlocked. The jurors told them they could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Shafi was traveling to Syria specifically to join Al Nusra Front.

“Based on our conversations with the jury we think we can go back and win a conviction,” Hasib told Orrick.

But after seeing that Orrick intended to grant bail, Hasib made on last effort at preventing Shafi’s immediate release. He told the judge he was going to file an appeal to revoke bail, therefore he asked Orrick for a temporary stay, to keep Shafi locked up in Glenn Dyer just long enough for him to contact Attorney General Jeff Sessions and file papers with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“If he hears we can go back and secure a conviction on the material support charge, it’s obvious there’s a flight risk,” Hasib told Orrick last week.

Orrick disagreed.

“I will not be inclined to grant the stay,” said Orrick.

Finally, Orrick turned to Shafi. “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that you follow to the spirit and letter every condition I’ve laid down, and you follow to the spirit and letter everything your parents say,” the judge said.

“I expect you’re going to prove your parents right about who you are.”

Nuclear Weapons Maker to Receive Extra $420,600 to Help Repair Oakland Bridge

In addition to managing US nuclear labs, AECOM does billions in business building overseas military bases and maintaining Air Force drones.

by Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Oct 8, 2018 at 10:08 AM

Caltrans and the city of Oakland are repairing the 23rd Avenue Bridge.
  • Caltrans and the city of Oakland are repairing the 23rd Avenue Bridge.

The Oakland City Council is considering increasing an existing contract by $420,600 for a total of $1.25 million to repair the 23rd Avenue Bridge, but the modified contract is with AECOM, an engineering company that has been involved in designing and manufacturing nuclear weapons components, and in the past, helped manage a desert test site where nuclear weapons experiments were conducted.

Oakland has an anti-nuclear ordinance that usually bars companies involved in designing and building nukes from doing business with the city. But city staffers are recommending that the council waive the prohibition for AECOM due to the fact that the company, and its URS subsidiary, have been involved with the 23rd Avenue Bridge project since 2003 and finding another firm to do the technical work would be difficult.

The original $229,400 contract form 2003 for design and engineering services was signed when URS was independent from AECOM and before URS was a prime contractor with the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees the nation's nuclear weapons programs. But in 2005, URS became part of a consortium of companies that took over management of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where most of the U.S. military's nuclear weapons are designed and some weapons parts are manufactured. The next year, URS took over management of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the nation's second nuclear weapons design and testing lab.

AECOM bought URS in 2014 and as a result became a partner in the nuclear labs' management company. Three months ago, the federal government selected a new team to manage the Los Alamos lab, dropping AECOM as one of the firms involved there. But AECOM is still part of the Livermore Lab group.

Prior to this, AECOM helped manage the Nevada National Security Site where nuclear weapons are tested in "subcritical" experiments that don't result in fission or fusion explosions.

AECOM has billions of dollars worth of other contracts with the U.S. military, doing everything from building overseas bases to maintaining drone weapons systems. As a result of its nuclear weapons contracts, AECOM was one of several companies that Norway's sovereign fund put on an investment blacklist last January.

In 2012, Oakland's City Council increased the contract with URS to work on the 23rd Avenue Bridge to $829,400. But according to the city, "several unforeseen conditions and needed re-design work" require that the contract be increased again to $1.25 million. The funds are mainly state and federal transportation grant dollars.

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