Deadly Secrets 

How California law shields a small cadre of Oakland police officers involved in violence.

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Policing researchers have found that this pattern recurs: a relatively small band of cops accounting for large amounts of violence. It was among the primary findings of the independent investigation following Los Angeles' 1992 rioting in response to police violence. And watchdogs argue that the pattern suggests deadly violence could be prevented by closely tracking officers with recurring misconduct complaints — something the department has done poorly when left to its own devices.

Only one officer involved in Oakland's shooting incidents, Hector Jimenez, was disciplined for shooting incidents between 2004 and 2008, the most recent years for which records are available. He was fired and then rehired earlier this year after an arbitration judge ruled he had been improperly terminated. Jimenez was responsible for two fatal shootings within seven months of one another — killing an unarmed twenty-year-old, Andrew Moppin-Buckskin, on New Year's Eve 2007 and, months later, Mack "Jody" Woodfox.

Both men were fleeing traffic stops. Both families filed suit. Woodfox's family won a $650,000 settlement, while a judge ruled in favor of the city in Moppin-Buckskin's case. When Jimenez was terminated in 2009, prior to the arbitration ruling, it was the first time that OPD had disciplined an officer for any shooting since 2003, according to an Internal Affairs report.

Without CPRB records, lawsuits are the only remaining way for records of shooters to become public. As a result, accountability activists say, it is now extremely difficult to keep tabs on officer conduct. Rachel Jackson, an organizer of the Bay Area protests of Oscar Grant's killing, said the indictment on murder charges of ex-BART Officer Johannes Mehserle, following widespread public outcry, is proof of the point: "If there's street heat, they'll do something."

Early instances of Patrick Gonzales' conduct are available through archived CPRB records and civil lawsuits filed against the city by his alleged victims. The review board records are still available only because they were archived by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and People United for a Better Life in Oakland.

Gonzales joined the Oakland Police Department in the late-1990s, and from the start showed signs of trouble. Within two years, he found himself in the spotlight for accusations of brutality during a car stop. On May 2, 2000, Gonzales and his partner Chris Sansone stopped eighteen-year-old Andre Dante Piazza and his cousin George Moore as they left a liquor store. This was not Piazza's first contact with Gonzales; Piazza claimed that he had been stopped by the officer "15 to 20 times" between February 28 and May 2 of that year.

According to a CPRB complaint filed by Piazza, Gonzales strip-searched him publicly, pulling down his pants and conducting a cavity search on a busy street. When Gonzales lifted and felt around under Piazza's testicles, the teenager taunted Gonzales, saying the search made him "feel like you're fruity."

Gonzales allegedly responded to the taunt with force. He grabbed Piazza by the face, according to the complaint, and squeezed his mouth open to look for contraband. When Piazza told Gonzales his rights were being violated, Gonzales slapped him across the face. When Moore asked Gonzales why he'd struck Piazza, Moore and other witnesses report, Gonzales said he "shouldn't be talking so much shit." Gonzales and Sansone then left the scene. Both officers denied Piazza's allegations, and the CPRB voted not to sustain his complaint.

A month after the Piazza matter was concluded, Gonzales took part in another incident that landed him back in front of the civilian review board. On the afternoon of February 25, 2001, Sammie Jordan allegedly sold an unspecified amount of marijuana to an undercover officer. Gonzales and another officer responded to the scene. Jordan claimed he was pistol-whipped across the neck by Gonzales and "'kicked' approximately 10 to 15 times" by the three officers. Once again, the CPRB did not sustain the complaint, as is most often the case with review board hearings. What's notable, however, is the emerging pattern of complaints — a flag for a potential shooter, watchdogs say.

Even after racking up CPRB complaints about his use of force, Gonzales kept turning up at the center of events involving questionable violence by OPD. Eventually, the recurring controversies cost the city millions of dollars.

In spring 2003, the United States invasion of Iraq sparked nationwide protests, including a shutdown of parts of the Port of Oakland. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside a terminal to protest alleged war profiteering by shipping company American President Lines. They were met by a line of OPD officers equipped with riot gear, who ordered the crowd to disperse. When the command was not obeyed, OPD officers opened fire with rubber bullets, tear gas, and other less-than-lethal weaponry.

Protesters ran for cover behind nearby trucks waiting to load at the port, so a line of longshoremen were caught in the line of fire as well. A dozen protesters and nine longshoremen on their way to work were injured.

After a formal city investigation foundered, protesters filed a class-action lawsuit against OPD. In court documents, Gonzales is identified as one of the officers armed with crowd control weapons. According to the documents, Gonzales and three fellow officers fired "drag-stabilized beanbags" (lead birdshot wrapped in a cloth bag) from 12-gauge shotguns at the crowd. In video footage, Gonzales is shown firing the beanbags from his shotgun directly at protesters.

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