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Re: “OPD Lieutenant Commits Suicide

I had a brief, but meaningful, encounter with Derrick about 5 years ago which speaks volumes about his character. My two sons, who were 12 and 13 at the time, were wrongfully stopped, detained and humiliated. They were walking home from their first middle school dance -- and the officers had gotten an "anonymous" tip that some "black and Hispanc youths" ranging from age 18 to 21 in the area "may" have been playing with a gun. In spite of the fact that the only thing my sons and their friends had in common with the description was their race, and that my sons were only "armed" with their backpacks, the officers -- one Black, another Hispanic, drove up and jumped out the patrol car, with guns drawn, and shouted, "Give up the gun!"

Needless to say, my sons and their friends were horrified, and embarrassed -- particularly because they had to endure the public humiliation. My wife and I were outraged. I attempted to file a formal complaint, but because the boys weren't handcuffed, according to internal affairs, the officers actions did not constitute harassment. So, I filed an informal complaint, which allowed my sons, and I, the privilege of personally meeting with the officers; to ask them why they essentially "profiled" the boys in such a manner; to ask why they felt compelled to draw their guns from the get-go, before assessing whether the young boys warranted such action.

Enter Lt. Derrick Norfleet. Although I did not know him at the time, he immediately put me at ease -- not by anything he said, but because he allowed me and my boys to vent our rage, and frustration, for the first 20 minutes or so. I could tell that he respected the fact that my sons and I had chosen this option -- and he told me, in the presence of the two officers (along with two others, for good measure) that he admired the way my sons and I handled our selves, in that we did not personally attack the officers, or act disrespectful in any way. My sons just asked the officers, "Why did you pull your guns on us so fast? Why didn't you just question us first?" "Why didn't you say you were sorry after you found out that you had the wrong people? Derrick told us, again in the presence of the officers, that he would not have handled the situation in the way that the officers did. He said many of the rookie officers "these days" who were coming out of the academy were trained differently. Afterwards, my sons raved about how "nice" Derrick was -- and how much better they felt about everything after that empowering experience. Shortly thereafter, Brenda Payton, a columnist with the Oakland Tribune, wrote a story about the whole episode, entitled, "Sometimes an Apology helps alot." Derrick will always occupy a special place in my heart, because he was instrumental in our efforts to help our sons deal with an extremely traumatic situation, and to show them that sometimes you can work within the system in order to achieve your goals. Although I never spoke to him after that meeting, Derrick Norfleet became an honorary friend of the family because of that encounter. He became an essential part of our life story. God Bless Derrick, his family and friends.

Greg Brooks

Posted by gregbrooks on 08/01/2008 at 8:00 PM

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