Thursday, January 31, 2013

Oakland Cops Point Guns at Sleeping One-Year-Old

By Ali Winston
Thu, Jan 31, 2013 at 10:34 AM

Two Oakland police officers pointed their firearms at a sleeping nineteen-month-old child while investigating a misdemeanor crime, according to a new report released Thursday. The sleeping child posed no threat to the officers, and yet they pointed their guns at the one-year-old anyway. The alarming incident was cited by Independent Monitor Robert Warshaw in his latest report on OPD misconduct. Warshaw noted that the department has had a history of overly aggressive behavior toward city residents. Warshaw also noted in his report that OPD not only failed to make any progress in living up to court-mandated reforms in the latest monitoring period, but actually lost ground for the second quarter in a row.

  • Warshaw
Warshaw’s report also comes in stark contrast to recent statements by Mayor Jean Quan. At a January 23 press conference following the approval of a contract to hire William Bratton, Quan was bullish on the future of the Oakland Police Department. “The reality is that we're making progress, this police department is changing,” she said of OPD's decade-old federal reform effort.

But according to Warshaw’s latest report, nothing could be further from the truth. Warshaw, who is responsible for auditing OPD's progress, found in the most recent quarterly report that OPD's compliance with the Negotiated Settlement Agreement reforms decreased for the second quarter in a row. In the report's executive summary, Warshaw wrote that the incomplete efforts deal with “critical supervisory and investigative tasks” which are “at the very core of Constitutional policing.”

Most of the backsliding concerned the department's failure to investigate Occupy Oakland complaints in a timely manner, and truthfulness and accountability in the Internal Affairs process — but Warshaw also cited alarming incidents about OPD's aggressive approach to residents, including: “[D]uring a search warrant, two officers pointed their firearms at a sleeping 19-month-old child who, of course, posed no immediate threat to the officers or others. The crime being investigated, according to the reports, involved a misdemeanor offense.”

Warshaw’s report contained no other information on the incident.

Aside from the monitor's long-standing concern with OPD's frequent pointing of firearms at residents without cause, OPD's incomplete tasks are related to failings in Occupy Oakland-related investigations. Previously, the monitor deferred review of OPD's investigations of thousands of complaints that poured in during the fall of 2011.

OPD’s internal affairs process and reporting of misconduct fell out of compliance with the consent decree after the monitor discovered inconsistencies in how the department examined officer misconduct and how accountability seemed to stop at a certain point in the chain of command. Out of 84 internal affairs cases reviewed during the reporting period, the monitor found eleven cases where officers were founded to have used force improperly, but the actions and orders of their superiors escaped scrutiny. Per the report: “[T]he investigations contained limited or incomplete analyses of the actions of the supervisors who should have supervised the officers, intervened in the use of force, and reported the actions.”

Seven of these cases dealt with Occupy Oakland incidents, where high-ranking supervisors — including captains — were involved in the situations that led to improper uses of force. “In these situations, if citizens had not made complaints, the misconduct would not have been reported or investigated; and officers would not have been disciplined for their misconduct,” Warshaw wrote.

Warshaw’s findings dovetail with the stance of Oakland police union on the consent decree. In November, the union filed a lengthy brief with Judge Henderson outlining a lack of accountability for OPD staff above the rank of sergeant. Their position is that the lack of accountability beyond the level of field supervisor is a main reason the reforms have not taken effect.

The last task where OPD was found out of compliance — reporting misconduct — dealt directly with the refusal of many OPD officers to cooperate with Occupy Oakland related misconduct investigations. Echoing an earlier independent report on OPD and Occupy released last summer, Warshaw found that time and time again, the refusal by officers to cooperate with internal affairs prevented individual cops from being held accountable for their conduct: “OPD officers consistently avoided commenting about the misbehavior — and sometimes, felonious actions — of their fellow officers,” Warshaw wrote. “They apparently remembered seeing participants in the demonstrations and riots clearly, but often could not say which officers were next to them even when they viewed videos of the incidents. Particularly troubling were the failures of supervisors to lead their subordinates or to comment on their actions. We found instances where supervisors, even when viewing videos of clearly improper behavior, were evasive and reluctant to comment.”

Warshaw reports directly to federal Judge Thelton Henderson, who is in the process of choosing a compliance director to oversee OPD.

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