Official: Oakland mayor, ex-police chief failed police sex scandal probe

FILE - In this May 13, 2016 file photo, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, left, speaks beside then-Oakland Chief of Police Sean Whent in Oakland, Calif. Schaaf is a trained lawyer who left her legal career years ago for grassroots community service in Oakland that eventually led to her election as mayor of the long-troubled California city. Now, midway through her first term, she is facing the toughest trial of her political career with the scandal-ridden Oakland Police Department providing a seemingly daily dose of embarrassment for her and the city. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, FIle)
FILE - In this May 13, 2016 file photo, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, left, speaks beside then-Oakland Chief of Police Sean Whent in Oakland, Calif. Schaaf is a trained lawyer who left her legal career years ago for grassroots community service in Oakland that eventually led to her election as mayor of the long-troubled California city. Now, midway through her first term, she is facing the toughest trial of her political career with the scandal-ridden Oakland Police Department providing a seemingly daily dose of embarrassment for her and the city. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, FIle)

 

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — From the mayor on down, a court-appointed investigator said Wednesday that Oakland officials mishandled, downplayed and ignored a far-reaching sexual misconduct scandal in the city’s police department.

In a court filing, investigator Ed Swanson put most of the blame for the bungled probe on former police chief Sean Whent, who resigned under pressure last year. But Swanson also singled out Mayor Libby Schaaf for failing to monitor the case after she vowed dramatic reforms in the police department.

Schaaf declared in 2016 that her job was to run a “police department, not a frat house” and Swanson credited her with acting quickly when she was first informed of the scandal and a federal judge ordered an in-depth investigation.

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But Swanson said in his report that she did not do enough after the investigation was over to determine why the police department did not investigate the case more thoroughly.

“Although they took the appropriate step of hiring an outside attorney to investigate this issue many months passed with no investigative progress, and there is no evidence city leaders pressed to ensure this troubling and important question was being answered,” wrote Swanson, who was appointed by a federal judge who oversees the police department as part of a decades-old lawsuit settlement.

Schaaf’s spokesman, Michael Hunt, did not immediately return a telephone message left Wednesday seeking comment.

Swanson’s report faults police for failing to launch a serious investigation into a teenager’s claims she had sex with as many as two dozen officers beginning when she was 16.

Criminal investigators initially closed their probe after a strained, two-hour interview with the victim, who gave muddled and conflicting accounts.

Swanson’s report also faulted police internal affairs investigators for lackluster work. The victim was interviewed once on the phone. The report concluded that Whent was disinterested with the case from the start, setting the tone for his subordinates.

The city paid the victim almost $1 million to settle her legal claims. Seven current and former officers face criminal charges.

Whent retired under pressure in 2016 after news of the scandal emerged.

Whent’s phone rang unanswered after the report was released.

In a news conference, Schaaf said Wednesday that she’s prepared to implement all of the recommendations of a court-appointed investigator who criticized the city’s investigation into a sexual misconduct scandal involving at least a dozen of the city’s police officers.

“This city is committed to being a learning organization. That will be true with or without court supervision,” Schaaf said.

“Best of all, we have put in place a leader who has a track record of culture change and holding officers accountable who has the experience and moral character to lead the department through this difficult period and into a bright future,” Schaaf added.

Joining Schaaf at a news conference at City Hall, new Police Chief Kirkpatrick said, “I fully accept and approve this report.”

Kirkpatrick said Swanson’s report “diagnosed a problem” but also said the shortcomings of top city and police officials in dealing with the sex scandal “are repairable.”

In his report, Swanson said the Police Department’s initial investigation into officers’ interactions with the teenage daughter of an Oakland police dispatcher was “seriously deficient” and city of Oakland officials “failed to take the necessary steps to examine these deficiencies once they came to light.”

U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson is supervising the Oakland Police Department’s slow progress in complying with a police misconduct lawsuit settlement in 2003 that requires the department to implement 51 reforms in a variety of areas.

San Francisco attorney Ed Swanson said top Oakland police officials knew about the sexual misconduct scandal after Officer Brendan O’Brien, 30, committed suicide on Sept. 25, 2015.

Swanson said O’Brien left a suicide note in which he discussed his interactions with the teenage woman and described “as the catalyst for his suicide.”

The woman is now 19 but allegedly was still a minor at the time of some of her alleged interactions with Oakland officers. Her name is being omitted because she was a sexually exploited teenager.

Swanson said he believes Oakland police didn’t investigate the matter more thoroughly “because of an implicit but evident bias against the victim, based on the type of victim she was: one who initiated contact with
the officers in questions, who was involved in prostitution and who used drugs and dealt with mental health issues.”

Kirkpatrick said she accepts Swanson’s recommendation that the Police Department “view and treat all victims with care and attention.”She said, “I can commit to provide that type of leadership for our future.”

Referring to the dozen officers who allegedly were involved with the teenager, Kirkpatrick said, “I represent the 1,250 members of our department and 12 people wounded 1,238 members of this department and I’m a voice for them. They are hurt by this action, they are disappointed in their fellow members, but we are now all about going forward.”

Kirkpatrick said that while some people will say that Swanson’s report is a setback for her department but instead she views it as “a launching pad for the future.”

Schaaf said the city has taken the sexual misconduct scandal seriously because of the 12 officers who were disciplined “seriously and quickly,” four were fired and four were charged with felonies.

However, Schaaf admitted that if Judge Henderson hadn’t intervened in March 2016 by asking for a more thorough investigation into the matter “this wouldn’t have been handled appropriately,” although she thinks there would at least have been some discipline imposed.

Schaaf said that if a similar scandal were to happen now, “I believe it would be handled significantly differently. I think we sent a very clear message of the seriousness of which we take this, the seriousness with which we demand that this department conduct itself more ethically and this new chief also is very clear about that.”

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