Another OPD chief out; new racist text investigation revealed
OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Mayor Libby Schaaf gave a scathing condemnation of the Oakland Police Department at a news conference Friday where she announced the acting Police Chief Paul Figueroa, who was appointed to the position two days earlier, had resigned from his duties and was on leave.
The mayor also announced that the city was investigating yet another scandal involving racist text messages among police officers.
"As the Mayor of Oakland, I am here to run a police department not a frat house," Schaaf said.
Schaaf said she wanted to send a clear message that she was committed "to root out what is clearly a toxic, macho culture. "
A visibly angry Mayor Schaaf said she learned about the racist text messages last weekend and couldn't disclose how many officers allegedly sent or received the messages, due to the ongoing investigation and her desire to ensure anyone involved receives the maximum punishment. She said one person has been placed on leave and she expects the investigation to be concluded within weeks.
"We are close to the end of an investigation of racist text messages. We do think its relevant to share that the text messages were sent by African American officers, but they are wholly inappropriate and not acceptable from anyone who wears the badge of the Oakland Police Department," Schaaf said.
Mayor Schaaf said she would not be appointing another interim chief, but instead is putting the Oakland Police Department under civilian oversight, with the command staff reporting to City Administrator Sabrina Landreth.
"Acting Chief Figueroa resigned from his duties as acting chief and assistant chief of police. He has gone on leave and as asked to return as is his right in the position of Captain," Schaaf said.
"I want to assure the citizens of Oakland that we are hellbent on rooting out this disgusting culture," Schaaf said.
"I have been overseeing the day to day of our public safety departments, so the police chief and the fire chief report on a day to day basis directly to me, so that structure does not change," said Sabrina Landreth, the Oakland City Administrator.
Oakland City Council members say they were informed by the mayor about the changes before the 6:45 p.m. news conference.
"I'm stunned and it's disconcerting how little information we're provided as council members," said Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the Oakland City Council President.
Both the mayor and council members emphasized their support for the many officers in uniform who are serving honorably.
"My thoughts and prayers are with the men and women who need to serve honorably in high stress conditions, that they also know we're here to support them and support making this a strong department they can serve in," McElhaney said.
The mayor said Figueroa did not appear to be involved in the racist text investigation and said it had nothing to do with the ongoing sex scandal that has plagued multiple Bay Area law enforcement agencies.
KTVU's Henry Lee confirmed the sudden departure of Figueroa late Friday afternoon with his sources. The mayor said the texting allegations are not as widespread as the sex exploitation allegations, but could not put a specific number on it.
Earlier Friday afternoon, protestors were in front of the Oakland Police Department headquarters.
They put up fliers stating that ex-chiefs enabled sex offenders. The protest was in response to the Oakland Police Department sexual misconduct scandal.
The protest is part of a larger action called "Stop. Stay. Expand." According to a news release, protesters showed up at the Oakland Police Department and hung a banner stating "OPD guilty of statutory rape and human trafficking." They also put up red "danger" tape outside the department.
This comes after an order on Thursday by Federal Judge Thelton Henderson for Oakland Police Department to work with their federal monitor to review and reform the department's hiring and recruiting and early warning system.
On Wednesday, Ben Fairow -- appointed interim Oakland police chief just last week -- was relieved of his duties by the mayor.
Mayor Libby Schaaf replaced Fairow with acting Chief Paul Figueroa, who had previously been an assistant chief with the department.
She would not comment on why the decision to remove Fairow was made saying, "[I'm] prohibited by state law from discussing personnel matters." She added she wanted to make sure she is confident in the leadership. "We are dealing with disgusting allegations that upset me greatly," said Schaaf.
She added that she wants an external candidate to lead the department.
News of Fairow's departure occurred less than a week after the mayor announced the departure of Sean Whent, whom the mayor said resigned, but sources told KTVU that he was terminated from the post.
"With the abrupt resignation of Sean Whent last week, we sought to have seamless leadership of the Oakland Police Department and selected an individual who understood the dynamics in Oakland and who, based on his previous employment with OPD, could hit the ground running. However, I have just received information that has caused me to lose confidence in Ben Fairow's ability to lead the Oakland Police Department at this particular moment in time," Schaaf's statement said.
Celeste Guap (an alias used by the woman at the center of the scandal), claims she had sex with two dozen current and former officers in five cities, according to initial newspaper reports.
The reports say the woman, a Richmond resident and the daughter of an Oakland Police dispatcher, says she slept with three of the officers before she turned 18 last August.
It was unclear if Fairow's removal as interim chief was linked to the sex scandal, but on Wednesday, BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey released his own statement saying Fairow would be welcomed back to his role commanding BART's Support Services Division.
"Ben has shared information with me that, while he was married, he had a personal relationship with a consenting adult more than a decade ago, none of which precludes him from serving as a sworn law enforcement officer or as one of my Deputy Chiefs. Again - we welcome him back," Rainey's statement read.
Rainey added that upon Fairow's hiring to BART in 2011 that a thorough background check on him was done at that time and that he would be reestablished in full confidence and able to fulfill his role.
The mayor also said Friday that the decisions were initiated by city officials and approved by the federal judge and monitors who have been in charge of overseeing the department for the past 13 years due to a previous corruption case.