Investigator criticizes Oakland's handling of police sex scandal

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OAKLAND (BCN) -- A court-appointed investigator said in a report Wednesday that the Oakland Police Department's initial investigation into a sexual misconduct scandal involving multiple officers' interactions with a teenage woman was "seriously deficient."

San Francisco attorney Ed Swanson, who compiled the 31-page report at the request of U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson, also said Oakland city officials "failed to take the necessary steps to examine these deficiencies once they came to light."  >>>>>To read the report: Click here

Oakland city officials held a news conference to answer questions about the report. >>>>>Watch in the player below or Click here

Swanson said top Oakland police officials knew about the sexual misconduct scandal after Officer Brendan O'Brien, 30, who allegedly was involved with the teenage daughter of an Oakland police dispatcher, died by suicide on Sept. 25, 2015.

The report found that if Henderson hadn't intervened in March 2016 and asked for a more thorough investigation, "We have no confidence that correct discipline would ever have been imposed, criminal charges filed or departmental shortcomings examined."

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.

Last September, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley filed felony charges against four Oakland officers who allegedly were involved with the teenage woman, who allegedly was still a minor during some of her interactions with them.

The woman, whose name is being omitted because she was a sexually exploited teenager, also allegedly was involved with multiple officers from other law enforcement agencies in the region.

O'Brien, 30, died by suicide at his apartment in the 8000 block of Greenridge Drive in the Oakland hills on Sept. 25, 2015. O'Brien's wife, Irma Huerta-Lopez, was found shot to death at the home on June 16, 2014, in what police ruled was also a suicide.

Swanson said O'Brien left a suicide note in which he discussed his interactions with the teen, which he said "O'Brien described as the catalyst for his suicide."

O'Brien said in his note that he had met the woman through Facebook earlier in 2015 and had met her in person once, but denied that he had a sexual relationship with her, Swanson wrote.

O'Brien said that soon after he became Facebook friends with the woman, she began to threaten to get him fired, according to Swanson.

Swanson said the note also described the teenager's interactions with other Oakland police officers, but police officials failed to investigate that information properly.

Swanson said former Oakland police Chief Sean Whent, who resigned on June 9, 2016, told investigators that his failure to notify Oakland police Monitor Robert Warshaw and Oakland city leaders about the sexual misconduct allegations "was due, at least in part, to his having misread" O'Brien's suicide note.

Whent said he initially had read the note to say that the teenager had falsely accused O'Brien of having sex with her as a minor and that other officers named in the note could verify that she was a minor, Swanson wrote.

But 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 question, who was involved in prostitution and who used drugs and dealt with mental health issues."

Swanson said, "While there are many in the criminal investigation division and the internal affairs division who share responsibility for the failures of the investigation that occurred prior to the court's intervention, the ultimate responsibility lies with Chief Whent."

Swanson said, "It was his responsibility to set the expectation that the divisions were to investigate the allegations thoroughly, regardless of the victim's background or reluctance to cooperate."

Swanson added that "similar questions arise about the city's leadership."

Swanson said city leaders hired an outside attorney to investigate the matter once they learned about it in March 2016, but when the attorney's investigation failed to move forward they "did not demand progress or answers."