Oakland police scandal: Mayor Libby Schaaf on hot seat

OAKLAND (KTVU & BCN) -- The rapid appointments and abrupt dismissals of police chiefs and steady string of revelations that several police officers are under investigation for corruption and sex with an underage prostitute has prompted Oakland activists to raise questions about Mayor Libby Schaaf’s ability to run the city.

"As mayor, she is directly responsible for the illegal behavior of the Oakland Police Department and the cover-up culture as a whole,” said Jessamyn Sabbag, a member of the community group known as Oakland Rising Action.

The Anti-Police Terror Project hosted a press conference with a coalition of East Bay activist groups calling for swift and strong action against officers allegedly involved with a teen sex worker, who is also a dispatcher’s daughter.

"Why aren't you angry that elected officials seem to be so late to join the party? And say things like they're surprised and they don't know,” said Pastor Michael McBride.

Mayor Schaaf did not appear surprised to hear protestors now turned their attention to her.

"This particular group has been protesting me since before I was sworn in as mayor,” she said. “I share their passions to hold officers accountable, to have a police department that everyone feels trust in."

The activist coalition called for the city to adopt community controlled policing with a commission that has the power to oversee and discipline police officers. The community commission is in a ballot measure going before city council Tuesday night. The coalition also demanded the right for the community to choose the new police chief. Mayor Schaaf said she wants the same thing.

"This will be a much different vetting process than the city has used in the past,” said Schaaf on the search for a new chief.

"That is my focus right now: crafting a process that the community feels trust in and feels like their voices are reflected in the search and criteria."

The mayor did not say when the search would begin, but said she’s working on getting community groups together to discuss the criteria for choosing a new head of the OPD. While the community could be involved in the search, vetting, and selection of a new police chief, the federal monitor would ultimately approve the chief.

The police department's woes have ballooned to several Bay Area law enforcement agencies, reportedly centered around a single victim who worked as an underage sex worker. But Cat Brooks of the Anti-Police Terror Project alleged that there are likely more sex workers who have been exploited by local police officers.

"There are more Celeste Guaps on the streets of Oakland," Brooks said, referring to an alias of the teen at the center of the scandal. Two Oakland police officers have resigned, three more are on leave, and police Chief Sean Whent abruptly resigned as the allegations grew.

The group of activists, which included representatives of Causa Justa and Black Lives Matter, spoke outside of Oakland police headquarters Tuesday and also called for Mayor Libby Schaaf to step down, accusing her of standing by law enforcement until the issues with the department became overwhelming.

The Rev. Michael McBride of The Way Christian Center in Berkeley questioned why Schaaf, who has now publicly accused Oakland police of having a "disgusting culture," spent last year touting the reforms of the department as the scandals bubbled under the surface and five people were killed by Oakland police officers.

"Now you show up and say you're not running a frat house," McBride said. "You're not running a frat house, you're running a house of horrors."

The full extent of the scandals can't be known because of state law. Internal affairs investigations remain secret, regardless of the outcome, according to the state's Peace Officers Bill of Rights, and city officials are prohibited from naming the officers involved.

"It prevents us from knowing who the predators are on our streets," Brooks said.

The activists are also calling for an outside investigation into the allegations against Oakland police and for new civilian oversight over the department, pointing out that after three police chiefs departed in a week and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth took direct control, there is apparently not one person in the department who the mayor trusts to take over.

Pointing out that the Police Department consumes nearly half of the city's general fund, they called on the city to recognize that the department, already under federal scrutiny for over a decade, appears unable to effectively perform.

The City Council is currently considering a ballot measure to create a charter amendment to bring new civilian oversight over the department.

KTVU reporter Leigh Martinez contributed to this report.