OAKLAND, Calif. - The Oakland Police Department's quest to end years of federal oversight could be set back by a new report that's uncovered additional misconduct in the department's ranks.
The report faults the OPD for how it handled a sergeant involved in two separate cases. The sergeant ripped a bumper off a neighbor's car, and, later, fired his gun in police headquarters without initially reporting either incident, according to a law firm hired by the city to investigate the department.
But the actions of the one sergeant paint a larger, more troubling picture of the department and its leadership, according to the attorneys.
The behavior of the unnamed sergeant is not just an example of an individual officer acting inappropriately, but it also reveals "systemic deficiencies" in how Internal Affairs investigations are handled, according to the lawyers from Clarence Dyer and Cohen.
The firm's report specifically pointed fingers at Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong, who they said violated department rules because he failed to hold officers accountable and allowed them to escape discipline.
"Most disturbingly," the report authors wrote, "some of the deficits appear to stem from a failure of leadership and a lack of commitment to hold members of the Oakland Police Department accountable for violations of its own rules."
The authors continued: "These investigations revealed issues and shortcomings that go beyond the conduct of individual officers to the very question of whether the Oakland Police Department is capable of policing itself and effectively holding its own officers accountable for misconduct."
The 16-page report was made public Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Northern California in relation to the ongoing federal oversight of the Oakland Police Department, now in its 20th year.
U.S. Judge William Orrick found that Oakland police had completed enough of its reforms allowing the department to enter a one-year "sustainability period" on June, 1, 2022.
But now, these new revelations are raising questions about whether this oversight should end by the start of this summer.
"The sustainability period should be revoked," civil rights attorney Jim Chanin bluntly told KTVU.
Chanin and attorney John Burris sued the Oakland police department in 2003 as part of in the well-known police corruption Riders case, which prompted the federal oversight in the first place.
Rashidah Grinage, a co-founder of the Coalition for Police Accountability, said she also believes the department should remain under federal oversight.
"One of the most troubling findings was that the chief signed off without actually reading the report," she said. "These revelations throw us back to the dark days of OPD when these cover ups and preferential treatment for 'connected' guys were prevalent."
Oakland police referred all questions to the city attorney, who did not immediately respond for comment on Thursday. A public relations firm representing the city indicated they would have a statement later in the day.
A court hearing on the matter is scheduled for Jan. 24.
This latest twist in whether to end Oakland’s long-standing federal oversight stems from two separate incidents involving the unnamed sergeant.
Hit-and-run in San Francisco
The first apparent crime happened on March 25, 2021, in San Francisco, when the sergeant, traveling in an OPD-owned Chevrolet Tahoe with his girlfriend, an Oakland police officer herself, struck a neighbor's car in the apartment complex where he lives.
Despite tearing off the neighbor's bumper, the sergeant never got out of his car or reported the collision, the report states. Video at the scene showed him driving away from the scene.
The city of Oakland discovered this hit-and-run only when they received an insurance claim for the bumper damage two months later, according to the report.
The police department learned of the collision even later than that.
On July 14, 2021, an OPD lieutenant figured out who the sergeant was by piecing together the video at the scene and the insurance claim. At that point, the lieutenant told the sergeant to file a report with the San Francisco Police Department. The matter was then referred to OPD’s Internal Affairs division.
An IA investigator was assigned to the case on Oct. 12, 2021, seven months after the bumper hit-and-run and three months after the sergeant’s identity was made known.
This investigator also uncovered that the sergeant was dating his colleague who was in the car with him. Their relationship had not been reported to HR, a violation of policy because he was her superior, the report states.
During his IA interview, the sergeant, represented by a lawyer, "maintained that he had no recollection of the vehicle collision and was not aware it had happened at the time it occurred," the report states. The sergeant’s girlfriend also said she had no idea about the collision and had "no recollection of the day in question."
The IA investigator drafted his report, concluding that a "preponderance of the evidence" showed that the sergeant should be held responsible for violating the department’s rules and obeying hit-and-run laws. The investigator also "called into question the credibility" of the sergeant and the girlfriend.
But his captain ordered him to revise his report, downplaying the misconduct and excluding any mention of the sergeant’s dating relationship or his truthfulness, the report states.
When the IA investigator presented his findings on Dec. 23, 2021, to the "Chief’s Friday Meeting" – eight months after the hit-and-run – Armstrong "did not permit extensive discussion of the case and did not request that the video be shown, instead quickly approving the recommended sustained finding and signing the final ROI without reading it," the report states.
The sergeant wasn’t fired. He received counseling and training.
But the sergeant’s misconduct didn’t end there.
Gun goes off in OPD elevator
Nearly a year after the hit-and-run, the same sergeant fired his gun in an OPD elevator on April 16, 2022.
The sergeant’s discharge created a mark on the wall in the elevator, which colleagues noticed.
The sergeant never reported the alleged accidental discharge of his gun and was found to have removed the bullet casings without initially telling anyone, the report found.
However, about a week later, the sergeant came forward, telling an investigator that he was the one who fired the gun but threw the shell casings into the San Francisco Bay while driving his department car over the Bay Bridge.
He was immediately put on administrative leave, and a criminal investigation was launched.
Outside investigators recommended the department discipline him for multiple rules violations.
It’s not immediately clear what is the sergeant’s current status and whether he is still on administrative leave, back on the job or has been terminated.
Discovery of facts "undermined"
It was during this elevator-gun investigation that the Clarence Dyer and Cohen law firm encountered "multiple deficiencies in process and policy that undermined the full and complete discovery of the facts."
The failure to investigate internal misconduct, the report authors wrote, allows employees, like the sergeant, to commit more serious issues.
The report authors did not mince words when they wrote that the investigations into this sergeant "were dogged by a lack of forthrightness" and lacked a commitment to "the pursuit of truth."
And in order to get the public to trust the police, the law firm stated there must be a shift in the culture of the department – one which Armstrong vowed to do when he took office in February 2021.
The report's authors conclude, among other things, the Internal Affairs Division must function "independently of internal politics or favoritism and to bring uncompromising rigor to its work."
Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez