A police sergeant filed a claim against the city of Oakland after being accused of mishandling the death of a fellow officer and his slain wife, alleging that “the civilian and sworn leaders ... are stooping to new lows to try and hide the truth.”
"I want my job back," Sgt. James "Mike" Gantt said Tuesday at a news conference organized by his attorney, Dan Siegel and Anti Police-Terror Project spokeswoman Cat Brooks. "I want to go back to work."
In the claim, Gantt, who was placed on administrative leave last spring, alleges that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth, along with Assistant Chief David Downing and then-Deputy Chief John Lois, “have gone to great links to prevent any fact-finding in the mysterious death of Irma Huerta Lopez, wife of now-deceased Officer Brendan O’Brien.”
A spokeswoman for Oakland police also wasn’t immediately available. But Erica Terry Derryck, the mayor's spokeswoman, sent an email Tueday to NBC Bay Area saying the city is "legally prohibited from disclosing personnel information about any police officer, and we do not comment on pending litigation."
"Given the city of Oakland’s firm commitment to holding officers to the highest ethical and professional standards, we expect that some officers will exercise their right to challenge discipline actions," the email continued. "There is a clearly defined legal process for handling these claims, and we welcome the opportunity to present the full set of facts.”
According to Gantt and his legal team, the facts were not fully investigated by Oakland police, and he was meant to suffer, in large part, because of his race.
"It's disparate treatment," he said. "I feel its disparate treatment of most African-American officers as it relates to our counterparts."
The disparate treatment Gantt referred to, the claim alleges, stems from his investigation into a touchy set of deaths: Of O'Brien, a former officer who police said killed himself in September 2015 and his wife, Huerta Lopez, who died a year earlier. When O'Brien died, he left behind a note that gave hints into a separate and high-profile police sex abuse scandal involving a sex-trafficked teenager, now known as Jasmine.
"Sgt. Gantt believes that he was removed from the investigation to avoid a finding that Officer O’Brien had killed his wife," Siegel wrote in the claim.
Gantt said when he questioned O'Brien about his wife's death, his story didn't add up.
"The mere fact that he was living in East Oakland and said he walked to the store without his gun, without his badge, barefoot to go get a pack of cigarettes when he doesn't smoke, it just didn’t make sense to me," Gantt said.
An Oakland police investigation, however, concluded that his wife also killed herself with a gun.
Gantt is also the sergeant whom the East Bay Express exposed in June as someone who allegedly mishandled evidence in a separate murder case. The Express cited sources saying that Gantt allegedly had an affair with a local woman for several years and allowed his girlfriend to access sensitive police investigative files so that she could write up his homicide reports and do his administrative paperwork. He was eventually cleared of wrongdoing in that case, his attorneys said.
As a result, the claim states, Gantt was forced to transfer from the homicide division, subjected to false accusations, punished for improper text messages and subjected to the city's "failure to resolve its investigation into a domestic dispute ... thereby keeping him on administrative leave with greatly reduced compensation." The chief of police placed Gantt on administrative leave this year because of this domestic dispute involving Gantt and his wife, neither of whom wished to press charges against the other, Siegel said. The city of Oakland, the claim alleges, has failed and refuses to complete that investigation, “leaving Gantt’s officer status in limbo."
"If you're not part of the clique and you get yourself in trouble or get yourself into a bind, then they come after you," Gantt said. "If you're part of the clique, and somebody files a complaint against you, somehow it just disappears."
Gantt's claim goes back to June 2014, after Gantt said he began to suspect that O’Brien had killed his wife, and Lois, then a lieutenant, removed him from the investigation, the claim alleges.
About a month later, several homicide inspectors allegedly “improperly accessed and viewed” Gantt’s personnel records, the claim alleges. “The department failed to act on Sgt. Gantt’s complaint about the harassment and misconduct, and he was forced to transfer out of the hostile environment of the homicide unit,” the claim alleges.
Then, in June, the claim alleges that Schaaf and Landreth publicly accused Gantt of improperly allowing an acquaintance to review and transcribe confidential materials relating to homicide investigations.
As the District Attorney’s Office stated when it cleared Gantt of criminal wrongdoing about 10 days later, the claim states, “these materials were not confidential at all - they were simple audio recordings of jail conversations” that Gantt’s acquaintance had transcribed.
As a result, the claim alleges, Landreth has proposed to suspend Gantt without pay because of his involvement in sending offensive text messages to other members of the homicide unit in 2014. None of the other officers involved has been disciplined. The East Bay Express reported that Gantt filed the internal affairs claim himself that year, accusing a senior officer of sending those racist texts. Oakland police dismissed his complaint, the Express noted.
“Evaluated as a whole, all of the actions against Sgt. Gantt and their curious timing present a clear campaign to retaliate against, stigmatize and make an example of someone who tried to break the Blue Wall of Silence at OPD,” the claim alleges.
Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland council member at-large, said something must be done.
"It’s clear to me that we need a systemic change both with independent oversight with holding people accountable and making sure we’re hiring people who have a real commitment to serving Oakland," Kaplan said.