Judge Summons Oakland Officials to Court Over Police Probe of Sexual Misconduct Case

Police chief apologizes in court for the mishandling of the case

A federal judge summoned lawyers for Oakland, California, to court Monday to explain the city's mishandling of a police sexual misconduct investigation that led to the chief's resignation and implicated two dozen officers throughout the Bay Area.

The scandal surrounding accusations that officers exploited an underage prostitute also scuttled the city's attempt to get out from under 15 years of federal court supervision.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson oversees the troubled police department as part of 2003 settlement to an unrelated corruption case that requires the police to adopt a number of explicit reforms and inform a court-appointed monitor of all major developments.

Monday's hearing is the first time in almost five years that the judge has ordered Oakland lawyers to court to discuss problems in the department. Civil rights lawyers John Burris and Jim Chanin, who filed the police corruption lawsuit in 2000, said the judge should consider holding the city in contempt of court for its mishandling of the investigation.

The civil rights lawyers said a contempt order, which could result in a fine for the city, would prompt Oakland officials to reform the troubled department.

Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick apologized before the judge Monday.

"It's certainly my vision and mission for OPD that not only do we heal and apologize but move forward," Kirkpatrick said.

The department was close to meeting all of Henderson's requirements to extinguish court oversight until officer Brendan O'Brien killed himself in September 2015.

O'Brien discussed his relationship with the teenage daughter of a dispatcher in his suicide note and said several other officers were involved with the woman who worked as a prostitute. The monitor and judge were first told of O'Brien's suicide eight months later and Henderson ordered lawyer Ed Swanson to investigate the department's handling of the case.

Swanson's scathing report filed last month concluded that an internal affairs investigation was deeply flawed and superficial and that high-ranking police officials downplayed allegations that several of their subordinates had sexually exploited the teenage prostitute, including when she was 17 years old.

Swanson said detectives treated the victim like a suspect in their only interview with her and that no officers were disciplined. Swanson placed most of the blame on the chief, who he said appeared disinterested in the case and failed to notify the judge, mayor or district attorney about the investigation.

Chief Sean Whent resigned under pressure in June 2016 and the department then cycled through two interim chiefs in less than two weeks before the city administrator took over.

Swanson also faulted the mayor for not keeping close tabs on the internal affairs investigation at the end of last year. Mayor Libby Schaaf said a Dec. 2 fire that killed 36 people in an Oakland warehouse and the search for a new police chief briefly took her attention away from the investigation.

In court papers filed last week, city officials said they agreed the investigation was bungled. But they say the department is getting back on track through a re-organization and the January hiring of reform-minded Kirkpatrick as chief. Kirkpatrick was previously in charge of reforming the Chicago Police Department.

"The recent setbacks have strengthened the city's resolve to continue to improve the department's performance and relationships with the community that it serves and protects," city attorney Barbara Parker wrote in the court filing.

Burris said some of those who mishandled the case have been promoted to the command staff.

"If you find people in command positions, they should be demoted, and the chief should not trust them," Burris said. "If they engage in conduct once, who's to say they won't do it again?"

Kirkpatrick said the promotions she made were approved by the federal monitor.

The city has paid the victim almost $1 million to settle her legal claims against the police department.

The Associated Press doesn't generally identify victims of sexual abuse.

Seven current and former officers face criminal charges.

NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez contributed to this report.

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