The federal court monitor tracking reforms in the Oakland police force said Monday that the effort had met "outright stagnation," and raised questions about officers' use of beanbag shotguns and other weapons during what he called a "military-type" response to Occupy demonstrations. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/04/30/BAN51OB4UB.DTL&tsp=1
The court-ordered reforms, many of them focused on how the department polices its own officers, haven't progressed in six months and have gone backward in the past year, said a report by the monitor, Robert Warshaw.
Critics of the department said the findings brought Oakland's police force closer to a federal takeover.
"Stagnation is troubling. After nine years, more progress should be made," said John Burris, one of two attorneys who brought a civil suit a decade ago that led to court oversight. "We must seriously explore the next step."
Warshaw said that although police had performed well at times while dealing with Occupy protesters camped outside City Hall, he was "thoroughly dismayed" by some officers' actions. Any advances made by the department, Warshaw said, "may have been put in doubt in the face of these events."
In a statement, city officials focused on the positive aspects of the report, which expressed optimism that Police Chief Howard Jordan, an agency veteran who took over six months ago, would drive home the reform effort.
"OPD has turned the corner," Jordan said, "and our new, more collaborative relationship with the monitor and plaintiffs' attorneys will soon bear results in compliance findings."
Mayor Jean Quan said the department is "demonstrating more consistent constitutional policing and an improved level of accountability to the community."
Details of clashes
The report revealed new details about several police clashes with protesters that remain under investigation.
Warshaw said Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen, who suffered a brain injury during an Occupy protest Oct. 25, had been shot with a beanbag by an Oakland SWAT officer. Several other police agencies were assisting Oakland that night, and it has been unclear who fired the object.
Warshaw said green residue on Olsen's hat matched the dye left by Oakland SWAT team beanbags, and noted that as Olsen lay wounded on the ground, another officer lobbed a tear gas canister into a crowd of people helping him. Neither officer was named in the report.
Videos of some police actions during Occupy protests "are concerning as to the manner in which non-deadly munitions were utilized," wrote Warshaw, a former police chief of Rochester, N.Y., and deputy drug czar under President Bill Clinton.
Referring to the use of beanbags as well as tear gas and flash-bang grenades intended to disperse a crowd, Warshaw said, "These recordings lead us to ask additional questions (about) the level of force that was used by OPD officers, and whether that use of force was in compliance with the department's use-of-force policies."
Overall, the report, which covers the period from October through December, concluded that Oakland had the same number of reforms to complete as it did in the previous two quarters, a situation Warshaw called "an outright stagnation in the overall compliance picture."
The report noted, with optimism, that the most recent quarter was the first under Jordan, who the monitor said took over at a "tumultuous time."
"During the chief's tenure, progress has been made with regard to looking at innovative ways to bring about change," Warshaw wrote.
U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ordered the department to make changes after an infamous case more than a decade ago in which four officers, who called themselves the "Riders," were accused of imposing vigilante justice in West Oakland. One remains a fugitive, while the other three were never convicted at trial.
In the past year, Henderson has grown increasingly frustrated with Oakland, saying he was prepared to impose more federal control. A hearing on potential receivership is scheduled for December.
Investigation farmed out
Warshaw ripped the slowness of the investigations into Occupy-related complaints against police. The department's plan to farm out the cases to a private firm, rather than use its internal affairs division to determine whether officers should face discipline, is an "alarming development," Warshaw wrote.
He said the decision was made because the department couldn't handle the size and scope of the complaints.
Police officials have said they farmed out the cases in part because internal affairs officers had conflicts of interest, having been assigned to help out during the protests. Capt. Paul Figueroa, the head of internal affairs, was the police operations chief during the Oct. 25 protest.
"Why did they do that? They knew he was going to have to sit in judgment of these people," said Jim Chanin, one of the lawyers in the Riders lawsuit. "If you run a military organization, and you can't find people who are willing to enforce the rules of the department, that's the strongest argument for receivership I've heard to date."
No chest camera
The report discusses a video-recorded incident in which Oakland officers used batons on Occupy protester Kayvan Sabeghi on Nov. 3. Warshaw revealed that the officer who first approached and struck Sabeghi had been issued a chest camera that could have captured better footage of the encounter, but had failed to wear it.
Referring to another incident that night, Warshaw said an Oakland officer had violated department policy when, without apparent warning, he shot protester Scott Campbell in the leg with a beanbag - an encounter that Campbell himself captured on video.
The department faces another test Tuesday, with Occupy protests expected downtown. Last week, Jordan announced "major reforms" in crowd control in the same areas criticized by the monitor.
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle