Federal Judge Thelton Henderson, who has been overseeing the Oakland Police Department (OPD) for almost a dozen years, has issued a new order reinstating a “court investigator” to look into the city’s failure to institute meaningful discipline of police officers who violate the rights of local residents.
In a three-page ruling issued on Tuesday, Judge Henderson said he originally had ordered the city to hire an investigator in April to look into the city’s handling of police discipline.
“There are many steps (OPD) and the city can take to improve the manner in which discipline cases are prepared both internally and for arbitration,” he said in April. “It is difficult to imagine how, absent these steps, the goals of accountability and fair and consistent discipline will ever be achieved.”
Based on the investigators report, the court ordered the city to file a report last September, as well as quarterly reports on the city’s progress on improving its disciplinary system.
In his order this week, Henderson said the city is saying the court investigator’s recommendations have been implemented and that the remaining recommendations are scheduled for implementation.
“However, in many instances, the descriptions of the steps the city has taken do not reflect full and sustainable implementation,” Henderson said.
“Most concerning is that the city apparently believes that having the mayor and city administrator attend parties’ meetings in this case, and having the mayor and City Council receive updates on the city’s compliance efforts, are sufficient to satisfy the recommendation that the city establish sustainable accountability procedures that will outlive this litigation,” he said. “This response falls far short of the accountability that is so fundamental to this case.”
Henderson pointed to one case that the city described as a “victory” although the discipline in that case had been reduced from termination to a 30-day suspension – “a reversal that resulted in the reinstatement of an officer whom the city believes is unfit to police its community.”
“While the City expressed disappointment in the outcome, it has not identified any steps it has taken to try to avoid similar outcomes in the future,” the judge said.
“(Though) The majority of the [internal affairs] cases we reviewed comported with NSA requirements and OPD policy, the exceptions noted in our relatively small sample should serve as a caution against complacency, he said, pointing to case where “a supervisor involved in the incident conducted the investigation.”
The re-appointed court investigator will file a report on his findings and recommendations or before March 7.