A federal judge in San Francisco has concluded that an Oakland police officer who taped over his name badge during an Occupy Oakland protest and a lieutenant who failed to report the action engaged in “the most serious level of misconduct.”
U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson said in a Jan. 27 ruling that he is considering imposing sanctions on Officer John Hargraves and Lt. Clifford Wong, but has not yet decided whether to do so.
Hargraves covered his name badge with black tape while monitoring an Occupy Oakland protest on Nov. 2.
After a citizen asked Wong whether covering a badge was against department policy, Wong removed the tape but did not report the incident to the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division, Henderson said in the ruling.
Henderson said both officers’ actions violated the terms of a 2003 lawsuit settlement requiring police reforms and that their actions were Class I offenses, the most serious type of misconduct under that settlement.
The judge said Hargraves also violated a California Penal Code provision requiring peace officers to wear badges or nameplates showing their names.
The 2003 settlement resolved a 2000 lawsuit filed against the Police Department by 119 Oakland citizens who alleged that four officers known as the “Riders” beat them, made false arrests and planted evidence on them between 1996 and 2000.
Henderson is presiding over the settlement. The request for sanctions against the officers was filed by lawyers for the citizen plaintiffs, who suggested that the two officers should be individually required to pay a penalty totaling $5,100.
Attorney James Chanin said the plaintiffs may be willing to give up the request for sanctions if the two officers accept responsibility for their actions. He said they could signal their acceptance by filing a sworn declaration in Henderson’s court.
“We’re trying to get the department’s and Internal Affairs Division’s attention that this can’t go on any longer,” Chanin said.
“These officers have to comply with the settlement, which is a court order,” the attorney said.
Alex Katz, a spokesman for City Attorney Barbara Parker, said she was not available for comment this evening because she is at a City Council meeting. John Verber, a lawyer for the two officers, could not be reached for comment.
After learning of the incident, the department’s Internal Affairs Division opened an investigation and Chief Howard Jordan took what he described as “appropriate action,” but the department has not publicly announced the action.
Hargraves said in a declaration filed in court that he covered his name because he feared that protesters would post his name and address on the Internet and his family could be endangered.
Henderson wrote that he recognized the inherent safety concerns of police work, but said that officers “face dangers and challenge on a daily basis and could likely assert safety as a concern in almost any encounter between a police officer and a member of the public.”
“Thus, if safety were considered a legitimate basis for violating laws and policies, there would, in essence, be no laws or policies governing police misconduct,” Henderson said.
“It should go without saying that those tasked with enforcing the law must themselves follow the law,” the judge wrote.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers have said that if Hargraves was frightened, he should have notified his superiors instead of taking action on his own by taping over his name.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News