Federal Judge Orders Investigation Into Oakland Police Internal Affairs

A federal judge who is overseeing reforms in the Oakland Police Department is ordering an investigation into why the city is losing a high number of arbitration cases filed by officers who have been disciplined for alleged wrongdoing.

U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson, who approved a 2003 settlement that requires Oakland police to implement 51 reforms in a variety of areas, said in his order, which was issued late Thursday, that “any reversal of appropriate discipline undermines the very objectives” of the reform program.

Henderson said those objectives including promoting police integrity, preventing police conduct that deprives people of their rights and having the best available police practices and procedures.

The Police Department’s court-appointed federal monitor, Robert Warshaw said in a report last month that Oakland was closer than ever to completing the court-mandated reforms.

But Henderson wrote that the city can no longer be considered in compliance with two important reform tasks if its internal investigations are inadequate and discipline is frequently overturned: dealing with police internal affairs investigations and the consistency of officer discipline.

Henderson specifically cited an arbitrator’s decision last month to reinstate Officer Robert Roche, who had been fired for his actions in an Occupy Oakland protest on Oct. 25, 2011.

Henderson ordered Warshaw to study all aspects of the Police Department’s investigations of its officers and how the City Attorney’s Office prepares for arbitration cases.

Among those areas are whether the city if getting adequate legal representation for arbitration hearings, whether it is selecting qualified expert witnesses and whether it should change the process for selecting arbitrators.

He said that given the scope of his order, Warshaw may submit requests for additional staff members whose costs will be paid by the city of Oakland.

The court-mandated reforms include improved investigation of citizen complaints, better training of officers and increased field supervision.

The settlement resolved a lawsuit filed by 119 Oakland citizens who alleged that four officers known as the “Riders” beat them, made false arrests and planted evidence on them in 2000.

Criminal charges were filed against three of the officers but they weren’t convicted of any charges in two lengthy and highly-publicized trials. The fourth officer fled the country before he could be prosecuted.

Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News

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