Oakland Police Department Investigation Opened Into Officer Conduct During Occupy Protests

12/22/2011 08:13 pm ET
  • Aaron Sankin Assistant San Francisco Editor, The Huffington Post

In the wake of violent clashes between the Oakland Police Department and Occupy Oakland protestors that shocked the nation, the city of Oakland has launched an independent investigation into the appropriateness of the actions of its embattled police force.

The investigation will be led by former Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier, who also spent time in the Bay Area as a deputy police chief in San Jose. The city has budgeted up to $100,000 for the report, and Frazier expects to have it completed within 90 days.

Once the initial report is completed, the city plans on again contracting Frazier's services for a second report looking at the November Occupy-organized general strike.

"If these investigations reveal wrongdoing on the part of our officers, I am committed to taking swift and fair corrective actions," interim police Chief Howard Jordan told the Oakland Tribune at a news conference held on Wednesday.

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, who also spoke at the event, defended the city's police force. "For the most part, police acted professionally and the protesters demonstrated peacefully, but there were exceptions on both sides," she told the San Francisco Examiner. "We wanted to have an outside look at what happened. We need to have a balance between maintaining the civil rights of our citizens and having effective policing."

Other members of Frazier's team include former Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Mike Hillmann, former San Jose Police Department Deputy Chief Don Anders and Richard Cashdollar, who previously served as the executive director of public safety for Mobile, Alabama.

The conduct of Oakland police became a lightning rod issue after protestor and Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen suffered traumatic brain injuries after being hit in the skull with a tear gas canister fired by a still-unidentified member of one of the handful of law enforcement agencies that Quan had called in to disperse the tent city that had taken residence in the plaza in front of Oakland's City Hall.

The investigation is likely in response to a recent lawsuit filed against the department by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild alleging that:

On two recent occasions (Oct. 25 and Nov. 2) the OPD and cooperating police agencies under their direction indiscriminately shot flash-bang grenades and other projectiles into crowds of Occupy Oakland protesters. These actions clearly violate the Fourth Amendment by subjecting protesters who posed no safety concerns to unnecessary and excessive force, and the First Amendment by interfering with demonstrators' rights to assemble and demonstrate.

The Frazier-led effort is just one of a spate of investigations into the way the department has handled the protests. Separate investigations, one being conducted by OPD's internal affairs division and another by Oakland's Citizens' Police Review Board, are also examining the same issues.

Additionally, OPD has launched a targeted investigation into an incident where a videographer was shot in a leg with a rubber bullet during the November 3 general strike in apparent violation of the department's official crowd control policy. Captain Ersie M. Joyner III, the officer who approved the use of force in that instance, told the Contra Costa Times that he "could be could be fired or demoted pending the investigation."

Victor Garcia, the officer who actually fired the projectile, has been removed from his position on the SWAT team and is also facing investigation.

Both Quan and the OPD have become major targets of late owing to their handling of Occupy Oakland. Quan is current the subject of two separate recall campaigns working to get her removed from office.

Even before the added scrutiny paid to OPD surrounding Occupy Oakland, the department has long been mired in controversy.

Earlier this year, Police Chief Anthony Batts resigned, citing tension between the police force and its citizen leadership--most notably Quan herself. However, many privately speculated that Batts' resignation was in reaction to the possibility of a federal takeover of the police department for failing to adequately reform itself in the decade following the infamous "Rough Riders" scandal, where a cadre of rogue cops were found to have planted evidence, used excessive force and falsified police reports.

Check out this video of Quan explaining why she felt the need to shut down the Occupy Oakland camp: