By DAVID DEBOLT | email@example.com | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: July 25, 2017 at 5:02 pm | UPDATED: July 26, 2017 at 9:40 am
OAKLAND — Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney violated city ethics rules by attempting to interfere with a housing development near her West Oakland home, according to a public ethics panel investigation.
The Oakland Public Ethics Commission’s investigators in a report issued July 21 found Gibson McElhaney received free services from JRDV Urban International, a group that helped her delay the development across from her home on 32nd Street, and voted to extend city contracts to the firm.
The ethics commission will take up the matter at its July 31 meeting and issue a final ruling.
Gibson McElhaney did not report the free services amounting to approximately $800, as required by city law, according to the commission. It found the councilwoman voted to extend a city contract with JRDV “a day before she started soliciting and accepting gifts from (them).”
The commission began investigating Gibson McElhaney after an East Bay Express article and two citizen complaints on the apparent violations. The alternative weekly newspaper reported in February 2015 that an appeal of a zoning application for the housing project was prepared by one of her staff members using city resources.
Robert Brecht, the developer of the proposed five-unit housing project, submitted his application in early 2014. It was quickly appealed by the councilwoman’s husband and in December of that year she called employees of JRDV to appear at a planning commission meeting.
An hour before the meeting, JRDV president Morton Jensen met Gibson McElhaney at her home and created an alternative design of Brecht’s development to present to the commission.
The planning commission denied the appeal but Jensen continued to object to the project. Another person acting on behalf of Gibson McElhaney contacted the head of the planning department, Rachel Flynn, according to the ethics commission. Brecht has not applied for a building permit for his project.
In a statement, Gibson McElhaney said neighbors brought the issue to her and the City Attorney’s Office guided her through the process. The councilwoman said state laws on gifts are vague and she did not consider the architect’s work as a personal gift but rather a service for the residents of her council district.
“After multiple defeats before the Planning Department, the lone outstanding issue was whether the design of the project met the City’s open space requirements,” the councilwoman said. “The community felt that our concerns were being ignored so I asked a local respected architect for help on this specific technical question. If I had thought asking the architect for help could implicate the ethics laws, I of course would not have done so.”
By Kimberly Veklerov
Updated 9:47 pm, Monday, July 10, 2017
The federal judge overseeing reforms in the Oakland Police Department criticized city officials Monday for a “severely mishandled” investigation into officers who allegedly had sex with an underage girl, saying City Hall and police commanders appeared to be treating him as an “inconvenient bump” on the way to regaining full control of the force.
But U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson, who ordered the reforms in 2003 in response to allegations that officers had brutalized suspects, stopped short of stripping the city of further control of the Police Department for the way the sex-scandal investigation played out.
“We’re still not finished with this case after 14 years,” Henderson said in a hearing in San Francisco, the first major court proceeding on the mandated reforms in five years. “These are not arbitrary orders we’re trying to enforce. ... I’m not just an inconvenient bump on the way to a settlement.”
The hearing, attended by Mayor Libby Schaaf, Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, City Council members and police command staff, focused on the findings last month by a pair of court-appointed attorneys who sharply criticized the department for its handling of allegations that officers had sex with the teenage daughter of an Oakland police dispatcher.
The attorneys said in their report that Police Department supervisors and detectives had done little to investigate the charges, and instead had blamed the young woman and allowed her to delete phone evidence in their presence. They also didn’t tell the mayor, city administrator or Alameda County prosecutors about the accusations, the attorneys found.
Informing the district attorney’s office when there’s a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct by police officers was one of the reforms city leaders agreed to make years ago as part of a lawsuit settlement.
The report also said that Schaaf and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth hadn’t done enough to review the Police Department’s handling of the case after the accusations finally came to their attention.
The case centered on a sexually exploited young woman who went by the pseudonym Celeste Guap, who told reporters that she had sex with 29 law enforcement officers in several Bay Area agencies. Twelve Oakland officers were ultimately disciplined, and prosecutors filed criminal charges against four of them.
Kimberly Bliss, a city attorney who counsels the police force, said in court Monday that department leaders would hold a “critical incident review” in response to last month’s report and would take “corrective action,” such as counseling and training. The Police Department will make a number of other changes, she said, including lowering the threshold for misconduct that must be reported to the district attorney.
Kirkpatrick apologized in court to Henderson. She came to Oakland from Chicago and took command in February, after the case became public, but promoted or kept on her command staff some officers whose actions were called into question by the review.
“I’m not only committed to repairing the failings of the sex scandal, but I am committed to compliance and a sustainable future,” Kirkpatrick said. “I will answer to my decisions and my actions, and where there’s a failing I will own it.”
Henderson praised the chief and expressed optimism about the department’s future. He said he would issue an order this week requiring the city to explain how it will implement the court-appointed attorneys’ recommendations.
That appeared to signal that he wouldn’t take up more drastic suggestions made last week by John Burris and Jim Chanin, the attorneys who brought the original lawsuit that led to the ordered reforms. They had said Henderson should consider holding Oakland officials in contempt of court, issuing monetary sanctions against the city or placing the police force into full receivership.
The attorneys said Monday that the self-evaluation city leaders promised wouldn’t result in the housecleaning the police command staff needs.
“They shouldn’t be in positions of leadership,” Burris said of police officials outside court. “Who’s to say they won’t do it again?”
Henderson is set to retire Aug. 11, when U.S. District Judge William Orrick III will take up the case. Orrick, who was in court for Monday’s hearing, said he would hold another status conference in the next three months to review the city’s progress.
The police force has been under the supervision of Henderson and his appointed monitors as part of the settlement of a lawsuit stemming from allegations that a group of officers in West Oakland beat and framed suspects. The decree mandated dozens of reforms related to police use of force, discipline, training and internal affairs.
As of Monday, the Oakland city attorney’s office alone had spent more than $14 million related to the federal civil rights case. That figure doesn’t include money paid to court-appointed monitors or new equipment and software purchased by the Police Department in response to the case.
The Police Department remains under federal court oversight because it has yet to complete several of the reforms, such as eliminating racial bias in traffic stops. There was no estimated date for the department to emerge from court monitoring even before the sex scandal, although lawyers on both sides said the end had been in sight before the new allegations arose.
Kimberly Veklerov is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @kveklerov
By DAVID DEBOLT | email@example.com | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: June 30, 2017 at 1:03 pm | UPDATED: July 2, 2017 at 5:47 pm
OAKLAND — In what is becoming a recurring theme at the Oakland Police Department, a rookie cop is under investigation by Internal Affairs, sources said Friday, on allegations of having sex in the basement of police headquarters on Seventh Street.
The revelations are another blow to a department recovering from a widespread sex scandal involving the teenage daughter of a police dispatcher and an investigation into racist and homophobic text messages between patrol officers and homicide investigators.
The troubling accusation surfaced as Oakland police officials acknowledged that another officer was recently arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, and officials and sources say that a criminal investigation has been opened after a large amount of narcotics removed from an evidence room more than a decade earlier was recently discovered in a locked cabinet at OPD.
In an internal document obtained by this news agency, police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick on Friday notified all OPD members of the incidents.
“I want to make it clear that I take these matters seriously and will not hesitate to hold those accountable who choose to engage in misconduct and violate the trust of the community and our law enforcement position,” the chief wrote. “We are in the business of regulating other peoples’ conduct, so I expect us to regulate our own conduct — on and off duty.”
Spokesman Officer Marco Marquez said that on May 27, the department received an allegation of “workplace misconduct” involving an officer. The department did not release the officer’s name or describe the misconduct, but multiple sources said he is a rookie who was hired in 2014. The sources said the officer had sex with a person in a basement office while off-duty. It’s unclear when the encounter took place.
Nearly a month later, on June 24, Officer Marcos Gocobachi was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic violence at a home in Richmond, police officials with Richmond and Oakland said. Gocobachi, 27, another rookie who joined the department in 2014, has not yet been charged, according to court records.
The next day, on June 25, police employees cleaning a basement office in Oakland police headquarters found narcotics in a locked cabinet, according to Marquez. The drugs, which sources said was a large amount that included cocaine and marijuana, were sealed, “and all contents were accounted for.”
Multiple sources said the narcotics were taken from evidence and stored in the cabinet more than a decade ago, and it’s unclear why they sat there. Sources said the drugs trace back to a lieutenant currently working in internal affairs.
For more than a year, the department has been dealing with the fallout from the sexual-misconduct scandal, which has resulted in criminal charges against one officer accused of having sex with the young woman while she was underage.
Two court-appointed attorneys, Edward Swanson and Audrey Barron, in a report issued last week, criticized the department’s handling of the case, first investigated after details of the sex scandal were revealed in a 2015 suicide note written by Officer Brendan O’Brien. Top police commanders, including then-Chief Sean Whent, knew of the allegations that officers were involved with the teen but conducted an inept investigation and did not notify the District Attorney’s Office for months, the attorneys wrote.
U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson and monitor Robert Warshaw, who oversee the department’s federal reform program, ordered a new investigation that resulted in the discipline of 12 officers, including four who were charged with a variety of criminal offenses.
Civil rights attorney Jim Chanin said the department had been making reform strides before last year’s sex scandal set it back, and the recent cases could further hurt the department’s chances of ending the reform program.
OPD came under the watch of Henderson 14 years ago following the Riders police-misconduct scandal, a case in which Chanin and John Burris represented West Oakland residents who sued the city and accused a band of rogue officers of beating them and planting drugs.
“It’s an insult to the many hard-working officers at the OPD,” he said. “But most of all, it’s an insult to the taxpayers of Oakland who have to foot the bill for this unending series of atrocious and unacceptable conduct by some members of the Oakland Police Department.”
The offices of Mayor Libby Schaaf and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth did not offer any comment. Under an order from Henderson, the city will be forced to comment on the Swanson and Barron report before a July 10 hearing in the judge’s courtroom.