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Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said today that he wants to discipline 44 of his officers for misconduct in their handling of Occupy Oakland protesters at three major demonstrations in the past year. Jordan said at a briefing at City Hall that his Internal Affairs division has received 1,127 complaints about alleged officer misconduct at Occupy Oakland protests in the past year.
He said about 90 percent of the complaints stem from three events: the police removal of protesters from Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of City Hall on Oct. 25, the aftermath of a general strike on Nov. 2 and “Move In Day” on Jan. 28, when protesters tried to take over a vacant building in downtown Oakland. Jordan said the Internal Affairs review found that “the vast majority of my officers did what we asked them to do” in demonstrations involving more than 50,000 people.
However, he admitted, “A few acted improperly and I’ve taken action to hold them accountable.” Jordan revealed for the first time that one of his officers, not an officer from an outside agency who assisted Oakland police, fired the bean bag that struck Iraq War veteran Scott Olson in the head on Oct. 25, seriously injuring the protester. “Our officer acted inappropriately in that incident,” he said. Jordan said he has recommended that two officers be fired, one be demoted, three undergo counseling and training, 15 be suspended for up to 30 days and 23 receive written reprimands.
Jordan said the disciplinary actions against the 40-plus officers “is not a reflection on the entire department” and pledged that the department is working hard “to improve on how we treat people” at large protests. Mayor Jean Quan said she believes “people will be surprised at the number of disciplinary actions” that Jordan has recommended and said she believes there’s been “a real maturing of the department” in how it treats protesters since the Occupy Oakland demonstrations began a year ago.
Jordan said the officers who are subject to discipline have the right to a hearing so no one has been fired or suspended at this point. He also declined to release the officers’ names, citing confidentiality laws. Jordan said all 44 officers are still being paid by the city and most are working for the Police Department in some capacity but the two officers who face being fired are on paid leave and aren’t currently performing any police duties. Jordan said, “By holding police officers accountable, and by disciplining those who do not meet the department’s high standards of conduct, we honor those officers who maintain their commitment to constitutional policing and faithfully adhere to the policies which keep both officers and the public safe.”
He said, “We are managing a delicate balance between protecting the first amendment rights of protesters, and protecting life and property when small groups of protesters engage in vandalism and violence. We are a better department that we were a year ago, and we will continue to learn from our mistakes.” Quan said Oakland has implemented 75 percent of the recommendations for improvement made earlier this year by the Frazier Group, an outside group of police experts who said the Police Department was poorly prepared for the protest last Oct. 25 and used outdated crowd control tactics.
She said the there have been important changes to policies and procedures and better training in crowd management. Olson filed a claim in March against the city of Oakland for the injuries he suffered. His attorney, Mark Martel, said today that the city denied the claim so he plans to file a civil lawsuit against the city on Olson’s behalf in the near future. Martel said that although he’s unhappy the city denied Olson’s claim, he’s impressed that Jordan is recommending discipline for 44 officers. “It sounds like a serious response to the complaints and it doesn’t sound like a whitewash,” he said.
The Internal Affairs probe sustained 26 complaints for the Jan. 28 protest, 15 complaints for the Oct. 25 police actions and two complaints for the protest on Nov. 2. Jordan said there were more complaints for the Jan. 28 protest than for the other events because “it was the most confrontational and violent behavior we’d seen thus far” by Occupy Oakland protesters and it required a large police response. He said that because of the large crowd involved, “things are going to happen but unfortunately not all of my officers acted appropriately.”
Barry Donelan, the president of the union that represents Oakland’s police officers, said he thinks the complaints should have been handled privately through the normal Internal Affairs investigation process instead of being announced publicly. Referring to a four-page summary of the Occupy Oakland findings that city leaders gave to reporters today, Donelan said, “This document shows where the city is focused: on prosecuting police officers and not prosecuting criminals.” Donelan said he thinks Occupy Oakland protests got out of hand because of “indecisive leadership by city leaders who never chose to deal with Occupy Oakland.”
He said the result is that the city had to pay several million dollars to pay the overtime costs for Oakland officers who responded to the protests as well as officers from outside agencies as well as an additional several million dollars for the Frazier Group report and other outside investigations. Donelan said Oakland has had a 20 percent increase in violent crime this year so he thinks the city should concentrate more on fighting crime than on investigating officers.
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