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Four Oakland police officers fired, seven suspended after sprawling sexual misconduct investigation

An Oakland, Calif., Police Department cruiser. (Anda Chu/San Jose Mercury News via AP)

Authorities in Oakland moved to fire four police officers in the city and suspended seven others after a sprawling sexual misconduct investigation found that some had attempted sexual assault and aided prostitution, according to office of Mayor Libby Schaaf.

The high-profile investigation focused on allegations involving police officers and a woman who has identified herself as a sex worker and said she was underage when she had sex with some officers.

“I am deeply sorry for the harm that this scandal has caused, particularly to community trust, which for many was already so tenuous,” Schaaf (D) said at a news conference Wednesday night.

Schaaf’s announcement does not mark an end to the scandal, which is also the subject of a criminal probe and exploded into public view at a time of intense scrutiny of law enforcement nationwide.

Oakland sent notices of intent to fire four police officers, Schaaf said. She said that the probe found that in addition to attempted sexual assault, some of these officers went into law enforcement databases for personal reasons, helped people evade arrest for prostitution, lied to investigators, and failed to report allegations of sexual contact between a minor and an Oakland police officer.

Schaaf did not name the officers, saying that she was not allowed to identify them under state law. It was not immediately clear whether any of them had attorneys.

Oakland police, stopping and handcuffing disproportionate numbers of blacks, work to restore trust

Officials have previously said that two officers have resigned amid the investigation, but Schaaf’s office said that even if they have left the department, the findings will be added to their personnel files. An Oakland police officer also committed suicide last year and, according to authorities, left behind a suicide note naming other officers involved with the woman.

This woman told the CBS affiliate in San Francisco that she had sex with more than a dozen Oakland police officers as well as nine others from other departments. (Oakland officials say any other departments that came up as part of the probe were notified.)

She told the network that she had sex with three of the Oakland officers while underage, and said she met one while working as a prostitute. In the interview, the woman also said that she would exchange sex with officers when they tipped her off about undercover operations. (The Washington Post generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.)

Around the same time as that interview, Oakland authorities announced that Sean Whent, the city’s police chief, would be stepping down. Although officials did not directly link it to the misconduct scandal, they also acknowledged “the importance of public trust in the outcome of ongoing misconduct investigations.”

An interim police chief was named and — just five days later — removed from the position after Schaaf said she “received information that has caused me to lose confidence” in his ability to lead the police “at this particular moment in time.”

That chief, Ben Fairow, was loaned to the department by the Bay Area Rapid Transit system’s police force; the BART police chief welcomed Fairow back to his position as deputy chief and said Fairow had admitted to an affair years earlier.

Paul Figueroa, assistant police chief in Oakland, was named as the city’s acting chief; two days later, he was also out. Schaaf then said that rather than appoint yet another interim chief, police officers would instead report to Sabrina Landreth, the Oakland city administrator, while they conducted a national search for a new top police officer.

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The Oakland police force is already under a federal monitor, and unease between residents and the police linger as an issue to this day; a study released this summer showed a stunning gap between how often white and black people in the city were handcuffed by police.

In a report last month, the independent monitor for the police wrote: “This is, as is now widely known, perhaps the most trying time in OPD’s history.”

During the investigation into the misconduct, Oakland authorities said they determined that several officers knew the woman was a sex worker but never provided her any formal resources.

The city also said seven Oakland police officers were suspended without pay for going into law enforcement databases for personal reasons, failing to report the allegations involving a minor and police officers, and “bringing disrepute to the Oakland Police Department.” Another officer would be given counseling and training.

Schaaf and Landreth announced the conclusion of the year-long administrative probe on Wednesday, saying it involved interviews with 50 witnesses, including 11 police interviews with the woman at the center of the case. This probe was carried out by members of the department’s internal affairs unit and the city attorney’s office, they said. The city has also asked an attorney from the law firm of Liebert, Cassidy and Whitmore to conduct a review of this administrative investigation.

In addition to the administrative probes, the office of Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley is also conducting its own investigation that could possibly lead to criminal charges.

“While it is our practice not to discuss pending investigations, I can firmly state that we do not and will not turn a blind eye to human trafficking or the sexual exploitation of a minor, whether the offender is a civilian or a law enforcement officer,” O’Malley said in a statement this summer. “The alleged conduct of the officers in this matter is not in line with what our office and the wider community feel is acceptable for those who are sworn to protect and serve.”

Schaaf, speaking Wednesday about the investigation, vowed that “we will hold our officers to nothing but the highest standards of professionalism and integrity.”

Further reading:

Study finds police officers arrested 1,100 times per year, or 3 per day, nationwide