The teenager had been selling herself for money since she was 12. She had been “exploited by pimps,” she says, and was in the act of running away from one when she met Brendan O’Brien, a police officer in Oakland, Calif.
But instead of helping the then-17-year-old prostitute, O’Brien and more than 30 other law enforcement officers “continued to traffic, rape, victimize and exploit a teenage girl who needed to be rescued,” according to a legal claim filed with the Oakland city attorney’s office. “Instead of helping [the teen] find a way out of exploitation, they furthered and deepened her spiral down into the sex trade,” the claim adds.
Now 19, the teen is seeking $66 million in damages from the city, its police force, its former chief and multiple officers — the latest twist in an astonishing sex scandal that has swept up several police departments in the San Francisco Bay area.
The scandal led to the resignation of Oakland’s police chief, as well as the two people appointed to replace him, neither of whom lasted a week. It also led to other firings and suspensions, numerous criminal charges — and an apology from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
“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 earlier this month.
The teen’s claim, filed Friday, implicates not just O’Brien and the officers accused of having sex with the teen, but also supervisors who “stood by with a blind eye” as the teen became a sex slave for the officers, her attorneys said.
O’Brien committed suicide in the midst of a growing internal investigation. A note he left behind named other officers who he said had sex with the teen.
Investigators have moved ahead with their case against 10 officers — seven were charged last month, another three this week. Prosecutors say more charges are coming.
And leaders in Oakland and other municipalities have said they are cleaning house. “I am here to run a police department, not a frat house,” Schaaf said in June, according to the Los Angeles Times. She vowed to “root out what is clearly a toxic, macho, culture,” the Times reported. Schaaf did not respond to messages seeking comment this week.
The teen’s attorneys say there’s something systemically wrong with the departments involved.
“It’s hard to imagine a situation where this happens, where you bring in so many cops doing things of this nature and you don’t have some fundamental breakdown in the department,” the teen’s attorney, A. Cabral Bonner, told The Washington Post. “It’s a cultural thing.”
Bonner said the attorneys are asking for approximately $6 million for each Oakland officer accused of having sexual contact with the teen, and less for supervisors who knew about the activity but didn’t report it.
The officers, their superiors and other civic employees “either directly engaged in, stood by with a blind eye, or acted to cover up this modern-day slavery … in order to engage in sexual acts with her while she was a minor,” the claim states.
The claim was filed in the teen’s name, but The Post generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.
Revelations about her relationship with the police departments first came to light over the summer. In all, she says she had sex with more than 30 officers from six law enforcement agencies around the Bay Area. Many didn’t pay her, but instead tipped her off to prostitution stings, keeping her on the streets, she says.
She also claims she had sex with several officers while she was underage.
The officers told each other about her, and an additional 15 engaged in sex-related online chatting with her, she said.
A few of the officers paid her, she said, while some of the others abused their authority, tipping her to anti-prostitution stings or running names of people she was curious about through confidential databases. One Oakland officer, she said, had sex with her at a hotel near the Oakland airport in February, then texted her later in the morning to warn of an undercover sting.
“Their perks become your perks,” [the teen] said. “They have resources. They can run things for you. They can find out s— about anybody. If they can find out s— about anybody, I can find out s— about anybody.”
The claim seeking $66 million was filed after the teen spent two weeks in jail for biting a security guard during an altercation at a rehabilitation facility in Florida.
Even her time at that facility sparked controversy. The teen was sent there — some say under questionable circumstances — by the police department in Richmond, just north of Oakland.
That department is also embroiled in the sex scandal: Five of the officers the teen claimed she had sex with were from the police force there, including one who was a lieutenant, according to the East Bay Times.
On Aug. 26, Richmond police helped the teenager check into a rehabilitation center more than 2,500 miles from her home, using taxpayer money from the California Victims Compensation Fund.
Prosecutors in Northern California said the teen’s time in Florida impeded their ability to bring charges against officers, according to the East Bay Times; her family has said she was sent to the East Coast in an attempt to stop her from damaging the Richmond Police Department’s reputation.
“Right in the heart of the investigation, when charges are imminent, when a witness is required, she’s sent to rehab,” Bonner, her attorney, said this week. “It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to pick the place the furthest away from where she lives. Even then, it should be a facility she’s free to leave — and then she ends up in a situation where she’s arrested.”
Three days into her rehab stint, the teen was accused of attacking security officers. According to a police report obtained by Bay Area television station KRON, the teen removed her shirt and bra and began flashing motorists passing outside the rehab facility. A worker got her to come inside, but the situation only escalated.
“The workers were afraid [she] was going to become violent,” according to the report, which said she balled up her fists. At one point she tried to pull down a countertop safe and had to be restrained.
“When the security officers intervened, [she] began resisting, starting a physical altercation. While standing in the room [she] began screaming at the employees then lunged at one of the female security officers.”
Her father told KRON that the rehab center staff wouldn’t let her use a phone to call her parents. That, he said, is what sparked the latest incident that landed her in jail.
She ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge in Florida, according to the East Bay Times.
When she was released from jail, one of her other attorneys said the teen had been systematically victimized by police agencies.
“If we allow her to become victimized by law enforcement or to be used or abused or tricked … then every child on the street that is facing the same kind of life that is trapped in a web of sexual assault and sexual abuse would know that you cannot come forward,” Pamela Price told reporters.
Bonner, whose Northern California law firm filed the claim against the city of Oakland, also sought to defend the teen’s reputation after several news organizations published racy photos of her and highlighted the young woman’s lifestyle.
“If you’re talking about whether a 16-year-old girl is impressionable and can make a poor decision, well, obviously she can,” Bonner said. “But you have adult men who have a legal responsibility to make the right decision, but don’t.”