UPDATE: Sure enough, Chief Howard Jordan said this evening that the Independent Monitor will look into allegations of force used against protesters.
Among the myriad troubles facing the city of Oakland right now is a question of how the federal court that’s currently overseeing Oakland’s police department will view the city’s aggressive response to Occupy Oakland. In 2003, after a group of rogue West Oakland officers, now known as the “Riders” were accused of planting evidence and beating suspects, the department agreed to a number of reforms as part of a negotiated settlement. That consent decree has been extended twice, as the court and its independent monitoring team have repeatedly chastised the department for not adequately progressing on required reforms. In a recent hearing, Judge Henderson went as far as threatening the department with federal receivership if it doesn’t make progress. Oakland officials have repeatedly said they’re taking steps to avoid receivership, but the city’s handling of Occupy Oakland is sure to draw the court’s attention.
The court has several issues with the department. Among them is officers in the department’s high rate of drawing weapons while interacting with the public. “The level of unnecessary drawing of firearms is astounding,” the judge said at a September hearing. Also at issue is what the judge called an “attitude of resistance” to the Negotiated Settlement Agreement.
When Chief Anthony Batts left Oakland earlier this month, the NSA was clearly on his mind. “No chief wants to be in a position where he or she is being held accountable but does not have the power to make a dramatic impact,” Batts said when he announced his departure.
“I do think things were not what he thought they were going to be and I appreciate the fact that he has other opportunities and he’s made his decision now, because we really only have about three more months to work on the Negotiated Settlement Agreement,” Mayor Jean Quan said at the time. The implication then was that Interim Chief Howard Jordan would focus heavily on complying with the settlement and ending federal intervention.
Considering the escalating threats of receivership coming from the court, there’s no doubt that the Independent Monitoring Team will have great interest in reports coming out of Occupy Oakland over the past few days of an aggressive police response to protesters. Specifically, police–whether from Oakland or brought in from other jurisdictions under mutual aid agreements–have repeatedly deployed tear gas and other less-lethal weapons in response to protesters’ refusal to disperse. And several protesters have sought medical attention for wounds apparently resulting from the police response–among them, Iraqi War veteran Scott Olsen, whose injury was captured on video by KALW’s Ali Winston.
Requests for comment to the Independent Monitoring Team have not yet been returned.