SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — As a young patrol officer in her hometown of Memphis, former Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick said she was exposed early on to the corrupt side of policing. "It was common practice in Memphis to flash your badge and you could get your free dry cleaning and go out to dinner,” she said. “There was also a lot of ticket fixing.”
She said she decided that she wasn’t going to put up with it. “I made a decision about which path I was going to take. I was going to try to be one of the good ones,” Kirkpatrick testified Tuesday in her whistleblower retaliation trial.
But on cross-examination, attorney Jonathan Bass suggested that this "sense of righteousness" may have colored her perception and caused her to assume corruption where there was none.
Bass, a partner with Coblentz Patch Duffy & Bass, represents the city of Oakland in Kirkpatrick’s lawsuit claiming she was fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on abuse of power and misconduct within the police commission, a seven-member civilian body established by voters in 2016 to oversee some department policies and review officer misconduct.
“To report misconduct is not an act of betrayal. It is an act of integrity. I acted on that integrity and I came forward,” Kirkpatrick told the jury. “I had a right to not have retaliation. I had a right to be protected. And instead I was actually terminated.”
The city’s main argument is that Kirkpatrick was an at-will employee and served at the pleasure of Mayor Libby Schaaf, who could fire her without cause or explanation. Kirkpatrick contends her ouster was a direct result of several reports she made in 2018 regarding some members of the police commission.
During her direct testimony, Kirkpatrick said Schaaf was consistently pleased with her performance as chief, even touting her as “fabulous” and “fantastic” to other mayors at a conference in 2020, which Kirkpatrick also attended.
“Three weeks later she's firing me,” Kirkpatrick said.
Kirkpatrick was recruited to the job in 2016. She had previously been chief of police for Spokane, Washington. When she met with Schaaf, she said the two talked about the Oakland Police Department’s challenges, including recent allegations that multiple Oakland police officers had sexually exploited an underage girl.
The department was also under federal monitoring — one of the longest of any department in the country — following the “Riders” scandal of 2000, where a squad of police officers were accused of kidnapping, beating, robbing and planting evidence on residents of an impoverished neighborhood in West Oakland.
The resulting lawsuit led to a negotiated settlement under which the department had to commit to meeting reform benchmarks. The department is on the verge of exiting federal monitoring with a one-year probationary period ordered by the federal judge overseeing the case.
"We talked about the fact that I was more mature. I was seasoned. That Oakland was the place for a seasoned chief and not a first-time chief,” Kirkpatrick said of her meeting with the mayor.
She said she supported the creation of the civilian police commission, and believes outside oversight is critical to holding insular police departments accountable. “All of those things were actual attractions to me because I also know that if agencies are going to be truly reformed, they need to have effective civilian oversight.”
But by 2018, Kirkpatrick’s relationship with the commission had soured.
The rift allegedly began in March of that year, when commissioners Ginale Harris and Jose Dorado had a meeting with two neighborhood service coordinators who worked for the police department as liaisons between the officers and the community.