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Mayor suggested no-cause termination of police chief, Oakland police commissioners say

“I didn't think it was an option until the mayor raised it," former commissioner Edwin Prather testified Tuesday in Anne Kirkpatrick's whistleblower retaliation trial.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Much of the testimony in Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick’s whistleblower retaliation trial has been devoted to her conflicts with members of the city’s civilian police commission.

As chief of police, Kirkpatrick was expected to answer to many bosses within the city of Oakland, and witnesses said Tuesday that she seemed to resist taking direction from even more of them — especially the seven-member civilian oversight board that was established just before the start of her contract in 2017.

“From the beginning of the commission being seated, she was resistant to seeing us as additional supervisors,” commission chair Regina Jackson testified Tuesday. “At one point, she said 'I will let you know if I intend to attend your meetings.’”

The jury viewed a clip of a May 23, 2019, police commission meeting where commissioner Edwin Prather questioned Kirkpatrick on why the police department’s budget did not appear to be “a financial expression of the values of the department.”

He said, "What I don't see here is a department that's committed to transformative change.”

Kirkpatrick seemed to bristle at this, and answered that budget change requests are vetted by the mayor’s office.

Jackson interjected, reminding Kirkpatrick, “We are also an entity that you report to.”

Kirkpatrick answered, “I will be happy to share your comments with the mayor and with the city manager, and we can come back, and I will take the direction that they would like for me to take.”

Prather described Kirkpatrick’s attitude as “tone deaf.”

Kirkpatrick was ousted in February 2020 after the commission voted to terminate her without cause with the support of Mayor Libby Schaaf, whose backing they required.

Kirkpatrick is now fighting her dismissal in court, claiming she was booted for reporting corruption and misconduct within the police commission.

Prather testified Tuesday that he and Jackson, along with Henry Gage, a new appointment to the commission, visited Schaaf just days before Kirkpatrick was fired to discuss terminating her for cause.

For months, the commission had been exploring how to terminate her with cause, even hiring counsel to advise them on the issue. They met seven times in closed session between May 2019 and February 2020 to talk discuss Kirkpatrick’s performance, which they believed was falling short.

Jackson said she thought Chief Kirkpatrick should have acted swiftly to address racial disparities in recruiting and hiring within the department, but instead allowed a captain who consistently overlooked qualified applicants who were women and of color to continue to command its recruiting unit.

Jackson said she reached out to Mayor Schaaf after an open letter by the executive board of the Oakland Black Officers Association called out racism in the department.

"She [Schaaf] offered to me that she had to force the chief to remove the person being complained about,” Jackson said.

Jackson said the captain should have been removed immediately. “For at the mayor to have to force her to do it says she was resisting being the leader she had been painted to be and was supposed to be.”

Jackson testified that Kirkpatrick removed the Black female lieutenant who had previously commanded the unit and replaced her with Capt. Jake Bassett, the white male accused of discounting qualified applicants for minor reasons.

“The immediate two academies under his direction had no Black people at all in it,” Jackson said. “Once the mayor forced Bassett's removal, the former chief replaced that person with a white female, Virginia Gleason. For the next six or seven academies there were no Black females at all.”

Jackson was also unsettled by how Kirkpatrick handled the police killing of Joshua Pawlik, a homeless man found sleeping in an alley who was killed in a hail of gunfire by several police officers. Pawlik was unconscious but had a gun at hand when the officers responded to the scene, and they opened fire when he awoke, using a BearCat, an armored vehicle, as a shooting platform.

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The police commission’s discipline committee reviewed surveillance footage as part of their investigation, one of many conducted in the wake of the shooting.

Jackson said the committee thought the officers were not given clear instructions on how to approach Pawlik. “Most were standing behind the BearCat, using it as a shooting platform. It looked like a murder,” Jackson said. “When one started shooting, they all started shooting. Sympathetic firing is what it's called.”

The committee recommended that the officers be terminated and their supervisor demoted. “I directed the chief to terminate the officers. She acted like she didn't quite understand what I was saying,” Jackson said, adding Kirkpatrick resisted and sought the opinion of Robert Warshaw, a federal monitor appointed to oversee the progress of reforms in the department.

"There was a resistance to take direction from us,” Jackson said, adding, “I believe she totally missed the mark on the Pawlik case.”

Prather said he believed Kirkpatrick could do the job, but his confidence began to wane around August 2019. He testified that as fellow commissioners began to push for a termination for cause, he “thought it was unfair to not hear more evidence and to jump to quick conclusion.”

Some of their allegations about the chief "were petty,” he said, “but some of them were not.”

“I had a growing concern that a drawn-out process would ultimately hurt the city, hurt the commission, hurt the mayor — hurt everyone involved, because if you put the chief of police on trial, it's like a public spectacle and it's just really weird," Prather testified.

The mayor, he said, was the first to suggest a not-for-cause termination at that February 2020 meeting. “I didn't think it was an option until the mayor raised it," he said.

Commissioner Gage likewise testified that he was surprised at the suggestion. “The mayor offered a not-for-cause process. It came as something of a surprise. It's not something I expected the mayor to offer. It frankly created a very easy path toward the resolution we were headed towards,” Gage said.

As dissatisfied as the police commission was with Kirkpatrick’s leadership, she continued to enjoy support from rank-and-file officers. Capt. Bobby Hoofkin said he “jumped at the chance" to work side by side with Kirkpatrick as her chief of staff.
“I loved how she came and spoke to the troops. Her sense of leadership, her true north,” he said.

Hoofkin helped start the Oakland Police Department’s “barbershop forum” after a BART police officer killed unarmed Oscar Grant on New Year’s Eve, 2009. The forum events were meant to help health rift between the police and the public. Hoofkin said the former chief embraced the forums, and the community at large.

“Every day we got out into the community and met different folks. I introduced her to a lot of people I know and she was greeted with open arms,” Hoofkin said. “Her cheerleading for the barbershop forum showed that she wanted to move toward real community policing. The chief led by example.It really resonated with the department.”

Kirkpatrick attended several of these events, including one at San Quentin where she gave a “moving speech” to inmates and apologized for the harm police had caused them.

Hoofkin said he was so appalled by the Oakland Black Officers Association’s open letter that he resigned his membership. “I was appalled. And I was angry. The did not reflect who the chief was. It was the opposite. The chief really championed inclusion. She wanted a diverse department. I loved the direction she was going. I was angry because to me, it set our department back.”

He said the OBOA's executive board did not share the letter with members before it was published, and that several members he spoke with were similarly furious. He said he also thought the police commission was out of line in its treatment of the chief and her staff at every meeting she attended.

“What I noticed was, in my opinion, disrespect of Chief Kirkpatrick and other members of the department. They [the commissioners] did not conduct themselves in a professional manner. The chief bent over backwards trying to be accepting of the police commission.”

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