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Oakland mayor testifies to losing confidence in fired police chief despite praising her

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said she began to doubt that the police department would exit decades of federal monitoring under Anne Kirkpatrick's leadership, though she told a federal judge that she had never seen a chief more committed to that goal.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Testifying Friday in former Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick’s whistleblower retaliation trial, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf defended her choice to stand with the civilian police commission in firing Kirkpatrick “without cause.”

Kirkpatrick claims she lost her job because she reported corruption within the Oakland Police Commission, a seven-member civilian board established by voters in 2016 to oversee some department policies and review officer misconduct. The city argues Kirkpatrick was an at-will employee who could be fired by the mayor for any reason, or no reason at all.

Kirkpatrick says she was blindsided by her firing since the mayor had repeatedly sang her praises in public. But on Friday, Schaaf said she started to believe around 2018 that Kirkpatrick was no longer fit for the job.

"At first she did very well," Schaaf said. "In particular, the rank and file felt she was a leader — that she cared about them in a way they had not felt with previous chiefs.”

Schaaf testified she had grown concerned that under Kirkpatrick’s leadership, the police department was backsliding on reforms mandated by a negotiated settlement in the 2003 civil rights lawsuit Delphine Allen et al. v. City of Oakland, which stemmed from the “Riders” scandal in which four officers were charged with kidnapping, beating, robbing, and planting evidence on residents of an impoverished neighborhood in West Oakland.

Schaaf said the settlement, also known as the NSA, represents “a promise city of Oakland made to the people to achieve certain standards of professionalism, of integrity, of constitutional policing."

Kirkpatrick came to the job at a time of upheaval in the department, having run through eight different chiefs of police within the eight years before Kirkpatrick started in 2017. It was also reeling from yet another disgraceful incident, as multiple officers had been accused of sexually exploiting an underage girl.

Schaaf said exiting federal oversight, for which the city was paying court-appointed monitor Robert Warshaw and his team $1 million a year to ensure compliance with the settlement, was of paramount importance. By 2016 the end was in sight, but the sex abuse scandal upended that goal.

When Kirkpatrick was hired, the department was in “partial compliance” with three of the NSA's remaining “tasks.” These were related to racial disparities in discipline among officers, the timeliness of internal affairs investigations of public complaints against officers, and a requirement that the department collect data on every vehicle stop, field investigation and detention to curtail racial profiling.

Schaaf testified Warshaw was “extremely difficult” to work with. “I have found him to be very opaque and not clear in his direction about how to get in compliance,” she said.

Warshaw also clashed with Kirkpatrick over the fatal police shooting of Joshua Pawlik, a homeless man found sleeping with a gun at his side in a West Oakland alley in 2018.

Warshaw later released a critical report saying Kirkpatrick handled the shooting with “an appalling measure of incompetence, deception and indifference.” He was also unsparing in his criticism of Schaaf, who described the shooting as “awful but lawful” — a phrase he said “trivialized an avoidable tragedy.” Warshaw’s report excoriated Schaaf for her silence after reviewing video footage of the shooting.

Kirkpatrick’s handling of the shooting caused Warshaw to downgrade the department’s NSA compliance on tasks related to reporting and investigating officers’ use of force.

But Schaaf said she also began to question Kirkpatrick’s commitment to reform when she made comments Schaaf took as dismissive of the NSA.

Heading into an August 2019 case management conference where the parties would update U.S. District Judge William Orrick III on their progress, Schaaf said she was determined to “prop up” Kirkpatrick, whom she saw as “beleaguered.”


“We knew were were in trouble. The reports from the monitor were becoming more and more disconcerting. We had to resuscitate confidence in the department, including confidence in its leader,” Schaaf testified.

At the conference, Orrick asked Kirkpatrick to name the one thing she thought the department needed to work on most, to which Kirkpatrick replied “the narrative.”

When pressed to explain, she said she meant the narrative that the department was not progressing when it really was doing a lot of work behind the scenes. Schaaf called that response dismaying.

“She conveyed in public to the judge a complete sense of denial with the progress of the NSA and the reforms that are for the people of Oakland,” Schaaf said. “I was aghast.”

Kirkpatrick’s attorney John Keker noted that Schaaf nonetheless lauded Kirkpatrick’s commitment to reform at the hearing.
“Were you trying to mislead Judge Orrick?” Keker asked.

“Absolutely not. I personally really like Anne Kirkpatrick,” Schaaf said, adding, “As long as the chief is the chief, the mayor has to show some support.”

Schaaf said she did not want to terminate Kirkpatrick for cause, as the police commission initially sought to do.

"Terminations of that nature are extremely disruptive,” Schaaf said. “Hiring a police chief for the city of Oakland is a long, arduous process and I wanted to avoid it if possible.”

Police commission chair Regina Jackson and commissioner Edwin Prather informed Schaaf of the commission’s decision to terminate Kirkpatrick for cause in a meeting with Schaaf in early February 2020. At the time, Prather said he did not agree Kirkpatrick should be terminated for cause.

“Edwin wanted to know if there was a possibility that I would join the commission in a no-cause termination,” Schaaf said. “I did think it was better for the city of Oakland and I did think it was better for Chief Kirkpatrick.”

Keker pressed Schaaf on her reasoning. A no-cause termination granted Kirkpatrick a year of severance pay, but she would also be forced to waive any future legal claims against the city.

“You knew that would be a disaster in terms of city liability,” Keker said.

Schaaf responded, “I would not characterize it that way," adding, "I did have a desire to minimize harm to the chief's reputation and allow her to get her very generous severance.”

While Schaaf didn’t think Kirkpatrick’s record warranted firing her for cause, she said she trusted the judgment of Prather and Jackson. She also trusted John Burris and James Chanin, the two lead attorneys in the “Riders” civil rights case who also expressed concern that Kirkpatrick had lied to Warshaw regarding an officer’s promotion. “They stated they did not believe the police department would ever achieve compliance with the NSA under Chief Kirkpatrick's leadership. I took it very seriously,” she said.

Then there was the matter of the messaging. Schaaf acknowledged on the stand that while the decision was hers, she wanted the public to know that the firing was not her idea.

After the news broke, Schaaf sent a text to Jackson saying she was disappointed the commission had not made that more clear.

"My only disappointment is that you misrepresented the process by saying you voted to join me, as if I initiated the action,” Schaaf wrote in the message displayed in court. “It is extremely important to me that you characterize this accurately in the language we agreed on. You voted to request that I join you.”

“I recall correcting her, that we agreed to say the police commission took the first action and I concurred,” Schaaf said. “I wanted to remind the public about the immense powers and authority the police commission had at that time.”

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