OAKLAND (CN) — The Oakland Police Department and its former chief handled the 2018 death of a homeless man in a hail of police gunfire with “an appalling measure of incompetence, deception, and indifference,” the department’s independent monitor said in a withering report released Monday.
The report skewered the police department and former chief Anne Kirkpatrick for prematurely defending the five officers who fired 22 rounds at 31 year-old Joshua Pawlik, found sleeping with a gun at his side in a West Oakland alley on March 11, 2018.
“One officer fired seven times; another, six times; another, five times; and another, four times — all in a total of 2.23 seconds,” federal police monitor Robert Warshaw wrote in his report.
After the shooting, Kirkpatrick called Warshaw to tell him that the officers were justified in fatally shooting Pawlik because he had pointed a gun at them, saying it “looks good.”
But Warshaw was critical of Kirkpatrick’s premature assessment of the tragedy, cautioning her at the time "that she should not reach conclusions so early in the process.”
Kirkpatrick’s position was unwavering as the investigation progressed, despite video evidence that did not support the officers’ claims that Pawlik was “alert and awake," and “appeared agitated and upset” before “scanning from side to side” and “purposefully and intentionally pointing his weapon at officers” according to Warshaw.
“Our shared humanity should have ensured, at the least, that the Oakland Police Department would have taken better care to avoid the death of Mr. Pawlik. Failing that, the department should have conducted a more thorough and honest review of this event to provide a foundation for reform,” Warshaw wrote. “Instead, for Joshua Pawlik, for the police department and for the Oakland community, there has been only a tragic litany of failures.”
The department has been under the supervision of a court-appointed monitor for 17 years, as a condition of a settlement in the 2003 civil rights lawsuit Delphine Allen et al. v. City of Oakland. The case arose from the “Riders” scandal, where four police officers were accused of kidnapping, beating, robbing, and planting evidence on residents of an impoverished neighborhood in West Oakland while the department turned a blind eye.
The settlement was supposed to last five years with no more than one additional two-year extension, but U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson extended it several times as the department failed to meet reform benchmarks like reducing officer-involved shootings and racially motivated traffic stops.
Warshaw was appointed monitor in 2010 and elevated in 2014 to the additional position of compliance director by Henderson, who has since retired. U.S. District Judge William Orrick has taken over the case.
“The shooting of Mr. Pawlik exposed an appalling measure of incompetence, deception, and indifference,” Warshaw wrote, characterizing the department’s investigation as tainted from the start, including the “incomplete and deficient investigations” conducted by its criminal investigations and internal affairs divisions that failed to challenge the officers' accounts of what happened.
“Too many persons charged with the responsibility of internal review and oversight quickly, and ultimately, described this tragedy as a ‘good’ shooting and one that was consistent with law and policy,” Warshaw wrote. “It was not a ‘good’ shooting.”
The officers responsible for Pawlik’s death, William Berger, Brandon Hraiz, Craig Tanaka, Josef Phillips and Francisco Negrete, were fired in 2019.
They fought their termination in court after Warshaw overrode Kirkpatrick’s decision not to discipline them and a separate tribunal made up of members of the civilian Oakland Police Commission agreed with him. They were briefly reinstated in April, but Orrick upheld their termination in June.