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Oakland to pay ex-police chief $1.5 million after wrongful termination verdict

A jury found ex-chief Anne Kirkpatrick had been wrongfully fired after blowing the whistle on unlawful activity by civilian police commissioners.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — The city of Oakland will pay former Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick a $1.5 million settlement following a jury’s verdict finding she was wrongfully fired for whistleblowing.

The figure includes $337,635 in economic and emotional damages awarded by the jury — equivalent to a year’s worth of salary, $250,000 in litigation costs, and undisclosed amount of fees for her legal team at Keker Van Nest & Peters.

Kirkpatrick was fired in February 2020 after an unanimous vote by the civilian police commission, a seven-member oversight board established by voters in 2016.

During her tenure, Kirkpatrick sometimes clashed with members of the board on her approach to reforms within the police department and on issues like hiring and retaining officers of color. The commission voted to terminate her without cause with the support of Mayor Libby Schaaf, whose backing they required.

Kirkpatrick sued the city in 2020, claiming she was booted for reporting instances where Commissioner Ginale Harris had “flashed” her commissioner badge to gain favors from department staff, an accusation Harris vehemently denied on the stand.

Over the course of the two-week trial, Kirkpatrick’s attorneys said the board was looking for a reason to get rid of her after she reported Harris’ conduct to the mayor and other government officials — along with her fear about retaliation by the commission.

Kirkpatrick’s reports eventually led to an outside investigation of Harris. Kirkpatrick's attorney James Slaughter said that when the other commissioners found out about the investigation, they “rallied around their colleague and decided to fire Kirkpatrick for cause.”

The commissioners repudiated Kirkpatrick’s claims at trial, joining Schaaf in testifying that the department had regressed on court-mandated reforms under Kirkpatrick's leadership and that she was no longer the right “fit” for Oakland.

After just two hours of deliberations, the jury found the city unlawfully terminated Kirkpatrick for disclosing conduct she had reasonable cause to believe was unlawful.

“I feel vindicated by the jury's conclusion that I was fired in retaliation for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing at the Oakland Police Commission. I hope that the agreement in my favor is a signal to all who are witnesses to misconduct, especially those in law enforcement: do not stay silent,” Kirkpatrick said in a statement Monday. “Our system depends on people who will do the right thing, even when it is the hard thing. I look forward to putting this chapter behind me and to continuing my career in public service.”

The City Council voted in closed session last week to authorize the settlement, in which the city denies any wrongdoing or liability. Council members Rebecca Kaplan, Noel Gallo, Nikki Fortunato Bas, Loren, Taylor, and Asha Reed voted to approve the agreement. Council member Sheng Thao abstained, and Carroll Fife and Dan Kalb were absent from the meeting. A public vote on the settlement is expected Tuesday.

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