From: SF Chronicle
By: Megan Cassidy, Jan. 17th, 2019
Oakland’s police union is asking a judge to block the city from disciplining three officers accused of misconduct, because a citizens’ oversight agency allegedly violated state law during a recent probe.
The Community Police Review Agency, or CPRA, unlawfully interrogated four officers by declining to first provide the officers with records of allegations against them, the Oakland Police Officers’ Association claims.
The police union made the allegation in a petition filed last week in Alameda County Superior Court.
The Community Police Review Agency is overseen by the Oakland Police Commission, which is run by the city.
The petition stems from an unspecified Dec. 12, 2017, incident that prompted internal investigations against four officers, according to the court filing, which did not disclose their names. The department fully exonerated the four on July 1, 2018.
Nearly three months later, though, the review agency notified the officers they would undergo a second round of interviews related to the same incident.
An attorney for the officers subsequently wrote a letter to the review agency demanding they “turn over all materials containing notes, complaints or reports concerning the alleged misconduct prior to any further interrogation…”
State law requires this disclosure whenever an employer conducts follow-up interviews into an officers’ alleged misconduct, the court filing argues.
Anthony Finnell, the review agency’s former interim executive director, ultimately denied the request, and the agency re-interviewed all four officers in mid-November. Finnell declined comment for this story.
The review agency later moved to “advance disciplinary proceedings” against three of the four officers, the union petition states, “based, in whole or in part, on the second interrogations conducted in violation of POBR (the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act).”
For this reason, union attorney Jonathan Murphy said, a court should order a stop to the disciplinary proceedings.
Murphy also asked the judge to order the destruction of all records of the “unlawful” interrogations, and to award $25,000 to each of the four officers involved.
“We want the investigating agency to follow state law,” police union President Barry Donelan said in a recent interview. “The law is very straightforward.”
Representatives from the city attorney’s office and Community Police Review Agency did not respond to requests for comment.
The filings provide no details about the alleged misconduct or underlying incident, as such information is shielded from the public record.
The review agency can recommend disciplinary action against the officers to Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick but can’t impose it, said Henry Gage, an attorney and activist with the Coalition for Police Accountability.
Additionally, the review agency is restricted from discussing its work due to California’s police privacy laws.
“When I talk to CPRA staff, they’re often very proud of the work they do,” Gage said. “But they can’t talk about any of it. It’s kind of ridiculous.”
For years California has maintained some of the nation’s most secretive laws on police misconduct files. A recently enacted law, however, aims to shed light on decades of hidden records, requiring that some internal documents involving officers’ use of deadly force, sexual misconduct and dishonesty be made public.
Records involving sexual misconduct and dishonesty can be disclosed, however, only if the findings are sustained.
Gage, whose organization advocates for more police transparency, said strict privacy laws fracture the community’s trust with the officers sworn to protect them.
“With all the secrecy surrounding police personnel files,” he said, “all we’re left with is, ‘Trust me, we’re handling this.’”