Oakland officials expressed outrage Saturday over news reports detailing allegations of misconduct by officers of the city's long-troubled Police Department, whose chief abruptly resigned this week.
Sean Whent stepped down Thursday after leading the department for three years, calling the move a "personal choice."
The East Bay Express reported that Whent was pushed out because he mishandled a sexual misconduct investigation involving a young woman and more than a dozen officers – a larger group of officers under investigation than had previously been reported.
Councilman Larry Reid said Saturday that he and his colleagues were not told why Whent resigned, but that after reading the story, he believes it was because of the sex scandal.
"The Police Department is supposed to protect those young kids," he told The Times. "As a father with four daughters – that something like this could occur in our city and with some members of the Oakland police – it makes me sick to the stomach."
The East Bay Express reported that at least 14 officers allegedly had sex with the woman, whom the publication referred to as a "sex worker." Four officers involved in the sexual misconduct allegation are now on leave, according to the Associated Press.
The woman said in an interview with San Francisco TV station KPIX that she had sex with three officers when she was younger than 18 – the first when she was 16. (The Times is withholding the woman's name because she may be the victim of a sex crime.)
Appearing on camera, the woman said the officers warned her about upcoming prostitution stings, and that at the time she didn't feel as though she was being exploited. "Wow, these men in uniform, you know, giving me protection," she recalled thinking.
Later in the interview, however, the woman said: "I do see myself as being a victim, because I do feel like I was taken advantage of."
In a statement issued late Saturday, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf promised to swiftly punish any officers involved in sexual misconduct, but also questioned the veracity of news reports about the scandal.
"We continue to be disgusted and outraged by the idea that anyone could abuse an underage victim of sexual exploitation – particularly those who have sworn to uphold the law and protect our communities; we are sickened to think anyone could even know of such abuse and not bring that information forward," she said in the statement. "Our highest priority is to hold those responsible for wrongdoing fully accountable and remove them from positions where they are offending the public trust."
Though she did not name a specific news account, Schaaf did say some reports about the controversy contained information that city officials "believe is inaccurate," and promised to release whatever information she can, as long as it doesn't interfere with any internal or criminal investigations.
The department has had four chiefs since 2011 and has been under the oversight of a federal monitor for the last 13 years because of a scandal involving officers who were accused of planting evidence.
In Whent's resignation letter to Schaaf and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth, he did not acknowledge the sexual misconduct investigation, saying he believed "the timing is good for me to move on and explore other opportunities."
He said he was honored to have led the department and to have reduced the city's crime rates. A photo of the letter was tweeted by a reporter for the Bay Area ABC station.
Benson Fairow, the deputy Bay Area Rapid Transit police chief, was chosen to be Whent's interim replacement.
On Saturday, Oakland City Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney wrote on Facebook that she was shocked by Whent's resignation.
But McElhaney said she saw it as an acknowledgment that he failed to respond to the "horrific and heart-breaking allegations that numerous men entrusted to wear the Oakland uniform engaged" in the exploitation of the young woman.
Reid, the council member, said that he and his colleagues have been "left in the dark" about the scandal and subsequent resignation.
"We're all reading what you're reading," Reid said. "We're waiting for information to be provided for us, which it hasn't…. We are all very angry."
8:11 p.m.: This story was updated with comments from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff.