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Oakland replaces interim police chief six days after his appointment

For the second time in a week, the city of Oakland has lost its top police official.

Six days after he was appointed interim police chief in the wake of a sex scandal that has embarrassed the Oakland Police Department, Ben Fairow was removed as the city’s top cop Wednesday after Mayor Libby Schaaf said she received information that led her to believe Fairow could not lead the agency.

Fairow, a longtime Oakland cop who currently serves as a deputy chief with the Bay Area Rapid Transit Police Department, was appointed to replace former Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent on June 10.

Schaaf would not say why Fairow was removed, or if the incident was tied to the investigation into claims that several Oakland police officers had sex with a teenage prostitute. She also declined to say if Fairow’s removal was connected to his time as an Oakland cop or his time with BART, citing privacy laws.

“As mayor, I need to have absolute confidence that the leader of this department can be 100% effective at leading cultural change based on the current allegations that we take extremely seriously,” she said during a news conference at City Hall.

In a statement released Wednesday evening, BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey said the situation in Oakland would not affect Fairow’s status as a deputy chief with the agency. Rainey also said Fairow told him he had a “personal relationship with a consenting adult more than a decade ago,” according to the statement. At that time, Fairow would have been employed by the Oakland Police Department.

Schaaf said she received the information that led to Fairow’s ouster Monday, and informed city leaders Tuesday. She declined to elaborate, other than to say the information “raised concerns for me about whether he can effectively lead this department at this particular moment in time.”

The mayor has come under intense scrutiny for failing to inform city council members of the specifics of the sexual misconduct allegations. City Council members Tuesday said they were blindsided and disgusted by the news of Fairow’s departure.

“The thugs in the street are better organized than we are here at City Hall,” said City Councilman Neil Gallo.

Fairow could not be reached for comment.

Fairow’s removal means the Oakland Police Department will have a new chief for the fifth time in as many years. Whent resigned last week, as news of the ever-widening sexual misconduct scandal became public knowledge.

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While city officials have referred to Whent’s resignation as a “personal choice,” three sources with knowledge of the situation told The Times he was forced out because of his mishandling of the sexual misconduct investigation.

Asst. Police Chief Paul Figueroa will now serve as acting chief, while a national search for a permanent chief begins, Schaaf said. Asked about how she vetted Fairow before naming him interim chief, Schaaf said she conducted a “brief series of interviews” with him following Whent’s departure.

“Chief Fairow is somebody I have worked with for many years, he enjoys a very good reputation,” she said.

The news came as the Oakland Police Department endured a fresh wave of criticism Wednesday over its relations with the city’s black community. Stanford University released an analysis of vehicle and pedestrian stops conducted by Oakland police that showed the department disproportionately stopped and searched African Americans compared to other residents.

John Burris, the attorney who negotiated a settlement that placed Oakland police under federal oversight in 2003, said the federal monitor should be allowed to oversee the department’s hiring and recruitment practices in the wake of the recent scandal. 

“This is as shocking an event that can occur when we just had discussions about this person being a quality chief,” Burris said of Fairow’s removal.

The Oakland department remains under federal oversight as part of a settlement that stemmed from a civil lawsuit accusing officers of a lengthy pattern of police brutality and racial profiling.

The most recent controversy linking police officers to an underage prostitute came to light after Officer Brendan O’Brien committed suicide in September 2015.

O’Brien left a suicide note that indicated he and four other officers were involved in inappropriate relationships with a young prostitute, according to Burris, who is briefed on such matters because of his role in the monitoring process.

The investigation remained secret for months, and Whent failed to inform the department’s monitor, Robert Warshaw, about the misconduct allegations, Burris said. The former chief also rejected an Internal Affairs recommendation to discipline those officers, according to Burris.

News of the scandal began to attract attention in the Bay Area last month, but the allegations gained national attention last week when the woman at the center of the scandal told several news outlets that she had slept with more than a dozen Oakland police officers, starting while she was underage. She also asserted to have had sexual contact with officers from a number of other police agencies in the East Bay.

The Alameda County district attorney’s office has launched an independent investigation into the claims.

Two Oakland police officers have resigned from the department because of the scandal, and three more remain on administrative leave, city officials have said. A Contra Costa County Sheriff’s deputy has also been suspended because of information that surfaced during Oakland’s investigation into the scandal. The Richmond Police Department is also looking into activities of several of its officers.

Schaaf said choosing the right police executive will be a critical step in helping repair a department that has been the subject of an increasingly disturbing series of controversies.

“We are dealing with disgusting allegations that upset me greatly,” she said. “I believe that the leadership at this time is critical in order to build confidence that the culture of this department does not tolerate unethical behavior, sexual misconduct or lying.”

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FOR THE RECORD

June 15, 8:51 p.m.: In earlier versions of this article, Oakland Mary Libby Schaaf’s last name was misspelled as Schaaff and as Schiff. Also, the article said Ben Fairow was removed Tuesday from his post as Oakland’s interim police chief. He was removed Wednesday.

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james.queally@latimes.com

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for police and crime news.

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UPDATES:

8:51 p.m.: This post has been updated with new details and quotes.

4:07 p.m.: This post has been updated with additional information and reporting.

2:01 p.m.: This post has been updated with a statement from Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

This post was originally published at 1:47 p.m.

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