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Oakland police to fire 4 officers, suspend 7 others, in sexual misconduct scandal

Four Oakland police officers will be fired and seven others suspended without pay for their roles in a sexual misconduct scandal that sparked national outrage earlier this year, Mayor Libby Schaaf confirmed late Wednesday.

The officers, some of whom may have already resigned, were found guilty of administrative charges of attempted sexual assault, engaging in lewd conduct, assisting in the crime of prostitution and accessing law enforcement databases for personal gain, among other offenses, according to Schaaf.

Seven others were suspended without pay for failing to report the ongoing sexual misconduct, and other crimes. An eighth officer was also assigned to undergo counseling and training for “bringing disrepute” to the department, city officials said.

“I want to send a clear message to the victims of sexual abuse and exploitation living in our city. We see you. We hear you, and we are here to help you,” Schaaf said at a news conference. “And to those who exploit these victims and profit or take pleasure in their pain, we see you too.”

Oakland Police have been investigating allegations that officers were having sexual contact with a self-described teenage sex worker for nearly a year. The woman has told authorities she first met an Oakland officer along a stretch of International Boulevard notorious for the sex trafficking of underage girls.

The scandal exploded in June, when the woman claimed in a televised interview to have slept with more than a dozen city police officers. Some of the sexual interactions happened when she was underage, she said, and the woman also claimed she had sex with some officers in exchange for information about planned prostitution raids.

The scandal soon widened, and members of four other East Bay law enforcement agencies were also accused of either having sex with the woman or engaging in other inappropriate conduct with her. Two Oakland police officers resigned as a result of the scandal, and three others were placed on administrative leave, city officials said at the time.

Schaaf refused to identify any of the officers. State law shields the names of officers implicated in internal disciplinary hearings. She did say the Alameda County distict attorney’s office is expected to complete a criminal investigation into the scandal “relatively soon.”

John Burris, the civil rights lawyer who negotiated the settlement that placed the department under federal oversight in 2003, applauded the discipline as the first step on a long path to healing the department’s fractured relationship with the communities it polices.

“It looks to me like there’s been a wide-ranging investigation, the kind that I was hopeful for,” he said. “It’s the first step, a major step, to restoring the department.”

But even with news of the discipline, questions remained about the treatment of the woman at the center of the scandal. The East Bay Express, which broke many of the early details of the scandal, reported that the Richmond Police Department obtained funding to send the woman to rehabilitation in Florida.

The woman has since been charged with attacking a security guard at the rehab facility, the Express reported, and the news raised questions about why a police agency would send a key witness in a major police misconduct investigation out of state with possible charges looming.

“We are not happy about this,” Schaff said when asked about the woman’s situation, adding that city officials offered her “support and help that was locally based.” 

Investigators reviewing the case analyzed more than 78,000 pages of social media conversations and postings, more than 28,000 text messages and interviewed more than 50 witnesses over the past 11 months,  according to Deputy Oakland Police Chief John Lois, who oversees the department’s bureau of investigations.

The woman at the center of the scandal was interviewed 11 separate times, Lois said. The department also reviewed the conduct of each officers’ supervisor to ensure those commanders did not fail to report any potential misconduct, he said.

The fallout of the scandal earlier this year also led to a major shake-up in the Police Department’s command staff. Police Chief Sean Whent, who had been credited with helping the city make gains against a years-long surge in violent crime and guiding the department toward what many thought would be the end of federal oversight, resigned the same weekend the woman gave her televised interview. 

Oakland’s Police Department was placed under a federal consent decree in 2003 in order to settle a lawsuit that involved allegations of rampant abuse and biased enforcement by city officers.

Whent’s departure kick-started a wild week in Oakland politics that saw two acting chiefs appointed, and then dismissed, in the span of nine days. Ultimately, Schaff decided to place the department under the authority of civilian City Administrator Sabrina Landreth.

james.queally@latimes.com

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT on Twitter for crime and police news in California.

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UPDATES:

7:05 p.m.: This story was updated with additional information about the investigation.

5:50 p.m.: This story was updated with information from a press conference at Oakland City Hall.

This story first published at 4:45 p.m.

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