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Crossing the Line: The Oakland Police Department Versus the Crowd 

Wednesday, Aug 7 2013

Page 4 of 5

The same wasn't true for Sow. "I feel like it's a process. I haven't been to a protest since. I feel like I would like to go back, but it's going to be hard. I used to worry about the crowd doing something rather than the police, but now I feel the opposite."

This kind of fear and intimidation is the worst-case scenario for Lederman, who helped draft the crowd-control policy with First Amendment protections in mind. She says she continued to bring litigation against OPD "to try to enforce the crowd-control policy, but what I mean by that is not the crowd-control policy itself, but rather to enforce the Constitution and the right to protest."

OPD's repeated violations of its crowd-control policy are part of the department's systemic struggles. Incessant cutbacks, understaffing, and turnover in leadership — since 2003, Oakland has had six police chiefs, one of whom only held the position for 48 hours before resigning — contribute to its problems. Oakland is also consistently ranked as one of the most crime-ridden cities in the nation, making it no easy place to police.

But the department is also plagued by problem officers, whose repeated violence over the years continues to cost the city millions of dollars in settlement cash — with more settlements likely to come this summer.

In 2003, Coles was shot by one of four officers on a tactical squad known as a Tango Team that was revealed in court documents to include Christopher Del Rosario, R. Gutierrez, Patrick Gonzales, and Roland Holmgren.

It's unclear which officer fired the beanbag round that actually hit her, but several of the officers have problematic histories.

In 2007, Del Rosario was sentenced to nine months in jail and five years probation after pulling a gun on bystanders who witnessed him assaulting his girlfriend on a Sonoma street. During his trial, Holmgren told the San Francisco Chronicle that Del Rosario had been on disability leave from the department for three years.

Gonzales and Holmgren also have histories of violence. Gonzales' record was documented in a 2011 Color Lines investigation, which revealed that the city of Oakland has paid $3.6 million in settlement money in lawsuits related to Gonzales' behavior on the force. Gonzales has been involved in at least four officer-involved shootings (incidents in which a police officer fires on a citizen). Holmgren has been involved in at least one shooting.

The members of the second Tango Team working in the port that day included Officer Frank Uu, who is identified in court documents as the officer who beat Sabeghi and ruptured his spleen on Nov. 2, 2011. Gonzales was Uu's supervising officer that evening. Court documents state that Gonzales "failed to adequately supervise" Uu, and also "approved and condoned" his treatment of Sabeghi. At the time, Uu's only crowd-control training had been a single one-hour session in 2005 (he attended a second session after the incident).

While the Oscar Grant demonstrators were contained on Nov. 5, 2010, an incident occurred that perhaps contributed to OPD's decision to declare the area a crime scene. Officer Robert Roche accused a woman of stealing his partner's gun. However, his partner's incident report revealed that his holster had broken and he had only momentarily dropped his gun. The woman was never charged.

Roche has participated in at least three officer-involved shootings. The East Bay Express has also identified him as the officer who lobbed a grenade at demonstrators while they tried to rescue Olsen after he was shot in the head with a beanbag round on the night of Oct. 25, 2011.

Officer Cesar Garcia, who struck several demonstrators with his baton during the arrests of Anderson, Alper, and Christensen, has participated in two officer-involved shootings. He was joined in one of these by Capt. Ersie Joyner, who issued the commands on Nov. 2, 2011, that led to Campbell being shot in the leg with a beanbag round. Joyner has been involved in at least four other shootings, as well as the incident with Cesar Garcia.

Officer Victor Garcia, who acted on Joyner's command and fired the beanbag round that hit Campbell, has participated in at least two officer-involved shootings.

Officer-involved shooting statistics hint at a deeper problem with violence in OPD. A 2010 internal study conducted by the San Francisco Police Department revealed that, over a five-year period, SFPD officers had participated in 15 shootings. Over the same period, OPD participated in approximately 40, despite the much smaller population OPD polices. The level of violence OPD metes out on a day-to-day basis bleeds over into the way the department handles protests.

Violent officers set an example for others in the department. PDRD video from Oct. 25, 2011, includes footage recorded in a police vehicle on its way to the raid on the Occupy camp. The video captures a conversation between several officers, one of whom noted that occupiers have constructed a fence out of pallets and bikes around the camp to keep officers out. He continued, "At least by this point, they realize if they do have kids in there or something stupid like that you'd hope they'd already have had them out. That way we can just go straight into the savage beating."

"The history is so long and it's been so entrenched," Lederman says. "Having officers who were involved in officer-involved shootings then being the same officers who are using the less-lethal munitions against demonstrators — it's all interwoven."

Ten years after she first began working on OPD's crowd-control policy, Lederman feels frustrated that reforms are taking so long. "It's not only 10 years of the crowd-control policy, it's 10 years of the NSA [the negotiated settlement agreement in the Rider's case that required OPD to implement systemic reform] and they haven't cared. Not only have the police not cared, the city government hasn't cared and hasn't been able to get basic reforms done. If there was a basic culture of accountability, that would also improve the crowd-control issues."

About The Author

Kate Conger

Kate Conger has written for SF Weekly since 2011.


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