A week before a federal court hearing that could have placed the Oakland Police Department into an unprecedented federal receivership, city officials and local civil rights attorneys agreed Wednesday on a settlement proposing that a new mutually agreed upon, court-appointed director take charge of department reforms.
The agreement needs U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson’s approval before it can become a reality.
The 11-page document detailing the joint plan of the city, OPD, the Oakland Police Officers Association, and attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin is the result of a month’s negotiations. According to court documents, Henderson issued an order November 14 that the parties meet to discuss a settlement agreement, and offered to refer them to a magistrate judge to aid negotiations. One day later, the city requested the magistrate and on November 16, Judge Nathanael Cousins entered the fray.
The two parties met for three sessions in late November, eventually hammering out an agreement that would give a court-appointed “compliance director” the power to oversee the OPD’s compliance with court-ordered reforms, and to discipline or remove higher brass from the department—including the chief.
Essentially, it’s all the powers of a federal receiver without the name, Burris said. The city didn’t want the director to be called a “receiver,” he said, because the name would have come with stigma.
At a press conference Wednesday night, Mayor Jean Quan offered another explanation for the move away from receivership—crime solving and collaboration with the community would not work, she said, unless city residents trusted the chief and the department. The mayor praised OPD Chief Howard Jordan and said she and the chief rarely disagree.
“Howard Jordan is a chief I picked, really, because I knew he could get the job done,” she said.
Wednesday’s agreement was 12 years in the making. The threat of federal receivership for the OPD stems from the 2000 lawsuit that accused four OPD officers, who called themselves the “Riders,” of planting evidence on suspects, beating suspects and making false reports. The lawsuit included more than a hundred plaintiffs and the city eventually settled, paying plaintiffs $10.9 million in damages and lawyers’ fees. It also included a promise for reform from the OPD, an agreement known as the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, or NSA. Out of 51 original reforms, the department now has 10 left, which are tracked by an independent monitoring team that is headed by Robert Warshaw and answers to Henderson.
Both Quan and Jordan were upbeat about the Wednesday settlement agreement and said they believed the city and department’s collaboration with a compliance director, as stated in the agreement, was the best approach to enforcing the terms of the NSA.
“This is a very momentous moment in our department,” Jordan said at the press conference. “The fact that we’re working together … is a lot better alternative than no say.”
According to court documents, the compliance director would serve a minimum of one year and stay in his or her position until the department is in compliance with the NSA. The new director would also provide monthly status reports, tracking the department’s progress, to the mayor, city administrator, chief of police, Burris and Chanin, along with the independent monitoring team, which would continue to operate.
The city agreed to foot the bill for the director’s salary. An exact amount was not stated.
The settlement agreement also included specific kinds of incidents for the director to monitor, such as racial profiling, traffic stops, and officers pointing guns at minority citizens.
“It really sets forth the benchmarks and addresses critical issues that I believe contribute largely to officer misconduct,” Burris said. “Generally, these are the police activities that create the most problems for the community.”
The documents state that the attorneys and city officials should try come to a mutual consensus about their choices for a compliance director. The agreement does not list any qualifications or guidelines for the selection process. If they cannot agree on candidates, each side would submit their own suggestions. In either of these scenarios, the federal court would have the final say on the choice.
A previously scheduled hearing for December 13, at which both parties were supposed to present their arguments for and against receivership, will still occur. With the recent settlement agreement, Henderson will either decide before or on this day whether to approve the document, Burris said. The final arrangement is completely up to the judge’s discretion.
“We’re hopeful that [Henderson] will accept this settlement in lieu of receivership,” said District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan before a town hall meeting at Edna Brewer Middle School Wednesday night. “We’re grateful for this opportunity.”
City Administrator Deanna Santana also expressed confidence in the agreement. “I think the document speaks for itself,” she said after Wednesday’s meeting. “We’re optimistic.”
Burris said he already has some people in mind for his choice of compliance director, though he declined to comment on specific names. “I’m looking for someone who has been a police chief somewhere, that has been involved in reform, evaluated other police departments, instituted new modalities, training modalities, identify problem areas, and, of course, having good communication skills,” he said. “And being a good leader.”