With a price tag of at least $100,000 and the lead investigator having previous ties to Oakland, some critics are wondering whether the city’s newly-formed independent investigation team will be effective in figuring out just what happened between police and Occupy Oakland protesters, especially because it is only composed of law enforcement experts.
But city officials insist the process will be fair.
The city announced on Dec. 21, 2011 that Thomas Frazier, a former Baltimore police commissioner, will head up a team of four to investigate how police officials handled themselves on October 25 and November 2, two days when mass arrests and tear gas were used to disperse Occupy Oakland protesters. The first phase of the investigation will look into the events of October 25 and should produce results within 90 days, city officials said.
James Chanin, a civil rights attorney who has headed up litigation against the Oakland Police Department several times, questioned the appointment of Frazier to the review team. Chanin was one of the attorneys who led the civil rights lawsuit against the city over the “Riders” police brutality case, and the city is currently working through a Negotiated Settlement Agreement that mandates reforms to the police department’s procedures.
Chanin believes appointing Frazier to lead the independent review team is a conflict of interest because Frazier was also hired by the city to oversee court-approved changes within OPD related to the Riders case. Frazier “is a consultant with the city,” Chanin said. “I wouldn’t call the [investigation] independent.”
“When you hire someone on retainer,” Chanin added of Frazier, “it’s not fair or independent.”
But Frazier and city officials say his previous work for the city has concluded and that he can be an impartial observer. After the city announced Oct. 13 that Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan would fill in for former chief Anthony Batts after he resigned in early October, Frazier was brought on by the city as special adviser to help implement the court-mandated provisions of the Riders settlement leading up to a review set for January, said Karen Boyd, spokesperson for the City Administrator. But after the first raid on Occupy Oakland, his work did not continue.
“The work [Frazier] did was getting up to speed with OPD and its structure,” she said. “It was sort of introductory.”
Frazier said he was on the job for six weeks before Mayor Jean Quan put out a bid for the investigation team. After his consulting firm, the Frazier Group, won the contract, he suspended his work on the Riders NSA, he said.
His brief time working with the city and his years of work with law enforcement agencies will not impact his ability to be independent or impartial, said Frazier. “I don’t have any loyalty to OPD,” he said. “If mistakes were made, then recommendations will be made to fix them.”
In his time investigating incidents at numerous police departments, including in L.A. and Detroit, he said, he observed that independent reviews happen all the time and are a reliable tool to investigating incidents. “There’s an old saying,” he said, “they pay me to chop the wood, the chips fall where they may.”
Frazier brought on three other ex-law enforcement officials to conduct the investigation: Donald K. Anders, former deputy chief of the San Jose Police Department; Michael R. Hillman, former deputy chief from the Los Angeles Police Department; and Captain Richard L. Cashdollar of the United States Coast Guard. All members of the team have deep roots in command and police tactics.
While a review team comprised of only law enforcement experts can be fair, Chanin said, having a more diverse make up would be optimal, such as including civil rights lawyers or academic experts. “In a perfect world, which they can create, there would be balance,” he said.
Shon Kay, an Oakland resident and Occupy Oakland participant, said the makeup of the review team keeps the investigation within the law enforcement “boy’s club.” He said that he would prefer that the OPD publicly release the names of all officers who used force against protesters, a process he would consider more transparent. “They know exactly who did what already,” he said. “The fact that they need an independent investigation shows that the OPD is not being forthcoming.”
“There are videos of everything that happened,” Kay continued. “Look at the videos. Look at the law. It doesn’t take $100,000 to figure it out.”
Occupiers are concerned over Frazier’s former ties to the Police Executive Research Forum, a non-profit law enforcement organization that facilitated two conference calls with police departments nationwide in how to handle Occupy protests; Frazier was a former president of the board of directors.
During the press conference announcing the investigation, Frazier said the team is comprised of law enforcement experts due to “legal access issues,” but added that a civil rights attorney may be called on due to the complexities involved, such as mutual aid.
This new review may be the fifth investigation looking into how police handled themselves during several confrontations with protesters since Occupy started in October. The OPD’s Internal Affairs and the Citizen Police Review Board are pursuing their own investigations.
The federally appointed monitor overseeing the department in the wake of the Riders lawsuit may be looking into events to see whether they violate the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, Chanin said, although the OPD has not been able to confirm whether Occupy-related events will indeed be part of the court’s next NSA review in January.
“When you got a city with the debt that Oakland does, I question if another investigation is really necessary, ” he said.
OPD also conducted its own internal review where disciplinary action was taken, Jordan said during the December press conference, but he wouldn’t elaborate on details as it was considered a “personnel matter.”
The city is also currently embroiled in a lawsuit brought about by Scott Campbell, a videographer who said he was shot by police on November 2 with a bean bag projectile while filming the confrontation with protesters. His suit has been joined by other plaintiffs who are being represented by the National Lawyers’ Guild and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The lawsuit, filed on November 14, alleges that excessive force was used by police against Occupy Oakland protesters, which violated the department’s crowd control policies and has intimidated people from protesting by making them afraid to come out for fear of police violence.
Rachel Lederman, a lawyer with the National Lawyers’ Guild representing the plaintiffs, said it was good that the city to launch an independent investigation into the policing of the Occupy Oakland protests. But she added that her group will continue their own investigation into the matter. “We’re determined to seek redress in federal courts instead of relying on Oakland’s investigation,” Lederman said.
Boyd said it’s important to have an independent, third-party investigation to complement other ones that are in progress to offer a “higher level of scrutiny.”
“It’s important so the public knows there’s an outside view of the investigations,” she said.