Moments after an officer pleaded not guilty to having sex with their client, attorneys for the woman identified as “Celeste Guap” in press reports announced they are seeking damages from four cities and two counties in which they allege police officers sexually exploited the former teenage sex worker.
Attorneys Pamela Price and Cabral Bonner said that in addition to a claim filed two weeks ago against the City of Oakland, they filed claims today and yesterday on behalf of their client against the cities of San Francisco, Livermore and Richmond, as well as against Alameda County. They also plan to file a claim against Contra Costa County, they said. Bonner said that in each of the claims they are seeking approximately $6 million for each officer who had sexual contact with their client, but he did not have a figure readily available for the total damages sought in each claim.
Price said that her firm has not yet filed lawsuits. The claims function as a notice of intent to sue and include the amount of money they are seeking from each defendant. The cities and counties now have the opportunity to attempt to settle Guap’s claims before the lawsuits are filed. (Oakland North is not using Guap’s real name because she was underage when the alleged sexual exploitation began.)
Price and Bonner made the announcement outside the Hayward Hall of Justice immediately after Contra Costa Sheriff’s Deputy Ricardo Perez pleaded not guilty to one count of felony oral copulation with a minor and two misdemeanor counts of engaging in a lewd act in public. An Oakland officer charged with one count of felony oral copulation with a minor received a continuance because his attorney is out of town. He is scheduled to appear in court October 7.
The charges against Perez, as well as the claims filed by Price and Bonner, stem from revelations about a sex scandal in the Oakland Police Department (OPD) and multiple other Bay Area law enforcement agencies.
The scandal came to light following the suicide last year of OPD Officer Brendan O’Brien. This May, a full eight months after O’Brien’s suicide note alerted the department that multiple officers had sexual relationships with Guap, the department announced that three OPD officers were under investigation for misconduct. The scandal led to the resignations of three consecutive OPD chiefs. The department does not currently have a chief.
In early September, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced she is recommending disciplinary actions against twelve officers, ranging from dismissal to counseling. Separately, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced plans to file charges against five Oakland police officers, one Livermore officer and one Contra Costa County sheriff’s deputy. Charges range from engaging in prostitution to engaging in lewd acts in public.
Perez is not the first officer to be arraigned in connection with the scandal. Last Friday, OPD Officer Brian Bunton pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of obstruction of justice and a misdemeanor charge of engaging in an act of prostitution. He was released from Santa Rita Jail on Tuesday. According to The East Bay Times, Bunton was charged with allegedly having sex with the then-18-year-old Guap in exchange for giving her information about a prostitution bust in Oakland.
O’Malley has also filed misdemeanor charges against a retired Oakland sergeant for failing to report child abuse. A Livermore officer, who has resigned, faces two counts of engaging in lewd acts in public, two counts of engaging and agreeing to engage in prostitution, and one count of providing alcohol to a minor.
Two of the Oakland officers named in O’Malley’s press release announcing the potential charges still have not been charged. In the release, O’Malley said that she will charge them with “knowingly and without permission, conducting a search of official criminal justice data and computer systems without an authorized purpose,” a misdemeanor. One officer faces one count of the charge and the other faces four counts.
The arraignments began one week after Guap’s attorneys filed a $66 million claim against the City of Oakland, OPD and multiple officers. The claim alleges at least ten OPD officers “violated [Guap’s] rights by sexually trafficking her between and among police officers and sheriff’s deputies throughout the Bay Area or by failing in their mandatory duty to report the abuse and thereby ratifying the conduct.”
The claim also names former Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent and deceased OPD officer O’Brien. The claim alleges that instead of O’Brien protecting Guap from sexual exploitation, he exploited her himself while she was a minor and continued to do so after she turned 18 years old. It also alleges that the former chief knew that Guap “was being sexually exploited as a minor and took no action to prevent the exploitation or protect [Guap].”
During Friday’s press conference, Price said she hopes she and the defendants can settle the financial claims quickly. “There is a hope we can resolve the compensation for [Guap] long before the criminal claims,” she said.
An OPD spokesperson declined to comment via email and referred Oakland North to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and the Oakland City Attorney’s Office. City Attorney spokesperson Alex Katz said his office has not yet filed a response to the claim. The spokesperson for the Alameda County District Attorney’s did not return a request for an interview.
Three months ago, Richmond-based community activist Ben Steinberg started a petition on Change.org, calling for an independent investigation into the scandal. Steinberg’s petition, which is addressed to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, has so far gathered over 16,000 signatures.
One of the reasons for calling for an independent investigation, Steinberg said, is so that it can be coordinated across counties. When O’Malley announced that she planned to file charges, she said her department had found evidence that police officers had committed crimes outside of Alameda County, but her department could not pursue charges because the crimes were committed outside of its jurisdiction. Additional allegations have been made against officers in San Francisco and Richmond, which is in Contra Costa County.
In a five-page report signed by Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown, the chief wrote that multiple officers in his department had improper relationships with Guap, but asserted that none of the activity was criminal. “The facts show individual, unconnected, non-criminal engagements and other activities that violate multiple Department policies and the professional Code of Ethics on the part of several RPD officers,” Brown wrote in the report.
Steinberg said the apparent discrepancy between the Alameda County DA’s statements—in which she acknowledges that information regarding allegations has been turned over to the Contra Costa DA—and the Richmond Police Department’s internal investigation reinforced his belief that an independent investigation is necessary. “The Richmond PD and the Alameda County DA are reaching different conclusions,” he said. “I think it’s legitimate to question whether they [the Richmond Police Department] should investigate themselves.”
Steinberg also believes there should be an independent investigation to avoid potential conflicts of interest, as each district attorney’s office works closely with the police and relies on information provided by them to prosecute criminals.
“If you’re truly going to have an honest investigation where you get to the bottom of this, you just need to have a completely uninvolved outsider with no dog in the fight who is just going to be able to come in and give an honest assessment,” he said. “The RPD and the Contra Costa DA’s office are going to be weighing different aspects of their relationship, I think, and I fear they’re going to be covering for each other.”
During the press conference outside of the Hayward courthouse, and in the claim filed against the city of Oakland, Price alleged that there already has been a cover-up, with supervisors at the department failing to report crimes committed by lower-ranking officers. “Obviously the officer would not have engaged in this kind conduct multiple times unless he thought he could do so with impunity,” she said. “The department needs to be held accountable.”
Several members of the Anti-Police Terror Project, a community group that protests police brutality, attended Perez’s arraignment. Leigh Davenport, a member of the group, said she is upset that higher-ranking officers have not been charged.
“None of these are supervisors,” she said. “Why hasn’t Chief Whent been investigated?”
At the press conference after the arraignment, Price mentioned that Guap is currently in counseling. She “is doing much better, and she’s getting the help that she needs,” she said.