IN THE NEWS
Homicide victim's brother accuses East Bay police of cover-up
San Ramon resident Demarco Childs, pictured here, was shot and killed at a Chevron gas station in Antioch on February 13, 2016. (Courtesy of Derrick Childs)
Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland on Thursday in her City Hall office. She recently announced the departure of three police chiefs in less than two weeks. (Credit Noah Berger for The New York Times)
A Young Prostitute, Police Scandals and a Rocky Renaissance in Oakland
OAKLAND, Calif. — The mayor came into office promising a “Safer Oakland” and greater trust between the residents of California’s most crime-ridden city and a police force notorious for abuse and misconduct. Until a few weeks ago, the mayor, Libby Schaaf, a lawyer who took the post in January 2015, seemed to be delivering. Burglaries, robberies and murders are down, as are complaints of police misconduct.
But in recent weeks, Oakland has been rocked by a cascade of sordid revelations that have left the city without a police chief and have surprised even a citizenry inured to police scandals.
An 18-year-old prostitute, the daughter of a police dispatcher, claimed that she had had sex with officers and said the police had routinely tipped her off to raids. More than a dozen officers are under investigation, Ms. Schaaf said, and at least one of the relationships began while the prostitute was a minor.
“It’s tragic that this scandal has overshadowed the incredible progress that Oakland has made,” Ms. Schaaf, 50, said in her wood-paneled office above the streets that are being transformed by what has been called Oakland’s renaissance.
“As someone who has worked for nearly 20 years on the issue of the sexual exploitation of minors,” she continued, “this revelation was not just shocking. It was thoroughly depressing.”
This city of about 400,000 has long had a reputation for not only rampant crime but also police abuses. The Police Department has been under court monitor since 2003, when the city settled a civil suit claiming that rogue officers known as the Riders had used excessive force and planted evidence on suspects.
But the sex scandal and other controversies come at a time of brightened prospects for the city. Formerly dilapidated downtown neighborhoods are filling with restaurants, shops and yoga studios catering to the overflow of technology workers, hipsters and other economic refugees from San Francisco.
While the sex scandal grabbed the attention of the nation, so, too, did Ms. Schaaf’s slapstick succession of leadership changes — she announced the departure of three chiefs in less than two weeks — that culminated with an empty seat at the top.
The chief of police, Sean Whent, resigned early this month as reports of the scandal began appearing. Ms. Schaaf called it a “personal choice.”
Ms. Schaaf announced a successor, Ben Fairow, who was a deputy chief with the Bay Area Rapid Transit police. He lasted five days. The mayor called his hiring a “mistake” but did not offer an explanation. (While married, Mr. Fairow had “a personal relationship with a consenting adult more than a decade ago,” said Kenton Rainey, his supervisor at the Bay Area transit police, where Mr. Fairow returned to his job.)
Paul Figueroa, the department’s assistant chief, was then given the job, but he left after two days, without explanation.
In announcing Mr. Figueroa’s resignation, Ms. Schaaf began with a comment that would travel across the country: “As the mayor of Oakland, I am here to run a Police Department, not a frat house.”
She vowed to “root out a toxic, macho culture” and did not name a chief. Instead, she put the police under the control of the city administrator, Sabrina Landreth. A search for a chief would probably take six months, Ms. Schaaf said.
Officials here are also awaiting details of an investigation into racist text messages sent by officers. The messages are an echo of the scandal across the bay that contributed to the ouster of San Francisco’s police chief last month.
John Burris, a civil rights lawyer in Oakland who was involved in the 2003 settlement and has monitored police overhauls, said the scandals had been bewildering and disheartening because the force appeared to be on the cusp of emerging from more than a decade of court-mandated oversight.
“There’s been a progressive improvement in the city for a few years now,” Mr. Burris said. “There has been optimism. We don’t have the same levels of beatings and beat-downs by police anymore.”
One striking change has been the reduction in searches without probable cause. A decade ago, the police conducted an average of 3,000 a year. Last year, that number was down to 280, Ms. Schaaf said.
As part of the settlement, the city adopted a list of changes, including restrictions and conditions on when officers are allowed to use force. Out of 51 points in the settlement, Mr. Burris said, the police force is close to complying with the final three — racial profiling, the consistency of discipline and the effectiveness of the department in policing itself.
Mr. Burris said the latest problems revealed a culture of collusion and an unwillingness to report wrongdoing.
“It’s disturbing because people knew about it and did nothing,” he said.
Hints of the sex scandal began to filter out last year with the suicide of an officer, Brendan O’Brien, in September. Details of Officer O’Brien’s suicide note, which set off the investigation into sexual misconduct and in which he mentioned the prostitute, were reported in the Bay Area news media, and were highlighted in an exposé in The East Bay Express.
In recent days, the scandal has spread beyond the police force. The head of the Alameda County district attorney’s office, Nancy E. O’Malley, known for her aggressive prosecutions in prostitution and human trafficking cases,announced that one of her investigators had been placed on administrative leave for becoming friends with the prostitute on Facebook. A second investigator was placed on administrative leave for possible involvement in the racist text message scandal, said Teresa Drenick, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.
Ms. O’Malley’s office is leading the investigation into the sexual misconduct. No officers have yet been charged.
The scandal has already affected the overhaul of the Police Department. One of Ms. Schaaf’s campaign pledges was to speed the recruitment of officers. But the City Council agreed last week to delay the start of the next police academy class by two months.
The force has 778 officers, well above the level in the aftermath of the recession, when layoffs brought the number of officers around 600.
“We need the system changed,” said Rebecca Kaplan, a city councilwoman. “This isn’t a problem of one person or two people. A culture has been created that allows for the degradation of women.”
Efforts have been made for more than a decade to make the police force more diverse. Police academy classes under Oakland’s previous mayor, Jean Quan, increased minority hiring and reduced the number of whites recruited to fewer than 50 percent.
“We hired a police force that looked more like the city,” said Ms. Quan, who also required the police to wear body cameras, a move that Mr. Burris called crucial in curbing abuses.
Crime is down — 26 homicides have been reported so far this year, compared with 40 at the same time last year. Robberies have declined 14 percent and burglaries 29 percent, according to police statistics through June 19.
But many streets here remain unsafe. Oakland is the most dangerous major city in California, according to 2014 F.B.I. data, the latest available. Stockton and Compton were in second and third place in terms of violent crime.
The police estimate that Oakland has 55 gangs. In more affluent neighborhoods, residents have banded together and hired private security guards.
Black residents say racial profiling is still common. Gilbert Cross, a maintenance technician who works across from the building that Uber is renovating, said friends and family members were sometimes stopped by the police for no apparent reason.
Mr. Cross said he had seen improvements since moving to the city in the 1980s, when it was “drug infested, with a lot of murders.”
“Oakland is getting better,” he said. “But slowly.”
ANTIOCH -- The brother of a fatal shooting victim in a case that was ruled self-defense is publicly accusing Antioch police of orchestrating a cover-up.
Derrick Childs, brother of 31-year-old Demarco Childs, filed a claim Monday alleging that Antioch police "covered up" his brother's homicide when they failed to arrest the man who admitted to shooting Childs multiple times outside of a Chevron gas station on Feb. 13.
The coroner's report says Childs, a San Ramon resident, was shot with his own handgun during an altercation with a man who had dated the same woman he had. The man surrendered to authorities at the scene, saying Childs had pointed a gun at him. He was set free after police reviewed security footage of the incident and determined he had acted in self-defense, Antioch police Sgt. Tom Fuhrmann said in an interview last month.
But the claim -- a precursor to a lawsuit -- accuses Antioch police of witness tampering, improper conduct, and failing to provide all the evidence in the case to the Contra Costa District Attorney's office. Derrick Childs, a legal analyst with prominent civil rights attorney John Burris, also alleges that Antioch investigators conducted a warrantless search of the home of a woman who had dated both Demarco Childs and the man who shot him.
Antioch police declined to comment on the claim, citing a city policy that forbids speaking publicly on pending litigation.
But Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves, who made the decision to not charge the shooter, said he reviewed security footage of the shooting numerous times. He expressed sympathy for the Childs family, but said he was confident that he wouldn't be able to prove a murder case against the shooter "beyond a reasonable doubt.""Antioch police conducted a thorough investigation into the homicide, presented the entire case to the District Attorney's office, including the surveillance video that captured the entire incident from beginning to end, and there was insufficient evidence to warrant charges," Graves said. He later added, "If I thought a murder occurred, we would have filed that case."
An Antioch police investigation determined that on the day of the fatal shooting, Demarco Childs bumped into the man and his teenage daughter at a Chevron gas station. The man later told police that Childs brandished a handgun, leading to a struggle over the weapon. When the man got a hold of the gun, he told police Childs said he had another weapon, and began reaching for it. That's when the man fired, striking Childs at least four times.
Derrick Childs' claim tells a different story: That the man stood over Demarco Childs, taunting him and firing at him multiple times as Childs attempted to crawl away on his stomach.
"Once the threat is not a threat to you anymore, then you have to stand down," Derrick Childs said. "This individual neutralized the threat, he shot my brother in the knee, and as my brother was on his stomach face down, he continued to shoot him. He became the aggressor at that point, when he decided to shoot two more times."
Forensic expert Jay Jarvis, who reviewed the coroner's report, wrote to Derrick Childs in an email that, if Demarco Childs was lying face down when he was shot as the claim states, two of the shots "could be consistent with the shooter either straddling the decedent's torso or standing on the decedent's right side and firing downward." Derrick Childs also says he has seen video footage taken by a witness that shows the man standing over his brother and firing shots.
But Graves was skeptical.
"The existence or nonexistence of some video would not change the result, because all the events leading up to the shooting, and all shots, are accounted for in surveillance," Graves said. "There are no shots that could have taken place outside of that (security) video."
Childs disputed that statement as well, saying he spoke with a witness who said the confrontation began in the threshold of the door to the Chevron convenience store, in a camera blind-spot.
Paul Figueroa, who was named the interim chief of the Oakland Police Department this month but left after two days, speaking to journalists on June 15. (CreditAric Crabb/Bay Area News Group, via Associated Press)
Supreme Court Rules Cops Need A Warrant For Blood Test After Drunk-Driving Arrest But warrantless breath tests are constitutional.
Officers conduct a field sobriety test on a driver during a DUI checkpoint on May 23, 2013 in Miami, Florida. (JOE RAEDLE VIA GETTY IMAGES)
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday clarified limits the Constitution places on police officers who seek to measure blood-alcohol level following a drunk-driving arrest.
In a fractured ruling that commanded a five-justice majority, the court said police officers need a warrant if they want to test the blood of a motorist who gets pulled over for driving under the influence, but not if they want to conduct a breath test under similar circumstances. The court issued the decision Thursday alongside major rulings on immigration and affirmative action.
The drunk-driving decision was prompted by three separate appeals — two from North Dakota and one from Minnesota — involving men who had been arrested for drunk driving and threatened with criminal penalties if they refused to submit to an alcohol test.
All three refused, were tested anyway — one via a breath test, two by getting their blood drawn — and found to be extremely drunk. And because of their refusal, all three were charged separately for declining the tests.
But the men appealed, arguing that criminalizing their refusal to submit to testing violated the Fourth Amendment, which generally prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. Their respective state supreme courts didn’t buy it.
But the Supreme Court did agree with part of the argument, at least with respect to direct blood testing. Justice Samuel Alito explained that these tests “are significantly more intrusive” on privacy, so states cannot conduct them unless they obtain a warrant first.
Not so with breath tests. “The impact of breath tests on privacy is slight,” Alito explained, which means their use by police officers is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment and thus exempt from the warrant requirement.
“Because breath tests are significantly less intrusive than blood tests and in most cases amply serve law enforcement interests, we conclude that a breath test, but not a blood test, may be administered as a search incident to a lawful arrest for drunk driving,” Alito wrote, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who earlier this week issued a potent dissent in this same area of law, would’ve gone further than Alito, and also would’ve required officers to obtain a warrant for breath tests.
To her, the administrative inconvenience or impracticality of requiring officers in the field to get a warrant doesn’t justify dispensing with that mandate, for which the Supreme Court has created a number of exceptions over the years.
"I fear that if the Court continues down this road, the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement will become nothing more than a suggestion. -Justice Sonia Sotomayor
“I fear that if the Court continues down this road, the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement will become nothing more than a suggestion,” Sotomayor wrote in a partial dissent joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Perhaps proving Sotomayor’s point, Justice Clarence Thomas chastised the court’s “compromise” ruling and would have found that the cops implicated in all three cases here acted constitutionally under yet another exception to the Constitution’s warrant requirement.
The upshot of all this back-and-forth: The two men from North Dakota who refused to get their blood drawn got their convictions reversed, but the breath-test-refusing man from Minnesota wasn’t so lucky.
Orin Kerr, a legal expert on the Fourth Amendment, may have put it best: “It was like a criminal procedure exam in which the problem raised a bunch of different doctrines without obvious ways to work through the thicket of them. I think the majority did a pretty good job dealing with a very hard problem.”