Oakland Police officers after firing tear gas into a crowd of protesters on 7th St. May 29, 2020. Credit: Pete Rosos

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Last summer, from May 29 through June 1, Oakland erupted in protests. Thousands gathered to march for racial justice in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, while some groups gathered to vandalize property and burglarize stores. Police from across California descended on the city to enforce a nightly curfew. As The Oaklandside reported last year, on June 1 Oakland police and Alameda County sheriff’s deputies opened fire on hundreds of protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets with little provocation, as well as carried out what many alleged were wrongful arrests of protestors. A federal civil rights lawsuit is still pending about police conduct on that day.

Now, a year after the protests, multiple Oakland police officers are facing discipline because of their handling of the protests, according to recent reports from the Community Police Review Agency, the investigative arm of Oakland’s civilian-led Police Commission.

CPRA investigators found that, over a period of about four days, officers violated policies regarding use of force, arrests, and caring for arrestees and their property. The officers face discipline, which could include suspensions, demotions, or possibly even termination.

In one incident on May 31, an officer was found to have violated OPD’s “Level 1” use of force policy. Details of this incident haven’t been made public yet, but a Level 1 use of force can include an officer using their firearm, or some other type of force that is likely to result in death or great bodily injury, including other types of weapons. This officer could be fired for the violation, according to OPD’s rules. The Oaklandside has submitted a Public Records Act request to learn more about the incident.

During this same incident, records show a commanding officer didn’t properly supervise their squad, nor did they advise arrestees of their Miranda rights, meaning they weren’t told that they have the right to an attorney and don’t have to answer police officers’ questions. Two other officers at the scene of this incident also didn’t properly care for protesters they arrested, though no further details are listed.

There were dozens of complaints lodged against OPD over their handling of last year’s protests — so many that the City Council had to put extra funding in CPRA’s budget to handle the increased workload. CPRA Executive Director John Alden, who leads these investigations, told the Police Commission last week that his team is done reviewing all but one of the cases.

The vast majority of allegations against OPD officers have so far been dismissed as “unfounded,” “exonerated,” or “not sustained,” according to several “Recently Completed Investigations” updates CPRA gave to the Police Commission. An unfounded accusation is one that didn’t occur, whereas an exonerated finding means the act did occur, but the officer was justified in doing it. Not sustained means there wasn’t enough evidence to prove or disprove something happened.

Alden told The Oaklandside that CPRA is preparing a report that will summarize all of the findings related to last year’s protests, and that this will be made available at an upcoming police commission meeting.

“I’m really impressed with our staff that they were able to handle that huge influx of cases,” he told the Police Commission at last week’s meeting.

Under Oakland’s system of police accountability, OPD’s internal affairs unit investigates allegations of misconduct and reports its findings to the chief who decides whether to discipline an officer. At the same time, CPRA conducts a separate and parallel investigation of the same case and recommends discipline to the Police Commission. If internal affairs and CPRA disagree on findings, then the Police Commission sets up a special committee of commissions to make a final decision about discipline.

As KTVU reported yesterday, the Oakland Police Department said it has completed its investigation of last year’s protests and that a report about the use of teargas on protesters is also finished, but OPD hasn’t made this report public yet. The findings of OPD’s investigations into police misconduct during the protests also aren’t known yet, and the department didn’t provide KTVU with details about what it’s investigators found.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham worked with The Appeal, where he was an investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian, and was an enterprise reporter for the East Bay Express. BondGraham's work has also appeared with KQED, ProPublica and other leading national and local outlets. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017.