The U.S. government should take over the Oakland Police Department — the California agency led for two years by Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts — because of a chronic failure to comply with a decade-old reform settlement, attorneys overseeing the case said in court papers.
A motion, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in California, cites remarks from Batts among what it calls a "sorry trail of broken promises made to the court," and includes a transcript of a Sept. 25 deposition with Oakland's mayor in which she says keeping him on as police chief after he sought another job was "probably a mistake."
Batts, who spent 27 years with the Long Beach, Calif., Police Department, was hired to lead the Oakland force in late 2009 and stepped down in late 2011, saying his hands had been tied by bureaucracy and a lack of resources.
He left shortly before the agency's clash with Occupy Oakland protesters, which is also heavily criticized in the court filing as a systemic failure of leadership and training, quoting from a report prepared for the city by former Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier's consulting group.
Batts took the helm of the Baltimore Police Department two weeks ago, though he has stayed behind the scenes, with an Oct. 17 City Council confirmation hearing looming. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
The Oakland lawsuit stems from a scandal in which several rogue officers were charged with beating or framing drug suspects in 2000 along with other claims that resulted in nearly $11 million in payments to 119 plaintiffs and attorneys. The city has had four police chiefs since then.
Batts' supporters in Oakland have said he was stymied by a lack of resources and meddling from City Hall. Geoff Collins, a businessman who led Oakland's Police Foundation when Batts was chief, told The Baltimore Sun in August that the court monitors have been "out of control."
The monitors "want to take over the department," Collins said. "Tony got caught in that grinder."
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan testified, however, that she did not believe Batts devoted much "hands-on involvement to the … reforms and spent a considerable amount of time looking for another job while he worked for the city," according to the motion filed last week. Halfway through his tenure, it was reported that Batts was a finalist to become chief of the San Jose, Calif., Police Department.
In a Sept. 25 deposition, Quan said Batts was "not truthful to me" about seeking the San Jose job and that she "probably mistakenly gave him a second chance."
"It was my sense during the first six months that I was mayor that [Batts] was not in town a lot and was not committed to just the overall role, much less the [settlement reforms]," she said in the deposition, according to a transcript.
The city's current chief, Howard Jordan, and Quan said last week they both believe the department is making progress with the reforms. They said the city is in compliance with 85 percent of the 52 mandated changes.
"We're all working to move in the same direction, which is full compliance," Jordan said in a statement. "It's not been easy. It's been challenging. But no one here [is] ducking from the responsibilities we have.
"We all want the same thing. [U.S. District] Judge [Thelton] Henderson wants the same thing, and I want the same thing: constitutional policing in Oakland."
In January, Henderson said he "remains in disbelief" that the Police Department has failed to adopt the reforms and threatened federal takeover of the agency. The Oakland Tribune reported that the city is expected to vigorously oppose last week's motion for receivership, which would make Oakland the nation's only city to lose substantial authority over its police department. The city has until Nov. 8 to respond to the filing.
Similar reports critical of the agency have been issued over the years, and attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin wrote in last week's request for receivership that the city and Police Department suffered from a culture of "repeated empty promises."
"In the wake of the city's inability to change the culture of the OPD and to fully embrace these reforms, citizens continue to be victimized and subjected to civil rights violations, supervisors allow misconduct to continue unabated, and millions of dollars have been paid out on police misconduct claims since 2003," the attorneys wrote.
Three times in the 57-page report, they cite a comment from Batts, who told the judge in November 2009 that "being a guardian of the Constitution … is the way that we will police from now on, and hopefully to eternity as we go on. And I truly believe that."
"If past is prologue, and it surely will be, the current monitoring model without the appointment of a receiver will undoubtedly result in more failed promises, more lives destroyed, and the continued waste of taxpayer money by the city and the [Oakland Police Department]," the lawyers' motion reads.
Henderson has increased the oversight authority of a court-appointed monitor. Jordan now must consult with the monitor before making important department decisions such as promoting and disciplining officers, and changing policing policy and tactics.
In an interview last month, Batts said the court monitor was counterproductive. "I had to call the monitor twice a week, and I had to ask permission and he had to say, 'OK' " before moves could be made, Batts said. "Crime does not wait."
"I do think we had progress there," he said when asked about Oakland during his introduction at Baltimore City Hall in August.
Last week's motion cites the agency's clash with Occupy Oakland protesters, which occurred about two weeks after Batts stepped down. The city hired the Frazier Group, led by former Baltimore and San Jose chief Thomas Frazier, to review the department's response and to independently investigate some of the misconduct claims stemming from it.
The Frazier Group's report, according to the attorneys, cited "command turnover," staffing cuts, and a lack of "succession planning" for future leaders.