Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Tag: Oakland City Council

Stop The Violence Now

A Department of Violence Prevention in Oakland

On Tuesday, May 16, 2017, starting at 5:30 p.m. the Oakland City Council will decide a question of urgent priority. The question is whether to establish a Department of Violence Prevention (DVP).

Or whether to accept Mayor Libby Schaaf‘s goal to reduce violent crime by a mere 10% using the same old failed methods. A coalition of community groups along with Councilmembers Lynette McElhaney, Larry Reid and Rebecca Kaplan are calling for people to show up at the Oakland City Council meeting. If you cannot make the meeting, you should contact Councilmembers Dan Kalb, Abel Guillen, Annie Campbell, Noel Gallo and Desley Brooks.

Why This, Why Now?

It’s 1999.  I’m standing in front of City Hall with my two young grandsons. Both of them are still in elementary school. We are part of the Acts Full Gospel Church‘s weekly rallies against gun violence in Oakland. The faith community wants the killings in Oakland to stop. We want City Hall to take action to stop the violence in Oakland.

In 2001-2002, there is a rash of killings of young Black men in a part of Oakland known as “Ghost Town.” I sue the City on behalf of the family of 21-year-old Chance Grundy. A man murdered Chance because Chance witnessed a murder and cooperated with the police. The police let it be known that Chance was a cooperating witness. The murderer let it be known that he wanted Chance to “sleep with the fishes.” We lose the case. It turns out that (in real life, not like in the movies) the police have no duty to protect witnesses even when they know the witness is in danger.

Fast forward to January 11, 2013.  My friend Brenda Harbin‘s beloved grandson, Ken Harbin, Jr. is shot and killed. Four people are killed that day in Oakland. In the wake of Ken’s murder, we stand on street corners with Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere (S.A.V.E.). Once again, we ask the City to take action to stop the violence in Oakland.

Every grandmother and mother’s nightmare, the loss of a beloved child.  A dream struck down and unfulfilled by a senseless act of violence.

America’s Gun Violence Problem

America’s “gun culture” is totally unique. We own way more guns privately than other countries, and we have the highest gun ownership per capita rate in the world. Gun violence has long been deemed a public health crisis. A March 2016 study in the American Journal of Medicine found that 90% of all women, 91% of children under 14 , 92% of youth aged 15 to 24 years, and 82% of all people killed by firearms in the world were from the United States.

In 2010, the number of homicides by guns in the U.S. was at least 9,960. The Centers for Disease Control reported 11,078 firearm-related homicides that year. By comparison, there were only 173 gun homicides in Canada, 155 in the United Kingdom, 158 in Germany and 142 in France. Sweden had only 30 homicides by gun. Japan had only 11 people killed with guns.

Credit: Ma’ayan Rosenzweig/ABC News

Currently, the U.S. is ranked 4th out of 34 developed nations for the incidence of homicides committed with a firearm.  A young man here aged 15–24 is 70 times more likely to be killed with a gun than his counterpart in the eight largest industrialized nations in the world. These include the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, Italy and Russia.

In 2015, there were 372 mass shootings and 33,636 deaths due to firearms in the U.S. That same year, guns were used to kill only about 50 people in the U.K. More people are killed with guns in the U.S. in a day (about 85) than in the U.K. in a year.

The Race-Based Rationale for Guns

Efforts to control guns in America have stumbled on the “right to bear arms” clause in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. What is often overlooked is the history of the Second Amendment. It was added as a compromise to protect the slave patrols in the South. The Founders knew the militias were necessary to keep the slaves under control. The Supreme Court has interpreted and protected the Second Amendment regardless of the consequences.

In 2002, Michael Moore wrote, produced, directed and narrated Bowling for Columbine.  The film highlighted the racist underpinnings of the Second Amendment. However, the Film’s main point, that our violent crime rate is substantially higher than other nations, seems to have been lost over time.

Support the Department of Violence Prevention

Gun violence in Oakland has remained steady.  In 1999, the County Board of Supervisors passed a strong gun control law. The Board reacted to a “rash of gun-related violence” in Alameda County. The Board found that “gunshot fatalities are of epidemic proportions in Alameda County.” That law was immediately attacked based on Supreme Court decisions. While the case was pending, the County retreated and announced that gun shows would be allowed on County property.

Our Mayor opposes the proposal to create a Department of Violence Prevention (DVP). We need to support the goal to reduce homicides by 80% and achieve an 80% clearance rate within 3 years. The Mayor wants to increase funding for law enforcement,  but “budgets are statements of priorities.” Our priority has to be to reduce gun violence, domestic violence and commercial sexual exploitation of our children.

We need the DVP. Let’s make 2017 the year that we cure the disease of preventable violence and death in Oakland. We cannot expect different results by doing the same thing over and over again.

A Crisis of Corruption: How Long Has It Been Like This!

SEX TRAFFICKINGA Crisis of Corruption: How Long Has it Been Like This!?! We are shocked by the recent news that police officers have engaged in sex trafficking of a teenager across 6 jurisdictions. In fact, the current crisis of corruption is the latest in a history of corruption within the Oakland Police Department. Here are a few examples.

From the Archives

Between 2006 and 2008, Oakland settled two lawsuits brought on behalf of Asian-American women targeted by Oakland police officer Richard Valerga. Officer Valerga would pull women over for traffic misdemeanors and hit on them. Most of the women were recent immigrants.  They included teenagers to women in their 40s.  In 2006, the City agreed to pay $190,000 to two Asian-American women.  In 2008 it agreed to pay an additional $2 million to 16 other Asian-American women targeted by Valerga. Officer Valerga was arrested and charged in 2005. His plea deal in 2006 got him three years probation and six months in jail.  Attorney John Burris who represented the plaintiffs called it “a slap on the hand.”

The Oliver Case

In July 2010, the Oakland City Council approved a $6.5 million settlement in a case which exposed the routine use of false or misleading information for  search warrants. There, the department’s own records allegedly showed that more than 57% of all search warrants in drug cases involving a confidential informant between 2001 and 2008 were based on false information. Eleven officers were fired. Most were later reinstated. Despite the large payout of our tax dollars, none of the officers accused of creating false police reports were ever prosecuted. Some of them still work for Oakland police.

The Amaro Case

In October 2011, Oakland agreed to pay $1.7 million to the family of Jerry Amaro. Oakland police beat Mr. Amaro while arresting him on suspicion of trying to buy drugs from undercover police officers. They broke five of his ribs and lacerated one of his lungs. He died a month later of pneumonia caused by his fractured ribs. None of the officers involved documented the use of force. His mother was told that her son “died in the street” following a gang dispute over drugs. None of the officers who were accused of concealing the beating by filing false police reports were ever prosecuted. Some of them still work for Oakland police.

The Blueford Case

In June 2014, Oakland agreed to pay $110,000 to the family of Alan Blueford, an 18-year-old Skyline High School student shot by Oakland police officer Miguel Masso. Masso was a former NYPD officer who had been accused of excessive force in New York in 2007 before he was hired in Oakland. Masso and 3 other officers were accused of beating, macing, and tasering Rafael Santiago, a prisoner in a holding cell at the 52nd Precinct station house in the Central Bronx. Medical records confirmed that Santiago had a black eye and six serious burns on his back from the electronic shocks. Santiago was put back in his cell and denied medical attention. NYPD investigators identified Miguel Masso as the officer who refused Santiago’s requests for treatment.

Fast forward to May 2012 in East Oakland. Officer Masso and his partner detain Alan Blueford and two friends. While he is being questioned, Alan gets up and runs away. Oakland police initially said that Alan was shot in an exchange of gunfire with Officer Masso. They later acknowledged that Alan did not fire a gun and admitted that Masso had shot himself in the foot with his own gun. A gun was found at the scene that police claimed belonged to Alan. That gun had not been fired. The District Attorney’s office declined to prosecute Officer Masso. He now works for a different police department.

Do we want to hold police officers accountable for lying under oath and filing false police reports? I believe that public safety requires public trust. What do you think? Feel free to post your comment here or at my Facebook page.

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