Riders Negotiated Settlement Hearing Intense!
On Thursday, March 17th, the first Status Hearing on the Riders’ Negotiated Settlement saw heated and impassioned exchanges from plaintiffs’ attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin as well as Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts and Oakland City Attorney’s Office representative Rocio Fierro.
Judge Thelton Henderson ‘s opening remarks previewed his assessment of where things stand when he referenced Yogi Berra’s famous quote about “déjà vu all over again,” referring to continuing promises by the City of Oakland that they were making progress in getting to full compliance with the NSA.
The City acknowledged that they were not fully compliant but asserted that they believed they could achieve full compliance by the end of the year. Nonetheless, the MOU requires full compliance for a full year, meaning that the agreement will have to be extended until at least December, 2012.
The Judge warned that this was not a time “for posturing or game playing” and suggested that perhaps it would be more prudent to extend the MOU for a longer, rather than shorter, period of time, with the option of shortening it. He added that it should not be necessary that the Monitor provide “step by step guidance’ along the way – particularly if they lacked the authority to compel changes in behavior.
In response to the Oakland Police Associations’ challenge to the City’s expressed intention to introduce civilians into the process of intaking complaints against police officers, the Judge responded that he was ‘neutral’ on that issue; his concern was simply that the required standards were met.
Jim Chanin’s discouragement was evident. He stated that he was ‘disheartened’ and believed that the Oakland Police Department was ‘not capable of achieving compliance without fundamental change.” He perceived that the OPD presented “the illusion of progress to get through the hearings by any means necessary.” He recommended that the Monitor be given the “authority to compel changes” and wondered by OPD was able to argue with a “Court order.”
His remarks were followed by those of co-counsel John Burris who called for the introduction of contempt proceedings against those individuals in OPD who were obstructing compliance. He insisted that those responsible should be discovered, named, and cited, asserting that “more drastic measures were needed.”
Gregory Fox, representing the City, insisted that the City must “create the capacity in OPD to operate in a Constitutional manner,” – a statement that startled and confused many who were present in the Courtroom. Ms Fierro, as she had done previously, asserted that the City believes in the reforms and is committed to full compliance, and felt that contempt proceedings were “premature.” She asked the Monitor for an “early warning” on shortcomings so that remedies could be employed in a timely manner, and pointed out the stressors related to the City’s limited resources. Chief Batts followed, chronicling the number of hours he and his command staff worked, mentioning that he is often emailing staff at 3 AM and getting responses at the same time. He talked about his “budgetary and operational realities” citing the dwindling number of officers and the necessity for his continuing to re-organize the Department to meet increasing crime rates. He indicated that he was bringing on board auditors from Los Angeles who would help the Department identify areas that needed to be addressed.
In conclusion, Judge Henderson urged all the parties to dialogue with each other to make whatever agreements were needed in crafting the extension of the MOU and volunteered his help whenever the parties were at an impasse. One of those areas is likely to be the length of the extension of this MOU: the City wants a one year extension whereas plaintiffs’ attorneys believe it needs to be 3 years.