by Kevin Bliss
The Oakland Police Department (“OPD”) has been under federal order to complete a comprehensive reform program since 2003 because of repeated allegations of excessive use of force.
Retired New York Police Chief Robert Warshaw, who owns a consent decree oversight firm and has been appointed independent monitor, found that the OPD and, specifically, Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick were not in compliance with the federal consent decree because of the improper investigation in the death of Joshua Pawlik, a 31-year-old homeless man found sleeping with a pistol in his hand in a walkway between two houses in West Oakland.
On March 11, 2018, Sergeant Francisco Negrete and Officers Brandon Hraiz, William Berger, Craig Tanaka, and Josef Phillips were all part of the arresting team that approached Pawlik.
Negrete assigned Phillips to cover Pawlik with a shotgun holding non-lethal beanbag charges. The others each carried .22 rifles aimed at Pawlik who gained consciousness before the officers were fully deployed. In the investigation the officers claimed that orders were repeatedly given for Pawlik to drop his weapon. Instead he pointed his pistol in their direction, prompting all five to open fire, killing him.
On February 11, 2019, the Executive Force Review Board (EFRB) found the officers justified in the shooting, only holding Negrete responsible of a class 1 violation of duty. Kirkpatrick later reduced this to a class 2, preventing the possibility of termination. Warshaw reversed Kirkpatrick’s decision and said her conclusions were, “disappointing and myopic.” He stated that a body cam video of the incident showed that Pawlik never raised his pistol at anyone. “The questioning lacked inquisitiveness, and served to support the officers’ assertions of justification - rather than being directed towards resolving the inconsistencies between the officers’ statements and the available video evidence,” he said.
Kirkpatrick, in a compliance hearing on April 3, 2019, said she felt she was “thorough, complete, and intellectually honest” in her decision to reduce Negrete’s discipline and to find the other officers justified. She submitted 17 other independent monitor-approved cases resolved by the EFRB as evidence showing the OPD was holding its officers accountable. She also promised changes were imminent for policies dealing with unconscious people who were armed, something critics contend should have been revised years ago.
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