The Oakland Police Department has disciplined two officers for violating department policy during the Occupy Oakland protests, The Bay Citizen has learned. The suspension of one officer and the demotion of his supervisor are the first known disciplinary actions OPD officials have taken in the wake of hundreds of police misconduct complaints following the Occupy demonstrations.
The department suspended Officer John Hargraves for 30 days for covering his name badge with a piece of black tape, a violation of California law. Lieutenant Clifford Wong was demoted to sergeant for failing to properly report the incident, according to police sources.
The department is still investigating the case of protester Scott Olsen, who suffered a fractured skull during an Oct. 25 clash between protesters and Oakland police. Olsen, an Iraq War veteran, is recovering from his injuries and has hired a lawyer, who sat in on Olsen’s first interview with Oakland police investigators several weeks ago.
After Occupy Oakland demonstrators were first evicted from Frank Ogawa Plaza on Oct. 25, videos of the violent confrontation between protesters and police, including the incident involving Olsen, were viewed by millions of people across the world, prompting hundreds of protesters and sympathizers to file complaints with the besieged department.
“Just from Oct. 25 alone, I was aware we had over 200 individual citizens who had called, emailed, and written in some way shape or form,” said Sgt. Chris Bolton, the department’s chief of staff. “Our policy requires us to accept every complaint, even anonymous complaints.”
Last month, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan announced the hiring Thomas Frazier, a former Baltimore police commissioner, to scrutinize the police department’s response to Occupy Oakland. Frazier’s investigation is separate from the department’s own inquiry and is due to report its findings in March.
“It’s my responsibility to ensure there is constitutional policing,” Quan said at the time of Franzier’s hiring. “We hope this will add transparency.”
Despite such promises of transparency, the OPD has remained mostly mum on its investigations of misconduct, and any planned discipline or reforms. The department’s office of Inspector General did not respond to requests for information about the investigations by the time of this posting.
The department’s investigation of Wong and Hargraves began after local photographer and videographer Terrence Jerod Williams filmed Hargraves on Nov. 2 with a piece of black tape covering his name badge, a violation of a California penal code. The code requires officers to display their identities, and a violation can result in a misdemeanor charge.
Williams said he initially decided to film the Port protest, but zeroed in on Hargraves when he noticed the officer was hiding the nameplate on his uniform.
“That is kind of weird that you are actually not showing your name,” Williams is heard on the video saying to Hargraves, who appears to ignore him. “Why is that? Simple question.”
Receiving no response, Williams turns and approaches Wong, who is standing near other officers.
“Is it against policy for officers to hide their name badges?” Williams asks the former lieutenant repeatedly. “Shouldn’t it be in plain view? It’s taped up. Isn’t it wrong for him to do that? Isn’t it against policy?”
In response to Williams’ questions, Wong walks over to Hargraves and speaks with him for several seconds before removing the tape from his badge.
After Williams posted the one-minute clip on Vimeo and YouTube, it spread quickly. When he called Internal Affairs two days later, Williams said he was surprised to learn that the department knew about the video.
Also aware of the video were local attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin, who petitioned a federal judge on Nov. 14 to impose sanctions against Hargraves and Wong for allegedly violating a 2003 negotiated settlement agreement that requires the OPD to follow specific rules related to the reporting and investigation of misconduct. The agreement was instituted after several OPD officers, nicknamed “The Riders,” were accused of planting drug evidence on suspects in East Oakland. In October, Oakland hired Frazier to oversee the implementation of the court-ordered reforms.
According to the attorneys’ court filing, Wong made note of the officer’s wrongdoing in iPass, the department’s personnel management system, but he violated the reform agreement when he did not notify the officer’s direct supervisor, the Internal Affairs division, and did not inform the videographer that he could file an official complaint.
The fact that Wong apparently “failed to carry out his mandatory duty to report this outrageous conduct, is indicative of the kind of lawless attitude among certain members of the City of Oakland Police Department which gave rise to this litigation eleven years ago,” wrote the attorneys, who originally sued the city and department for the reforms.
“Officer Hargraves’ blatant concealment of his identity during the ‘Occupy Oakland’ demonstration clearly has no innocent explanation,” they wrote. “Instead, it was purposeful conduct intended to prevent him from being identified as a subject officer in the event he engaged in other acts of misconduct while he was on duty at this event and/or to prevent him from being identified as a witness to acts of misconduct by other officers.”
During a hearing Monday about the proposed sanctions, the attorneys argued that the officers’ actions were representative of a pattern of problems at the department, while the city argued that Hargraves hid his nameplate in order to protect himself and his family from being identified and harassed by protesters.
Neither officer responded to emails seeking comment.
While U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson has not yet decided on sanctions, the case could have major ramifications for the department, which faces another hearing on the settlement agreement Jan. 26. Henderson has threatened a federal takeover if the department continues to show slow progress.
Williams said he was pleased his video had made a difference, but he said the department was too hard on Wong.
“I think they should have just fired Hargraves, because he put Lt. Wong in a situation,” Williams said. The lieutenant “had no clue” Hargraves had put the tape over his badge, he said.