Under the 2003 settlement of what was known as the Riders case, the city of Oakland agreed to 51 police reforms, including changes in the way officers are investigated and disciplined, along with measures designed to stop racial profiling.
But nearly a decade later, bad cops are still tolerated and even promoted, attorneys who represent plaintiffs in the case allege. “Every department has bad cops. It’s what you do with those bad cops,” said one of those attorneys, James Chanin.
The plaintiffs, in a January filing, cite a case where a police officer fabricated a report to justify excessive force, and a U.S. magistrate fined him $20,000. He was promoted to sergeant two years later.
Rockne Lucia Jr., who represents the Oakland police union, said plaintiff lawyers don’t have all the information the chief does when he considers promotions. And lawyers for the city argued in court filings that new leadership in the city, including a new police chief, bode well for reform.
“The police department is different than it was over eight years ago,” Mayor Jean Quan’s administration responded in court filings. “The culture has changed, albeit more is needed.”
It may be helpful that Henderson has a knack for seeing through posturing.
Nearly 20 years ago, the judge walked into Pelican Bay prison, where some of the convicts alleged abuse by guards. Henderson and his clerks went to see the place for themselves.
Along the way, Henderson ascended a watchtower to look out over the yards where prisoners assembled. Then shouts broke out. Armed guards ordered Henderson’s team to drop to the floor and opened fire over the melee.
Ed Swanson, one of Henderson’s clerks, remembers his own fear of being trapped in a prison riot. The judge kept calm, he recalled. In the car leaving the prison, Henderson turned to his clerks. “So who of you thought that was staged?” he asked.
A later criminal trial established that the guards did enable the disturbance to show Henderson how dangerous the prison was. “I tend not to believe in weird coincidences,” Henderson said.”