$50,000 investigation supports misconduct allegations against Oakland police commissioner

As published by San Francisco Chronicle
By Megan Cassidy
March 16, 2020

A private investigation into Oakland police Commissioner Ginale Harris either partially or fully upheld six of seven allegations of misconduct, including complaints of her making racially charged comments, threatening city employees’ jobs and attempting to use her position to escape towing fees.

Harris was a vocal critic of former Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, who was fired last month by the commission and Mayor Libby Schaaf. Kirkpatrick later attributed her firing, in part, to a personal vendetta Harris had against her, after the chief said she refused to give Harris special treatment on her towing fees.

In their first meeting after Kirkpatrick’s ouster, Commission Chairwoman Regina Jackson said the idea that seven commissioners and a mayor would fire a chief over something so petty was “quite frankly insulting.”

The city of Oakland retained Public Interest Investigations Inc. on Nov. 30, 2018, and Harris was notified of the allegations on May 7, according to the report. The investigation cost $49,000, according to city officials.

Keith Rohman, president of the private investigations firm in Los Angeles, wrote that funding issues delayed the probe following Harris’ interview in October, but the work resumed Jan. 25. The report was sent to former City Administrator Sabrina Landreth on March 2.

Rohman in his report said he was tasked with a “fact-finding” mission and was not to use city policies to analyze or reach a conclusion about them. City officials have not responded to questions on whether Harris, who is a volunteer with the civilian oversight body, has violated any city policies or faces any disciplinary actions.

Dan Siegel, Harris’ attorney, said the city had no authority to investigate Harris and that it is “unbelievable” she became such a major focus.

“I think it’s a big waste of time and money,” Siegel said. “They spent $50,000 to interview people who think Ginale Harris has bad manners.”

Harris did not respond to a request for comment.

When asked whether Harris disputes any of the facts in the report, Siegel said the commissioner disagrees with many of the interpretations of her actions.

“A lot of is is all, ‘He said, she said, she’s mean to him,’” Siegel said.

The investigation’s findings include:

• In January 2018, Harris allegedly told Anthony Finnell, the former executive director of the Community Police Review Agency, that he “wasn’t acting black enough” and was insubordinate for not giving Harris confidential police files. The report found the first allegation supported and the second unsupported.

• In February 2018, Harris spent 9.5 hours with Citizens’ Police Review Board staff and allegedly pressured them to give her police officers’ personnel information. This allegation was supported.

• Harris allegedly engaged in “rude, disrespectful, abusive, and/or professionally inappropriate treatment toward City staff.” This allegation was unsupported.

• On Sept. 17, 2018, Harris met with Oakland police records personnel and allegedly demanded to be reimbursed for towing fees, presented her commissioner badge or some other form of commissioner identification in the process and eventually demanded to see the chief. Harris denied she asked anyone at the department for the tow charges to be reduced, waived or reimbursed.

“Harris stated that this false allegation was filed against her because of her efforts to expose problems at OPD and that because of this, OPD and Chief Kirkpatrick have a motive to lie about her,” the report stated. This allegation, because of corroborating witness statements from low-level records staff, was supported.

• On March 28, 2019, during a discussion about search policies for people on probation and parole, Harris told Alameda Public Defender Brendon Woods, “You have the skin color of a black man, but that don’t mean you live like a black man.” The exchange, which was captured on video, occurred after Harris was apparently first made aware that Woods was black. The allegation was supported.

Woods told The Chronicle he was never contacted by the private investigators for his take on the interaction, and he said he understood Harris was upset at that moment and perhaps had preconceived notions about public defenders.

“I do not fault her for that at all,” Woods said. “And we’ve come to an understanding. She is a supporter of mine, and I am a supporter of hers.”

Woods said he believed the investigation against Harris was the result of her criticism against Oakland police.

“I do believe she is being unfairly targeted right now,” he said.