News of a sex scandal that already cost Oakland's chief of police his job broke over the weekend though hints of it were first reported last month by KRON 4 when an internal affairs probe began. Now, the East Bay Express delves further into the story, which has implicated an unprecedented number of officers who face charges of soliciting sex through coercion, and several of whom could face human trafficking charges as well. In an era in which police departments around the country are facing increased criticism and scrutiny over racism and officer-involved shootings and just weeks after such a shooting finally forced the resignation of San Francisco' chief Greg Suhr this scandal brings to light yet another morally circumspect aspect of police work for some officers. And it's unwelcome news for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who has her first big scandal on her hands from a department with a decades-long history of them that has been under threat of falling into federal receivership for over a decade if it doesn't reform itself.
As we now learn via the East Bay Times, a Contra Costa County sheriff's deputy has been placed on administrative leave in connection with the scandal, which involves a single Oakland prostitute and daughter of an OPD dispatcher who's being called Celeste Guap, which is not her real name. Guap, now 18, alleged that she had sex with at least three Oakland police officers when she was still underage, and multiple other officers from the Richmond PD and the Alameda County Sheriff's Department as well in the ensuing year.
One Oakland officer, Brendan O'Brien, committed suicide in September of last year, allegedly because his wife discovered the affair he'd been having with Guap, which was also known to former chief Whent's wife.
KRON 4 now reports that all four Alameda County deputies who had been implicated have been cleared of wrongdoing, however several Richmond officers remain under investigation, a federal enforcement officer based in Stockton was named, a Livermore police officer may be involved as well, and a total of fourteen Oakland officers are implicated, with two having already resigned and three on administrative leave.
Today, as ABC 7's Laura Anthony reports, BART Police's Deputy Chief Ben Fairow, who had been tapped to serve as Interim Chief in Oakland, has already been "relieved of his duties," and Assistant Chief Paul Figueroa will now take over as Interim Chief. Mayor Schaaf has issued a statement saying, "I made the decision to appoint Ben Fairow, I also own the decision to remove him. I firmly believe that when you make a mistake you need to own it, and act quickly to correct it."
#BREAKING Source says @oaklandpoliceca new interim chief Ben Fairow has been relieved of his duties immediately.— Laura Anthony (@LauraAnthony7) June 15, 2016
Ben Fairow out as interim #Oakland police chief. Paul Figueroa in. Another week of 3 chiefs, same as 2013— David DeBolt (@daviddebolt) June 15, 2016
Mayor @LibbySchaaf says she lost confidence in interim @oaklandpoliceca chief Ben Fairow, "owns" mistake pic.twitter.com/w5Jj1LVTO3— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) June 15, 2016
Further implicating several officers, including one nicknamed "Superman" by Guap and identified by the Express as rookie Officer Brian J. Bunton who apparently did not have sex with Guap is that Guap alleges that officers tipped her off to prostitution stings in East Oakland, revealing confidential police information that potentially could have put other officers in harm's way.
Commenters on an earlier SFist post about the scandal pointed to the moral fuzziness around the age of consent, and the illegality of sex work, suggesting that this scandal should be far less important than others involving the deaths of unarmed people.
But experts on human trafficking and sex work weighed in with the Express, including Dr. Alexandra Lutnick, author of the book Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: Beyond Victims and Villains, who says, "For people well versed in sex work and minors involved in the sex industry, it's common knowledge that a lot of folks have experienced exploitation and abuse by law enforcement." She characterizes the acts of the officers as abuse of a minor, and assault.
Katherine Koster, who works with the national Sex Workers Outreach Project, takes a slightly more nuanced view. She tells the paper, "It's an injustice to people who say they consented to things to doubt what they're actually telling you. This may have made sense to her and she viewed these police officers as people who were helping her."
But Koster agrees that exchanging sex for information or protection amounts to exploitation, coercion, and soliciting.
It remains to be seen what the broader implications of the scandal will be, but the Express suggests that the immediate result may be that federal authorities and the court-appointed Independent Monitor Robert Warshaw who helped bring this case to light may take charge of the troubled department's hiring and recruitment process.
Previously: Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent Resigns Amidst Officer Sex Scandal
Oakland Police Sex Scandal Blows Up Further With Details From Formerly Underage Prostitute