It's been a few months and a major global crisis since the very local bombshell dropped that Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick was being fired at the behest of the city's police commission. Now, as Kirkpatrick and her attorneys had warned with papers filed with the city back in May, she has filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that her firing came after she had sought to challenge "corruption and abuse of power" by members of the commission.
Kirkpatrick's February firing was not well explained by the seven-member police commission or the mayor, who chose to uphold the commission's decision. "The police commission is the community’s voice," Mayor Libby Schaaf said at the time. "The voters of Oakland in 2016 created the most powerful and independent police commission in the country. Tonight they exercised that power."
As was reported at the time, Kirkpatrick and the commission had come to blows over a decision Kirkpatrick made not to fire five officers involved in the controversial 2018 shooting that killed homeless man Joshua Pawlik. But there were also reports of personal disagreements between Kirkpatrick and Police Commissioner Ginale Harris — in particular one involving an incident at Harris's child's school where she had demanded to pick her son up early and was told she couldn't, which led to an investigation Harris called "bogus."
This week, as revealed in a press release from local PR man Sam Singer, Kirkpatrick is suing the city claiming she was wrongfully terminated — and further alleging that "Oakland Police Commissioners routinely abused their power, corruptly looked for special treatment from the Police Department, frequently abused and harassed OPD staff, interfered in day-to-day police operations, and sought unlawful access to confidential documents."
"Rather than address the serious issues Chief Kirkpatrick raised, the City of Oakland, through Mayor Libby Schaaf and the members of Police Commission, fired the most progressive police chief in the city’s history for blowing the whistle on the Commission’s misconduct," says attorney R. James Slaughter in a statement.
According the suit, during Kirkpatrick's three years on the job as Oakland's first female police chief, she had counted multiple successes. But a "series of incidents involving individual Police Commissioners ultimately drove the Chief to submit multiple reports of inappropriate and unlawful conduct to the Oakland City Attorney’s Office, the City Administrator, and the Mayor of Oakland."
One incident cited alleges that Harris tried to get the police department to fix a towing ticket for her. (This is apparently backed up with a 2018 city document in which Harris was demanding reimbursement for the ticket.) And the suit suggests that Harris also "publicly made derogatory remarks toward a Black public defender." Also, the suite alleges that "the commission itself was inappropriately directing Oakland Police Department staff."
This all still sounds pretty petty and personal! But Kirkpatrick means business and is suing the city seeking monetary damages that include lost pay, benefits, and damages for loss of future earnings.
"The facts will show that Chief Kirkpatrick repeatedly blew the whistle on corrupt actions by the Police Commission, shining a light on their illegal actions, inappropriate influence, abuse of powers, and harassment of city staff,” says Slaughter in the release. "In retaliation, Mayor Libby Schaaf and the Police Commission unlawfully fired her for blowing the whistle on these illegal actions by Police Commissioners."
In response to the suit, police commission Chair Regina Jackson tells the Mercury News that she was not aware of any “whistleblowing” prior to the commission's decision to fire Kirkpatrick.
“It’s really hard to confer a whistleblowing case when no one knew the whistle had been blown,” Jackson tells the paper.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has not yet commented on the case, and likely won't.