by David Downs
The Oikos University massacre's victims may have received less of a police response than they might have if it weren't for a botched federal raid on the legal cannabis school Oaksterdam University, new documents indicate.
Oakland Police Department emails from the morning of April 2 reveal that the surprise hundred-agent federal raid of six Oaksterdam-affiliated sites — and the ensuing crowd-control problems as protesters seized on the event — “drained the vast majority of [the department's] west-end staffing thus resulting in several priority calls being stacked — something that might have [been] prevented.”
Just a fifteen-minute drive away, at the same time the feds were raiding the Oaksterdam and sapping local forces, 43 year-old One L. Goh committed the third-largest mass killing at a university in United States history. The despondent, enraged Goh entered his former nursing school, Oikos University, at 10:30 a.m. with a .45 caliber pistol, intending to kill an administrator with whom he'd had a tuition dispute. Instead, Goh shot ten others, killing seven. Goh left the scene in a vehicle and turned himself in to police an hour later in Alameda, three miles away.
This week, 24-year-old Berkeley software programmer Rich Jones released the explosive OPD emails on his personal blog. Jones said the contrast in enforcement priorities had infuriated him on April 2.
“I remember reading about the raid and thinking, 'Well, I don't think they should be doing that in the first place.' The fact that there was a school shooting happening in the same town that's totally understaffed, while the police are wasting time at a raid, was totally outrageous. The timing was really bad. It was a clusterfuck.”
As events unfolded that Monday, Jones used the Freedom of Information Act assistance site muckrock.com to file requests for information on the Oaksterdam raid from the Internal Revenue Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the OPD.
The IRS denied Jones' request, stating that the it had no information, and Jones' DEA request is still pending. But the OPD responded by May 31, releasing a series of emails that show the federal government springing the raids on the OPD at the last minute — and then bungling them.
At 5:39 a.m. Monday, April 2, OPD Lt. Kevin Wiley — apparently the watch commander on that fateful morning — emailed three others saying he had just been notified that “100 DEA agents would be hitting 6-marijuana dispensary locations in the downtown area today — they want us to be prepared for demonstrations. ... NO OPD, to my knowledge, are involved in this DEA operation. ... I have one open beat today (1L11) - Not enough resources to address this issue.”
By 9:56 a.m. a hundred agents from the DEA, IRS and US Marshals had swarmed onto 1600 Broadway Ave., the site of Oaksterdam University, seizing computers and coursework. Agents hit affiliated dispensary Coffeeshop Blue Sky, as well as four other locations, including the Grand Lake residence of Oaksterdam founder Rich Lee. Word of the raids swept through social networks and the Monday-morning media. OPD'S Jeffrey Israel wrote the Oaksterdam protest had grown to “about 40 so far.”
At 10:17 Israel worte that “Wiley thinks [the protesters] will leave after DEA leaves.”
Over the next two hours as the DEA removed evidence, up to a hundred protesters showed up with signs, chanting “DEA, Go Away!” Many blocked DEA vehicles attempting to leave with evidence. Two protesters were arrested.
The multi-site crowd control effort appeared to require dozens of OPD officers. (Watch some Oaksterdam raid videos on YouTube.)
“I commend all sergeants and officers involved in this event for demonstrating professionalism and restraint whilst confronted with some very incorrigible and outright nasty individuals,” Wiley wrote.SWAT team.
At 2:26 p.m. the day of the shooting Lt. Wiley wrote a final note on the Oaksterdam raid, addressed to other OPD officers and the federal government.
Wiley pointed out a number of “concerns” he had with “OPD's assistance to the Feds regarding their warrant service(s)”:
“1. The lack of notification to our Intelligence Unit, and our upper command staff prevented us (OPD-Patrol) from better preparing for deployment of our limited resources.”
Lt. Wiley also noted that the Oaksterdam warrant could have been served at night, when it would have not drawn a crowd or sapped police resources.
“2. I am wondering why the warrant was NOT endorsed for “night service” — that would have made this entire operation much easier.”
And finally, Wiley remarked that the multi-headed federal government appeared to lack coordination or direction, which further sapped OPD forces.
“3. The lack of a communications plan and clear control/command — We never had one point of contact for this event — As we attempted to step-up an action plan(s), we would speak with one supervisor of one agency only to have another agency take a different course of action — This caused much confusion for our folks when it came to forming skirmish lines and traffic control measures.”
Lastly, the DEA lacked an exit plan for its van-loads of evidence. The vans became a focal point of rage for protesters April 2.
“4. The lack of an 'exit' plan from the sites — OPD officers spent FAR more time facilitating the exit of the agents (and their evidence) than when should have. Not only was this time and resource-draining but exposed our staff to more conflict (harm) as well as complaints than necessary.”
Jones said the documents show the federal raid sapping OPD resources.
“He was a guy who got away. He wasn't arrested in Oakland. He was arrested in Alameda. There was not enough police response to this event,” Jones said.
Though medical marijuana is legal in seventeen states, cannabis is banned in the eyes of the federal government. The DEA and IRS did not respond to requests for comment during the raid, and generally haven't commented on their actions in California. In October, the four U.S. Attorneys for California announced a broad crackdown on medical marijuana businesses in California.
Oaksterdam is affiliated with the city-licensed marijuana dispensary Coffeeshop Blue Sky. And Lee has said that his enterprises are also under a federal tax investigation for normal business deductions. The federal raid could lead to more charges.
Attorney General Eric Holder has said his agents are only targeting business violating both state medical marijuana laws and federal laws. But that's a lie, reports indicate. Many model California dispensaries, like Berkeley Patients Group, and cultivation regulations, like Mendocino County's 9.31 program, have been targeted by the feds for elimination.
As of press time, more than two months after the raids, they have not charged Lee. But they have crippled Oaksterdam and largely silenced Lee, who in 2010 took the eighth largest economy in the world to within 460,000 votes of legalizing pot.
Paul Armentano, a Vallejo resident, spokesperson for NORML, and Oaksterdam lecturer, said Jones' documents show the OPD didn't consider Oaksterdam illegal. Federal officials should have respected state and local law.
“It is apparent from these e-mail communications that local law enforcement did not view Oaksterdam’s activities as those that were in violation of the spirit of state law or local regulations. Therefore, Oaksterdam’s activities should have similarly been of little to no concern of the federal government.”
Armentano said the federal government is undermining efforts to control pot and increase public safety in the name of its War on Drugs, which the Associated Press reports has cost one trillion dollars and has failed.
“If the federal government were truly concerned about the diversion of medical marijuana or its potential abuse in California then they would be encouraging — rather than discouraging — local and statewide efforts to regulate this industry accordingly, such as those that have been proposed and enacted in Oakland.”
“Legislating medical marijuana operations and prosecuting those who act in a manner that is inconsistent with California law and voters' sentiment should be a responsibility left to the state, not the federal government,” he writes.
In a related opinion piece, Armentano wrote:
“To be clear: Oaksterdam University was not a facility that dispensed cannabis to the public; it dispensed the truth about cannabis. Oaksterdam University engaged in First Amendment-protected civil discourse that spoke truth to power ... Conversely, the federal government engages in intimidation and the use of force to impose their morally bankrupt prohibition policy — a policy that is now opposed by a plurality of the American public. And they do so under the veil of secrecy — by executing raids and seizing assets via sealed warrants, signed by unnamed judges, ordered by U.S. attorneys and overseen by an attorney general, all of whom have "no comment."”
Jones insists he's not “a medical marijuana person." But the people of Oakland and California have said they don't want scarce public safety resources spent this way, and apparently neither do Oakland police.
“Even the police department [doesn't] like the Federal government coming in and doing this. And for what? And the fact that lives were lost that day? The priority is clearly all fucked up here,” Jones said.
Jones will post the results of his DEA FOIA request if and when it is received.