In fall 2008, then-Mayor Ron Dellums announced a severe cutback in police overtime because of abuses. Oakland cops had a history of padding their lucrative salaries with tens of thousands in overtime each year. But some current and former nightclub owners say Dellums' decree failed to stop the misuse of overtime. They say Oakland police have been charging them for overtime instead.
The most explosive allegations come from Geoffrey Pete, an ex-club owner in downtown Oakland who is in a contentious legal battle with OPD in federal court. In court documents, Pete called OPD's demand that owners of downtown clubs — particularly ones that are popular with African Americans — pay police overtime was nothing more than "protection money."
In an interview, Pete called Oakland police practices "outrageous." He contends that when he refused to pay thousands of dollars a month, department officials made false claims about his business, caused the cancellation of a parking garage lease, and forced him to close his club, Geoffrey's Inner Circle. "I now know OPD on a level that I didn't know before," he said.
Pete's troubles began soon after Dellums issued his October 2008 decree. Then-Deputy Police Chief Dave Kozicki sent Pete a threatening e-mail, alleging that his club was "a magnet for criminal and unruly activity" and pointed to a section of city law that Kozicki said allowed OPD to charge club owners for police overtime if it determined the club needed "extraordinary" police services. It didn't matter, Kozicki said, if club owners disagreed. "The city is in dire financial straits," Kozicki wrote. "We need community leaders such as you to assist us through this difficult process."
Recently, in a sworn deposition, Kozicki said OPD wanted Pete to pay for police overtime or close his club, according to court documents. Kozicki maintained that club owners were required to obtain "special events" permits from police — just like festival organizers — if their clubs attracted large crowds. Last week, the Express reported that festival organizers are increasingly upset about having to pay high police overtime costs. Pete's attorney, Amanda Metcalf, notes that the city council turned down a 1999 request by OPD to regularly charge clubs for overtime out of fear of abuses.
After receiving Kozicki's October 30, 2008 e-mail, Pete still refused to pay for police overtime. He had been operating his club for sixteen years without ever being charged. Most recently, his club only had been open on the first Saturday of each month for large events.
But a little over a month after Kozicki's letter, Sergeant Kyle Thomas, OPD's point person for downtown weekend activity, went to talk to the manager of Downtown Merchant's Garage at 13th and Franklin streets. Thomas had been instrumental in forcing the closure of other downtown venues popular with African Americans. Pete also said under oath that Thomas told him he would "shut Geoffrey's down, if it's the last thing I do."
In a recent sworn deposition, Amer Kaddoura of Downtown Merchant's said Thomas told him in December 2008 that there had been a shooting within the past year at the garage during one of Pete's First Saturdays events, along with drug dealing and fights, and that police had caught it all on videotape. "He said ... the whole thing, that shooting, dealing problem, we have it all on tape," Kaddoura testified.
Kaddoura then told his boss, Gloria Verduzco, what Thomas had said. Verduzco then canceled Pete's longtime garage lease. Unable to provide parking to his customers, Pete closed his club a month later. Both Kaddoura and Verduzco testified that they had never before received complaints about Pete's customers in their garage. Verduzco said they canceled the lease based on what Thomas had said.
However, OPD now says it has no record of a shooting in the garage. In his deposition, Thomas also was unable to say whether the alleged shooting occurred inside or outside the garage or why there was no police report. Thomas also acknowledged that there were no records of fights in the garage. He also said he only remembered telling Kaddoura about smelling "burnt marijuana" coming from the garage but wasn't sure when. Finally, he said he didn't intend for Pete to lose his garage lease.
The office of Oakland City Attorney John Russo, which is representing OPD in the federal civil case, declined to comment for this story. But in court documents filed last week, Russo's office said that Pete's allegation that OPD forced him to close because of his refusal to pay overtime was baseless because the overtime charges were never officially assessed. Russo's office also noted that videotapes taken by OPD around the club — but not in the garage — showed "that crowds were unruly, that traffic congestion and vehicle code violations were rampant, and that plaintiff's [Pete's security] staff was powerless to prevent it."
Russo's office also said Thomas did nothing wrong, and that he could have "reasonably believed ... his attempts to reduce the threats to public safety ... were lawful." Russo's office, however, has yet to specifically address what the garage operator said Thomas told him.
Still, the city attorney contended that Pete had received special treatment, and that city officials intervened on his behalf so he could keep his cabaret license — implying that it was because of his longtime friendship with Dellums.
For his part, Pete thinks police targeted him because of Dellums' overtime decree. In addition, Assistant City Manager Jeff Baker recently contradicted Russo's claim of special treatment for Pete, testifying that Kozicki and Thomas couldn't produce specifics for why Pete's license should be revoked.
Pete isn't the only club owner with complaints. Darrell Edwards, a Kaiser physician who owns Maxwell's on 13th Street, said that when he buys radio advertising or hires a promoter, OPD requires him to obtain a special events permit and pay overtime — even though the events cause no trouble. "It's coming down to how hard they'll push me before I give up," Edwards said.
Pete is alleging civil rights violations, but knows that winning may prove difficult. Russo will try to dismiss the case at a March 10 hearing. Still, Pete believes exposing OPD's practices in court has been worth it. "I've won by virtue of getting this far," he said.