The Oakland Police Department has come under fire recently for demanding that event organizers and nightclub owners pay for costly police overtime. Newly released city records also reveal just how lucrative overtime remains for Oakland cops — even after the city attempted to curtail excessive overtime. Records show that 194 sworn police personnel pocketed at least $20,000 each in overtime in 2010. The biggest overtime earner on the force made more than $100,000. He also happens to be ensnared in a federal civil rights case that involves alleged overtime abuses.
Officer Michael Morse, a member of an OPD unit that unilaterally decides how much event organizers and club owners must pay for police overtime, made $118,414 in overtime pay last year. Morse's overtime more than doubled his annual salary of $98,567 and pushed his total 2010 compensation to $224,987. Overtime, in fact, made Morse the eighth highest paid member of the police department last year. Police Chief Anthony Batts, who is salaried and does not receive overtime pay, earned $262,429 in total compensation in 2010. The Express obtained the pay information through a Public Records Act request.
Morse is also a defendant in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by former Oakland nightclub owner Geoffrey Pete. As this newspaper reported last week, Pete alleges that Oakland police forced him to close Geoffrey's Inner Circle in early 2009 after he refused to pay excessive fees for police overtime for cops who patrolled outside his club. Pete contends that OPD began demanding that club owners pay for overtime just weeks after then-Mayor Ron Dellums announced that taxpayers could no longer afford excessive police overtime charges. Oakland event organizers also are increasingly upset about having to pay police overtime costs and say the high fees are forcing them to scale back the size of festivals, or even cancel them.
In his lawsuit, Pete also alleges that police, led by Morse, canceled his birthday party at Sweet's Ballroom in early 2009 after he objected to a demand that he pay eighteen cops a total of $7,626 in overtime. In sworn testimony, Pete said that after OPD made that demand, he complained to Assistant City Administrator Jeff Baker. "It was preposterous," Pete said of the overtime demand in a recent interview. "It should have been more like six or seven officers" — not eighteen.
In a sworn deposition, Baker said he raised questions with the department and then-Acting Police Chief Howard Jordan as to the potential for abuse when OPD decides — with no input or oversight — whether an event needs police overtime and how much the sponsor should pay. "My concern, in addition to it being a large amount of money and no criteria stated, is that the quote is coming from the police department itself. So I'm concerned because it's sort of as if OPD is controlling the entire process: 'I issue the permit; I set the criteria; I give you the number of cops and I also tell you the price.'" Baker said that when he asked OPD officials to justify requiring Pete to pay for eighteen cops for his event, they did not respond.
According to court documents, Baker then convinced Jordan to lower the event charges for Pete's birthday by half, and Jordan said Pete would receive a permit from the department. However, when Pete went to the Eastmont Mall substation, Morse refused to comply. Pete testified that Morse told him he wasn't going to get a permit because Morse said he "already had a birthday party." After Pete showed Morse his identification, which revealed that Pete had not yet had his birthday, Morse responded that "the event would not happen," Pete testified.
Pete then went back to Baker, who testified that Jordan had assured him that Pete had a permit for his party and it would take place as planned. So Pete had invitations made up, hired staff and entertainment, ordered food and beverages, paid for advertisements, and paid to rent Sweet's. But then Pete testified that Morse showed up before the event was to begin and directed Pete's staff "to go home" because "there would be no event."
Baker testified that afterward, he called Jordan again to find out what happened, and Jordan said he didn't know Morse's unit had previously refused to issue Pete a permit. "Chief Jordan told me over the telephone that when he told me it was okay for Mr. Pete to have the event he was unaware that there had been a decision ... regarding the non-issuance of a permit for the event," Baker testified.
Pete believes that OPD targeted him because he refused to start paying for police overtime outside his nightclub. As the Express reported last week, there's also strong evidence that another cop, Sergeant Kyle Thomas, fabricated a story about Pete's customers after Pete refused to pay police overtime.
Amer Kaddoura of Downtown Merchant's Garage testified that Thomas told him there had been a shooting inside the garage, along with drug dealing and fights, involving Pete's nightclub customers, and that police captured it all on tape. Although the garage operators had never before received a complaint about Pete's customers, they said they canceled Pete's long-term garage lease based on what Thomas had said. Unable to offer his customers parking at night, Pete closed his club.
Thomas, however, later admitted under oath that police had not videotaped any illegal activities inside the garage. He also couldn't explain why police had no record of a shooting or fights inside the garage, and said he only told Kaddoura about smelling marijuana. Other police officials said they had left it up to Thomas to decide whether Pete should pay for overtime.
According to city records, Thomas also pocketed big bucks last year from overtime. He made $61,126 in overtime in 2010, pushing his total compensation to $203,400. Neither Thomas nor Morse's total compensation include the costs of health and pension benefits.
The office of City Attorney John Russo, which is representing Thomas and Morse in federal court, did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story. In court documents, Russo's office contends that the officers did nothing wrong. Russo's office is moving to dismiss Pete's case in court this week.