Oakland’s Latest Mess



The troubling saga of the Oakland Police Department took an ugly turn this week with the news that City Administrator Deanna Santana contends that Robert Warshaw, the independent court monitor overseeing OPD, made inappropriate advances toward her earlier this year. The revelation has already threatened the integrity of the oversight process of OPD and could delay a decision on whether the department should be put in federal receivership. In short, it’s a big mess.

  • Santana
A recap: the Chronicle, quoting anonymous sources, was the first to report that Santana had made the explosive allegations against Warshaw. The Tribune, also citing anonymous sources, then confirmed the Chron’s story. Sources also confirmed to the Express that both the Chron and Trib stories were accurate.

The Oakland City Attorney’s Office said that it has launched an investigation into Santana’s complaint. And attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin, who are also involved in monitoring OPD, are now demanding an investigation into who leaked Santana’s allegations to the press. They note that the timing of the allegations is suspicious because court monitor Warshaw has been highly critical of OPD and its failure to implement the reforms it agreed to make. Warshaw and his team are also close to releasing new progress reports on the department.

  • Warshaw
Santana’s allegations, meanwhile, may never be provable because sources say that she says they occurred in private, and that no one else witnessed them. Moreover, there’s no evidence at this point that Warshaw has made inappropriate advances to any other public officials in Oakland during his tenure monitoring OPD. In other words, it appears to be a classic he-said-she-said.

Unfortunately, because of the circumstances, there’s also reason to doubt what both Santana and Warshaw have said or will say. Warshaw’s reputation and career, after all, are on the line. And Santana’s career and reputation would take a hit if, under her watch, OPD were to become the first police department in the nation placed in federal receivership.

Some City Hall insiders and watchers believe that the Oakland police union was the first to leak Santana’s allegations. The union, after all, has long resisted the consent decree reforms, and casting a shadow over Warshaw’s reputation could delay a decision about receivership by US District Court Thelton Henderson.

It should be noted, however, that it was a mistake, made by the Oakland City Attorney’s Office, that appears to have played a role in launching the leaks. Last Friday, the City Attorney’s office filed a public declaration with Henderson, announcing that it was launching an investigation into allegations about the court monitor and city officials, and that it planned to file future updates about the incident under seal to keep it private. By Monday, the City Attorney’s Office realized that it should have just filed the original declaration under seal — as it is allowed to do. If it had done that, then the controversy between Santana and Warshaw may have remained under wraps.

Still, it must be acknowledged that these types of allegations tend to become public eventually. And so the City Attorney’s Office mistake, while unfortunate, may have just precipitated an earlier disclosure of Santana’s allegations than would have otherwise occurred.

Regardless, the fact that they are public now is extremely problematic for the police oversight process. If Warshaw produces any more monitoring reports that are critical of OPD, Police Chief Howard Jordan, or Santana, then some people are going to doubt their veracity. Is Warshaw merely being critical because Santana spurned him? Or because she lied about him?

Unfortunately, the only way to minimize such doubts may be for Judge Henderson to publicly order Warshaw to not have any more contact with Santana. That shouldn’t be too much of a problem — the court monitoring team includes a half-dozen other members. Warshaw, from here on out, should also probably take a more limited role in writing the monitor reports, and hand that responsibility off to other members of the court monitoring team.

Clearly, if Warshaw did not do what Santana’s contends, or if she misunderstood his actions, then forcing him to take a lesser role is unfair — as is the damage already inflicted on his reputation. But at this point, having him step back may be the only way to save the integrity of the process.