Documents Reveal City Administrator Authorized Investigation of Oakland Police Commissioner

Newly released documents reveal that a Department Director under the supervision of City of Oakland Administrator Sabrina Landreth contracted a private firm to investigate Oakland Police Commissioner Ginale Harris in late 2018. Ian Appleyard, the Director of Human Resources, signed and dated the contract on November 14, 2018, just months after the Oakland Police Commission was enabled by ordinance of the City Council. An additional memorandum with Public Interest Investigations, the contracted Los Angeles-based firm, stipulates that reporting would be directly to Landreth, Appleyard's supervisor. 

The contract allows up to an expenditure of $49,999 and would have required Landreth's authorization—the City Administrator is required to approve contract amounts in excess of $5,000. The contract, which is certified as to form and legality by the City Attorney, doesn't mention Harris—in the scope of work portion of the contract, only the phrase "to conduct workplace investigations as needed" appears. The memorandum also released through the public records request, however, makes it clear that Harris is the target of the PII investigation. In the document, Keith Rohman, the founder and President of PII, clarifies the scope of the investigation to be centered around five alleged employee grievances—three of the alleged grievances are from OPD personnel. One of those allegations involves an accusation from Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick. 

Another grievance, allegedly from Community Police Review Agency employees, the entity under the Commission which investigates complaints against OPD, was later investigated by the Oakland Ethics Commission in early 2019 and found to be unsubstantiated. At that time, OEC reported that a CPRA employee, Joan Saupe, also denied Harris carried out any of the alleged actions. In the memorandum, Rohman appears to express confusion about how to interact with Harris, who is not a City employee nor a "charged party" according to City rules, i.e., a City of Oakland employee that can be investigated for violations.  Harris, a community-appointed civilian commissioner, is not a City of Oakland employee and not under Appleyard or Landreth's authority.  

Council Member Rebecca Kaplan introduced the PII contract and memorandum at a Public Safety Committee meeting on January 28, 2020. Kaplan said that she had asked the City Administrator's Office for the contract documents weeks earlier and still had not received them. 

At the meeting, Kaplan stated she believes the City Administrator's move to contract an investigator is illegal. "I don't see any authority anywhere for the City Administrator to independently decide to undertake an investigation," she added during the meeting. Kaplan says she will seek to introduce a resolution that would explicitly state that the City Administrator does not have the power to investigate members of the Police Commission. 

Landreth has clashed with the Commission repeatedly since the Charter amendment that created the Commission passed by 82% in 2016. After some involvement with delays in the Commission’s implementation, Landreth also opposed giving the Commission an independent Inspector General—a position that would have the power to investigate Administrator and OPD policies and actions around policing. Landreth continued to resist allowing an independently hired and managed IG directed by Council even after the Council returned legislatively to the issue and directed Landreth to allow it a second time. It was also revealed in November that Chief Kirkpatrick was involved in an effort to disseminate details of an interaction Harris had with SFPD after Harris called 911 in San Francisco on an unrelated matter.  

Rohman, the founder and President of PII, has been in the news before. In 2017, UC Berkeley’s Dailycal reported that PII's contracted investigations of an alleged misuse of $5,000 in public funds by then-Chancellor Nicholas Dirks cost the University 57,671 dollars to carry out. Rohman charged the University for air travel to and from Los Angeles at $400 per flight, and billed the university for his hotel stays and Lyft rides.  

A request for comment from City Communications Director Karen Boyd remained unanswered by publication time. 

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