At a time when Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf was facing her administration’s most turbulent times–almost daily damning revelations in a growing police misconduct involving an underage sex worker and Oakland cops along with a conga line of police chiefs–Schaaf maintained that the dismissal of Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent was made on his own accord.
Earlier this month, Schaaf raised eyebrows at an endorsement meeting for the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club in Oakland when she touted her tough-on-crime credentials by saying she had fired three police chiefs, not two.
According to multiple witnesses who heard Schaaf’s comment, it was preceded by an intense line of questioning by Wellstone members over the mayor’s handling of the embarrassing police misconduct scandal and the lagging pace of reforms at OPD.
Last week, Schaaf said she misspoke when phrasing Whent’s exit as a firing, although she now admits “he was forced to resign.” In multiple forums since Schaaf made the comment at the Wellstone Club she has said because of state law’s that limit officials from publicly detailing misconduct by police personnel, she could not reveal at the time that Whent was actually fired.
Pamela Price, one of Schaaf’s biggest obstacles for re-election this November, said she was taken aback by Schaaf’s comment, primarily because she never believed Schaaf’s explanation in the first place that Whent simply walked away from his post as police chief.
“She’s on TV saying he quit for personal reasons. But she lied,” said Price. “At the time our mayor tried to deceive us. She tried to protect Sean Whent and the department that had engaged in completely unethical and illegal conduct. She participated in a cover-up.”
Price added: “That’s a problem. If she did it once, she’ll do it again.”
Price, in an email earlier this month to her supporters, said her campaign procured video of Schaaf’s comments and suggested they will use the footage in some sort of campaign commercial or web video.
With the span of nine days in June 2016, Oakland cycled through three police chiefs. The instability at OPD made national news and was skewered heavily for comic effect on late night television. Whent resigned as a “personal choice,” he said then, followed by interim chief Ben Fairow and before him Paul Figueroa.
At a forum in East Oakland last week, Schaaf again attempted to preempt any criticism from the Whent firing comment by calling for greater transparency for those who commit police misconduct. The audience at Allen Temple Baptist Church was amendable to the proposal, as was another Schaaf critic, mayoral candidate Cat Brooks, who also slammed the mayor’s handling of the department that night.
But OPD’s troubles continue to haunt the city and Schaaf. During the forum, any conversation referencing OPD initiated her opponents to rhetorically pile-on and signal to the large audience rounds of angry heckling.