Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan had a seemingly innocuous question for Rich Lucia, the Alameda County undersheriff. Why were Alameda County sheriff’s deputies deployed to evict the members of the Moms 4 Housing coalition last Tuesday morning, and not the Oakland Police Department?
Lucia told the board that the sheriff’s office had been in discussion with Oakland police officials and believed the department would help support the pre-dawn action on the home on Magnolia Street in Oakland.
But Oakland police officers did not show up and Lucia suggested they may have actively avoiding the area where demonstrators had gathered to support the four women who had taken shelter inside a vacant house in West Oakland without the permission of its owners.
“OPD did not appear to support us,” Lucia said. “In fact, one of their cars was seen making a quick U-turn.”
The comments are notable. Law enforcement officials rarely make public criticisms of other police jurisdictions. Lucia stood by his comments in an interview and again noted the instance of an Oakland police squad car appearing to actively avoid Magnolia Street.
“This operation was a no-win for the sheriff’s office,” Lucia said. “By law, we’re mandated to execute eviction orders, but I can tell you none of my deputies enjoy doing it. You will never see anybody raise their hand to volunteer for them.” But he added, “What they were doing is trespassing,” Lucia said of the homeless mothers.
Lucia also expressed great affection for the Oakland Police Department. “I could talk for 15 minutes about how many great things we’ve done together,” he said. In an email, Johnna Watson, an Oakland police spokesperson, in turn praised the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department.
Last week, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled the Moms 4 Housing coalition members had no legal right to occupy the vacant home owned by a Southern California investment group. The judge issued an order for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department to evict the four homeless mothers by this past Wednesday.
OPD did not appear to support us,” Lucia said. “In fact, one of their cars was seen making a quick U-turn.
Tuesday morning’s eviction was carried out by sheriff’s deputies just after 5 a.m. Three of the four women were later arrested. The fourth was conducting an interview at the time of the surprise action.
The decision by the sheriff’s department to issue the eviction so early in the morning was strongly criticized by housing advocates and supporters of the Moms 4 Housing coalition. So, too, was the appearance of sheriff’s deputies that look less like police officers and more like soldiers fighting in Afghanistan.
But the sheriff’s office had planned to make the eviction sometime Monday night, according to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s office, and confirmed by Lucia.
Two weeks ago, Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern consulted with Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick about the possibility of Oakland police officer aiding in the eventually eviction of the homeless women, according to Schaaf’s office. Kirkpatrick then broached the subject with Schaaf, who dismissed the idea.
But when demonstrators at the Magnolia Street home began to mobilize and the number of people grew larger over the weekend and through Monday night, the Sheriff’s office again reached out to Oakland city officials, asking for four Oakland police officers to act in a crowd-control capacity. Schaaf’s response was again a firm no.
Hours after the early Tuesday morning eviction, Schaaf appeared on local television and social media and strongly criticized the sherrif’s department for using a battering ram to knock down the front door of the vacant home and later arrest three of the four homeless mothers for resisting arrest.
Lucia said the use of a battering ram by deputies is not typical during evictions. But in this instance, he added, the doors had been barricaded from inside the home.
The discussion at the Board of Supervisors earlier this week was precipitated by a public speaker who opposed a funding item on the board’s agenda for the sheriff’s department. He later registered strong criticism for the scope of the early-morning action against the homeless mothers and the use of military-like vehicles.
Supervisor Nate Miley, historically a strong ally of the sheriff’s department, said he supported Tuesday morning’s action, including its show of force and the potential danger for all sides due to the large number of demonstrators waiting outside the home.
“The sheriff took this action with compassion under a court order,” Miley said. He then opined on the women’s attempt to take control of a property that did not belong to them. If allowed, Miley said, “we will have chaos in our society.”