Obstruction of Justice-Does It Matter?
On Friday, September 23, 2016, the first Oakland police officer in our “crisis of corruption” goes to Court. Brian J. Bunton, who allegedly abused his power as an officer of the law will be arraigned on several charges, including felony obstruction of justice. As we finally move forward in the continuing saga of abuse of power by police officials, the question looms, does obstruction of justice really matter? Is obstruction of justice a “victimless crime?”
What is Obstruction of Justice?
“Obstruction may consist of any attempt to hinder the discovery, apprehension, conviction or punishment of anyone who has committed a crime. The acts by which justice is obstructed may include bribery, murder, intimidation, and the use of physical force against witnesses, law enforcement officers or court officials.”
For anyone who is tempted to think that obstruction of justice is a “victimless crime,” I offer the story of prosecutorial misconduct in Bakersfield, California. There, Kern County Deputy District Attorney Robert Murray admits to falsifying a confession transcript that he provided to a defense attorney. Murray gave it to the defense attorney during plea negotiations when Murray knew defense counsel was trying to persuade the defendant to take a deal. Murray claims he was joking, but only after he was caught. Murray still works for the Kern County District Attorney.
The trial judge threw out the charges when the faked confession was exposed. The case involved alleged sexual abuse of a ten year-old girl. The defendant could have been sent away for life if convicted. As a result of Murray’s misconduct and the dismissal of the charges, the defendant, a sexual predator, is freed. He is later arrested and charged with having sex with a minor under fourteen. Prosecutors believe he impregnated the girl when she was thirteen. In effect, because the prosecutor decided to “obstruct justice,” a sexual predator got away with sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl and went free to victimize another 13-year-old girl. So I ask, the parents of which one of these girls thinks that obstruction of justice is “a victimless crime?”
Closer to Home
Closer to home, in July 2010, the Oakland City Council approved a $6.5 million settlement in a case which exposed the routine use of false or misleading information for search warrants. There, OPD’s own records allegedly showed that more than 57% of all search warrants in drug cases involving a confidential informant between 2001 and 2008 were based on false information. Eleven officers are fired. Most are later reinstated. None of the officers accused of creating false police reports are ever prosecuted. Some of them still work for Oakland police. The number of people sent to jail based on false information remains unknown.
In October 2011, Oakland agreed to pay $1.7 million to the family of Jerry Amaro. Oakland police beat Mr. Amaro while arresting him on suspicion of trying to buy drugs from undercover police officers. They broke five of his ribs and lacerated one of his lungs. He died a month later of pneumonia caused by his fractured ribs. None of the officers involved documented the use of force. OPD told his heartbroken mother that her son “died in the street” following a gang dispute over drugs. None of the officers accused of filing false police reports to conceal Amaro’s beating were ever prosecuted. Some of them still work for Oakland police.
The Tip of the Iceberg?
Officer Brian Bunton, facing felony charges for obstruction of justice, appears to be the tip of the iceberg in Oakland. In our case, it appears that many people went to great lengths to conceal ongoing widespread criminal activity. We know that OPD investigators received a suicide note from Officer Brendan O’Brien in September 2015. We know that OPD investigators looked into Jasmine’s cell phone with all of its incriminating text messages and recorded calls. We also know that access and information to Jasmine’s Facebook page was publicly available.
Police chiefs in both Richmond and Oakland were allegedly her Facebook friends. And yet, every one of the local District Attorneys staunchly maintains that she or he did not even know about the suicide note or the OPD investigation until she or he read about it in the East Bay Express Newspaper.
Clearly, higher officials than Brian Bunton obstructed justice in this case. We are all victims of the obstruction of justice because we have to live with the fallout. Public safety requires public trust! Who can we believe – the Mayors, the DAs, the Chiefs? I’m not sure that any of them has any credibility left. Where were they for nine months? Who else should be charged with obstruction of justice? What do you think? Feel free to post your comment here or at my Facebook page.