Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Tag: Jerry Amaro

Obstruction of Justice-Does It Matter?

Obstruction of Justice-Does It Matter?

bunion-v2On 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.

whent-resignsPolice 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.

A Crisis of Corruption: How Long Has It Been Like This!

SEX TRAFFICKINGA Crisis of Corruption: How Long Has it Been Like This!?! We are shocked by the recent news that police officers have engaged in sex trafficking of a teenager across 6 jurisdictions. In fact, the current crisis of corruption is the latest in a history of corruption within the Oakland Police Department. Here are a few examples.

From the Archives

Between 2006 and 2008, Oakland settled two lawsuits brought on behalf of Asian-American women targeted by Oakland police officer Richard Valerga. Officer Valerga would pull women over for traffic misdemeanors and hit on them. Most of the women were recent immigrants.  They included teenagers to women in their 40s.  In 2006, the City agreed to pay $190,000 to two Asian-American women.  In 2008 it agreed to pay an additional $2 million to 16 other Asian-American women targeted by Valerga. Officer Valerga was arrested and charged in 2005. His plea deal in 2006 got him three years probation and six months in jail.  Attorney John Burris who represented the plaintiffs called it “a slap on the hand.”

The Oliver Case

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, the department’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 were fired. Most were later reinstated. Despite the large payout of our tax dollars, none of the officers accused of creating false police reports were ever prosecuted. Some of them still work for Oakland police.

The Amaro Case

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. His mother was told that her son “died in the street” following a gang dispute over drugs. None of the officers who were accused of concealing the beating by filing false police reports were ever prosecuted. Some of them still work for Oakland police.

The Blueford Case

In June 2014, Oakland agreed to pay $110,000 to the family of Alan Blueford, an 18-year-old Skyline High School student shot by Oakland police officer Miguel Masso. Masso was a former NYPD officer who had been accused of excessive force in New York in 2007 before he was hired in Oakland. Masso and 3 other officers were accused of beating, macing, and tasering Rafael Santiago, a prisoner in a holding cell at the 52nd Precinct station house in the Central Bronx. Medical records confirmed that Santiago had a black eye and six serious burns on his back from the electronic shocks. Santiago was put back in his cell and denied medical attention. NYPD investigators identified Miguel Masso as the officer who refused Santiago’s requests for treatment.

Fast forward to May 2012 in East Oakland. Officer Masso and his partner detain Alan Blueford and two friends. While he is being questioned, Alan gets up and runs away. Oakland police initially said that Alan was shot in an exchange of gunfire with Officer Masso. They later acknowledged that Alan did not fire a gun and admitted that Masso had shot himself in the foot with his own gun. A gun was found at the scene that police claimed belonged to Alan. That gun had not been fired. The District Attorney’s office declined to prosecute Officer Masso. He now works for a different police department.

Do we want to hold police officers accountable for lying under oath and filing false police reports? I believe that public safety requires public trust. What do you think? Feel free to post your comment here or at my Facebook page.

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