by Scott Johnson
Last week, with Police Chief Howard Jordan at her side, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan announced the creation of an “independent investigation” into the actions taken by police against Occupy Oakland.
“We take use of force very seriously,” Jordan said at the press conference. “All instances of force are being thoroughly investigated.”
At a cost of $100,000—which no doubt will be another expenditure blamed on Occupiers—the four-person team of investigators appears to be hardly independent and unlikely to root out systemic police brutality in the department. With the brutal hospitalization of two veterans–Scott Olsen and Kayvan Sabeghi–and the completely unprovoked shooting with a non-lethal device of videographer Scott Campbell, to name only the most high profile cases, there is a desperate need to investigate the violent elements in the OPD. But there are serious questions about this specific investigation.
Campbell told me va email that this whole episode appears to be a “whitewash,” and as of the Christmas weekend–nearly two months after the incident–the OPD has still not yet contacted him about the incident. “The ‘independent’ investigation proposed by the city is is just another version of the police investigating the police,” Campbel said. “This is especially true given the questionable past conduct of the ‘investigators’ and the links that Frazier has to conservative and pro-police think tanks, as well as the Department of Homeland Security.”
What are these connections, exactly?
First, at least two of the investigators have a background with the Police Executives’ Research Forum (PERF), an organization that notoriously coordinated conference calls with police chiefs throughout the country on how to deal with the Occupy movement. PERF claims to be a much less insidious force than the shadowy secret police agency they are often made out to be, commenting on their web site about touchy-feely tactics they encourage such as actually talking to protesters. Nonetheless, PERF was involved in coordinating discussions about the crackdown on the Occupy movement—not in discouraging the crackdown.
Second, the investigators have associations with much better known entities such as the FBI, Homeland Security and the Heritage Foundation, none of them exactly defenders of the progressive values that Jean Quan continues to claim she is a champion of. These are not institutions of the 99% but of the 1%.
A further look into the specific resumes of the investigators raises more serious concerns:
Thomas Frazier: Former Police Commisioner of Baltimore, Maryland and President of Frazier Group LLC, Frazier has been appointed to lead the investigation. He is a past President of PERF and worked on the Heritage Foundation Homeland Security Task Force immediately following 9/11 headed by future Iraq colonial governor/overlord L. Paul Bremer. The Frazier Group provides consulting for law enforcement, intelligence and homeland security.
These bona fides aside, Frazier can hardly be considered an “independent” investigator. He has been working with the OPD since October, when he was hired as a “special adviser” to help Jordan deal with a consent decree resulting from the decade-old Rider’s scandal that saw Oakland police framing innocent suspects, among other crimes. Before being hired as the Interim Police Chief, Jordan was the leading police official dealing with this consent decree, compliance of which remains critical for the OPD to avoid being placed in federal receivership. Thus, Frazier has been working with the OPD in a critical role for virtually the entire existence of Occupy Oakland and can hardly be considered “independent” of the police department he is now tasked with investigating.
Michael Hillmann: Primarily associated with the Los Angeles Police Department, Hillmann has a background in anti-terrorism, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), crowd control and civil unrest. He is, by far, the most problematic of the investigators.
He was referred to as a “cop’s cop” in a revealing profile by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) blog which describes a troubling history. As a security planner for the LAPD during the 1984 Olympics, he helped identify “potential troublemakers . . . all over the city and placed [them] in check before they could disrupt the event.” He later conducted secretive trainings in “urban warfare” for the Marines, Delta Force and Navy Seals, according to the OCSD blog:
“They would conduct exercises in the early morning hours,” [then LAPD Police] Chief [Daryl] Gates recalled of the military training. “The Mayor would call and say they had so many helicopters over a neighborhood and nobody knew why. “I’d say ‘I’ll check’,” Chief Gates said. “But I wouldn’t get back to him.”
The undemocratic nature of such a statement by Hillman’s former superior is shocking to say the least. Mayor Quan, if nobody else, should be highly suspicious of such comments. If information about Hillmann’s “urban warfare” trainings could not be entrusted to the Mayor of Los Angeles, how can we expect his investigation into Oakland’s actual urban warfare against Occupy Oakland to turn up trustworthy details to our mayor?
In the lead up to the Los Angeles rebellion against the Rodney King verdict, Hillmann was Commander of the LAPD Metro unit which, according to the OCSD blog, “was known as the shock troops of the LAPD and included the most formidable firepower in the LAPD, including submachine guns and armored personnel carriers with battering rams.” He disagreed with his own superior officers by insisting on an even greater preparation for cracking down on the expected uprising. It should be noted that it was the heavy-handed tactics of the LAPD and Gates in particular which led to the mass outrage after the verdict.
Richard Cashdollar: A retired Captain in the US Coast Guard, Cashdollar also works with the Frazier Group. According to his resume at Frazier, he was involved in “tactical drug intelligence in the Caribbean during the height of the drug war in the mid-eighties,” and later “developed an active Weapons of Mass Destruction Task Force in an environment that coordinated the activities of over 50 agencies in an all-threat environment – five years before these command and control initiatives were mandated by the Department of Homeland Security in the National Response Plan . . . He currently serves as Major Cities Chiefs representative to the Homeland Security Consortium, and as their representative to DHS for several developing projects.”
Donald Anders: Former Deputy Police Chief of the San Jose Police Department, Anders has a background in SWAT and has studied with the FBI and PERF.
The first thing that needs to be said about all of these investigators is that in each case—with the exception of Anders—they have backgrounds far beyond the needs of an investigation into the police department of a middle-sized city like Oakland. Is a background in Homeland Security and anti-terrorism really necessary for this investigation?
Moreover, the statement that this is an “independent investigation” begs the question: “Independent of what?” Frazier has an immediate, recent history with OPD and Cashdollar is employed by Frazier. All of them have made their careers behind the “blue wall of silence” and there is little reason to believe they are more loyal to an open democratic process than they are to the use of police force. A truly independent investigation ought to be just that—independent of the police force under investigation and without the ideological and professional baggage carried by these law enforcement consultants.
Imagine that the investigation revealed what is clearly true—Oakland police officers used wanton force, broke their own rules of engagement and vindictively and unnecessarily assaulted Olsen, Sabeghi and Campbell. Such a finding would require the prosecution of the guilty officers and inevitably result in a further political crisis for his own clients, likely leading to the federal receivership that he was previously being paid to help avoid! This incredibly unlikely scenario would only further weaken Frazier’s ability to gain further contracts with other law enforcement institutions, many of which pay him to help their efforts, not investigate them.
Mayor Quan seems to have created an investigation to appease those concerned about police violence while bending over backwards to avoid hurting the feelings of the police officers who largely seem to hate her.
Quan has been struggling for weeks to shore up her independent base—still furious over her attacks on Occupy Oakland—while at the same time building a positive relationship with the OPD and the Chamber of Commerce, both of which are in the midst of varying levels of open revolt. However, she cannot serve both masters. The struggle against inequality and for a more fair distribution of wealth is diametrically opposed to the interests of the police and the business community.
We should not settle for this shambolic inquiry but demand that the guilty parties be held accountable, from the cops who beat Kayvan to the Mayor and Police Chief who ordered the attack.
Thanks to @MaryMad for doing basically all the research for this article.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that PERF’s conference calls were with mayors and not police chiefs. This has been corrected.