by David M. Greenwald
In March 2018, Joshua Pawlik, a young man, died “in a hail of 22 bullets fired by four officers” as he gained consciousness, with a handgun by his side, in a residential neighborhood of Oakland.
In a report by Robert Warshaw, Monitor and Compliance Director, he writes, “Our shared humanity should have ensured, at the least, that the Oakland Police Department would have taken better care to avoid the death of Mr. Pawlik. Failing that, the Department should have conducted a more thorough and honest review of this event to provide a foundation for reform. Instead, for Joshua Pawlik, for the Police Department, and for the Oakland community, there has been only a tragic litany of failures.”
He writes, “Police departments are empowered with extraordinary authorities – the greatest of which is the use of deadly force. There is no greater responsibility for an individual police officer, and those to whom officers are accountable, than ensuring that a use of force comports with policy requirements and with the law.”
Warshaw concludes, “In this incident, the City of Oakland and the Oakland Police Department failed.”
In a press conference held on Monday by Civil Rights Attorneys John Burris and Jim Channing, Burris called the report “very very disturbing to me.” He suggests that the findings render his efforts “void” and causes him to wonder if his efforts over the last 20 years “has done anything to impact the culture of the department.”
The chief who was hired as a reformer and was supposed to change the culture of the department “really fell down in her responsibilities.” He said, “She was not an honest broker in this investigation.” And he added that her attitude about how she wanted the shooting to be seen by the community “really directed how the investigations took place.”
What the monitor found is that no one that is “supposed to be the guardrail” in terms of these investigations—the chief, internal affairs, and others who have responsibilities to conduct an independent investigation—and “what happened here is they all seemed to fall in line with the chief’s position – who took that position at the very outset.”
The findings here are damning.
The report finds, “Mr. Pawlik was killed when Oakland Police Rifle Officers discharged 22 rounds at him in a time span of 2.23 seconds from near or behind an armored police vehicle that had arrived at the scene just two minutes before the shooting.”
Furthermore, “Chief Kirkpatrick prematurely assessed the shooting on the evening of its occurrence, when she told the Monitor that Mr. Pawlik had ‘pointed’ a firearm at the officers, and that the shooting ‘looks good.’ Her expressed predispositions of that evening never wavered, even as the investigations moved forward.”
The department attempted to justify the shooting through its initial press release, then the Criminal Investigations Division (CID) and its Internal Affairs Division (IAD) conducted incomplete and deficient investigations, the investigators accepted accounts of officers that Mr. Pawlik pointed weapons at them—despite video evidence to the contrary.
“CID and IAD investigators failed to use the video footage of the incident to challenge the officers’ statements,” Warshaw concludes. “The Chief accepted the flawed logic that, since the video neither proved nor disproved the officers’ statements, the officers’ versions had to be accepted as true.”
“For us this leads us to question who exactly is running this department,” Burris said Monday. He questioned “whether in fact, this department can police itself.”
He called this “another wake-up call,” despite the work done over the years. He said, “We should have real concerns about future investigations.
“In this situation, it was pretty clear that line officers who were doing investigations and their supervisors who were supervising the investigations, did not hold them to a very high standard, and made no effort whatsoever to get at the real truth of this case,” Burris said.
This is doubly disturbing, he said, in light of the fact that there was video evidence which should have served as a basis against the officer’s claims.
Jim Channing called it “an overall attempt to make the findings before the investigation and then have the investigation fit the finding. That is just pure wrong.”
He did acknowledge some progress under the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA) entered in 2003. which established the independent monitor who evaluated this case. He noted that they went from six or seven questionable shootings a year to, in some years, as few as none over the last six years.
“The OPD stops fewer African Americans than ever before, a decline of nearly 67 percent,” he said. “But it’s not good enough. When the chips are down, when you have a life taken, which is the power that no other city employee has, and you do a sham investigation like this, it destroys the other things you’re doing.”
Burris added, “I think the most significant issue here is… when you do have (a shooting), how do you handle it?” He said that the key is how do you handle these things when no one is looking—and how does the police, police itself?
When the chips were down and no one was watching, “what we had was a misdirected sham investigation. “That does not bode well for the future because there will be other events,” he said. “The chief, who was the head of this from the beginning, set the wrong tenor and she did the wrong thing.”
Channing added, “We would have never heard of Joshua Pawlik if it weren’t for the monitor. The monitor is the only one who overturned this ridiculous and silly-minded finding that was done by the police department.” He said, “No one would have know who Joshua Pawlik was if it wasn’t for him.”
Channing noted that the Alameda County DA has a poor record of holding officers accountable. “Her record of not indicting anyone except for Oscar Grant and the Riders twenty years ago is deplorable,” he said. “Other counties, other states regularly indict officers—not here.”
Finally, he said about George Floyd, “we’re in the Bay Area, we’re much more sophisticated, of course we would never have the department that did that. That is completely false.”
He noted the movement across the country in the wake of George Floyd, saying that “we have heard nothing from the Oakland City Council, we have heard nothing from the Oakland Mayor, about what should be done here.”
The monitor concludes: “The shooting of Mr. Pawlik exposed an appalling measure of incompetence, deception, and indifference. Too many persons charged with the responsibility of internal review and oversight quickly, and ultimately, described this tragedy as a ‘good’ shooting and one that was consistent with law and policy. It was not a ‘good’ shooting.”
He writes, “The five officers involved in the shooting of Joshua Pawlik were responsible for his death. Those who investigated, oversaw, and reviewed what followed in its aftermath compounded this tragedy – and for this, they bear responsibility.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
To read the full monitor report, click here
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