2 Oakland officers disciplined over Occupy protest actions
This post has been corrected. See note below.
Two officers involved in Occupy protests have been punished by the Oakland Police Department for violating official policy after an onlooker’s video showed one of them with dark tape obscuring his nameplate, according to court documents.
After an internal affairs investigation into the actions of Officer John Hargraves and Lt. Clifford Wong, interim Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said in a written declaration that he "immediately moved to implement what, in my judgment as Chief of Police, was appropriate personnel action."
In the declaration, Jordan said he did not disclose the punishment “on advice of my legal counsel.”
Attorneys in a more than decadelong legal case against Oakland and its police department took Hargraves and Wong to federal court in connection with their actions during a daylong general strike called by Occupy Oakland in early November. The protest sent thousands of demonstrators into the streets, closed the city’s busy port and drew hundreds of teachers and city workers from classrooms and offices.
During the protest, a videographer named Terrence Jerrod Williams approached the two officers after he noticed that one of them had blacked out his name on his nameplate.
"It was my understanding that City of Oakland Police Officers who are on duty and in uniform are required by law and policy to have their name and/or badge number visible so that they can be readily identified by civilians they encounter," Williams said in a written declaration.
Williams said he decided to ask why the officer had hidden his name because “it occurred to me that he did this to prevent citizens from identifying him in the event he engaged in acts of misconduct during his assignment at the demonstration.”
In a video Williams posted on YouTube, the officer ignored his questions. So Williams asked Wong about the blacked-out nameplate. In the video, Wong walks over and strips off the black tape to reveal the name “J Hargraves.”
Under the California Penal Code and city policy, officers must wear a badge or nameplate that identifies them to the public when they are in uniform. The suit also charges that Wong failed to report Hargraves’ conduct to the department’s internal affairs division, as required.
Hargraves covered his nameplate out of "concern for the safety of his family" because an officer from another agency had been videotaped by Occupy protesters and his name and address were posted online and he received threats of violence, according to court documents.
Jim Chanin, one of the attorneys pushing for sanctions against Hargraves and Wong, noted that the other officers did not obscure their names and that Hargraves could have asked for a transfer that day.
“His predicament is no different from policemen in extremely dangerous situations,” Chanin said. “Our society has made a decision not to have a secret police force like North Korea or Iran, where they come in without identification and do what they want and you don’t even know who did it to you.”
Earlier this week, a federal court judge took the request for sanctions under submission and has yet to rule. The Bay Citizen has reported that Hargraves was suspended for 30 days and Wong was demoted to sergeant.
Chanin would not comment on the disciplinary action, nor would Officer Johanna Watson, a spokeswoman for the Oakland Police Department.
“The Oakland Police Department recognizes that a policy violation occurred,” Watson said. “An internal investigation was initiated. And because this is an internal personnel matter, we are unable to make any further comment.... We call it discipline. The chief acted swiftly.”
For the record: An earlier version of this post said the officers had been sued in federal court.
-- Maria LaGanga