Phony As A Three Dollar Bill: How The City Of Anaheim Will Create A Fake Police Oversight Committee
By DUANE ROBERTS
Editor & Publisher
As the Anaheim Investigator reported last month, the Tuesday, June 18th vote by Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait and the rest of the City Council to unanimously approve an amended agreement with the Office of Independent Review, a Los Angeles-based law firm run by Michael Gennaco, to drastically “expand the scope of services” it offers the city, signaled the death knell for any genuine police oversight in this town. The 5-0 vote, which was done quietly and without much discussion, essentially paved the way to make OIR a de facto “oversight body” for the Anaheim Police Department.
Although Tait told the Anaheim Investigator he “still want[s] a civilian review commission,” it is our opinion that if the mayor really supported police accountability, his decision to vote in favor of the amended agreement at the June 18th meeting sent a mixed message. All of the evidence we’ve collected so far suggests Gennaco’s law firm now lies at the foundation–or already is–the “oversight body” the City of Anaheim has been talking about forming. Any discussion about creating a “commission” now not only is too little, too late, but a smokescreen to divert attention away from the fact the fix is in.
In respect to evidence backing this claim, all one needs to do is look at what is going on in a neighboring city. Last May, the Anaheim Investigator filed a California Public Records Act request with the Fullerton Police Department and unearthed an email attachment Gennaco sent to Police Chief Dan Hughes on Wednesday, January 30th, 2013. In it, Gennaco proposed his law firm become the “outside independent oversight entity” for that city’s law enforcement agency. The language he uses is similar to text contained in letters sent to Anaheim City Attorneys in 2009 and April of this year
It appears one major difference between what was outlined in the attachment Gennaco sent to Hughes in late January and the text of those letters is the language used to describe his law firm’s services. The City of Anaheim has embarked on a strategy of building its “oversight body” in a piecemeal, incremental fashion. By keeping quiet about what it has been doing and omitting language describing OIR as an “outside independent oversight entity,” the council swiftly made it an “oversight body” right beneath everybody’s noses. The purpose of this: to keep residents who favor real police oversight in the dark so as not to arouse opposition.
Further proof of the key role OIR is playing in this matter can be found in the brief dialogue that took place at the June 18th meeting between Tait and then-Interim City Manager Marcie Edwards. When Tait told Edwards the vote on the amended agreement provided him with “an opportunity to bring up the idea of a citizen review commission that we talked about several months ago,” she responded by making it perfectly clear that OIR–not city staff–will be making recommendations about this in a report it is expected to submit to the Anaheim City Council “maybe a month to six weeks from now.”
The exchange was as follows:
TAIT: Item 14, I pulled that. This is … umm … city attorney approve the first amendment to agreement with Michael Gennaco, etc., increasing the not to exceed contract to the amount of $85,000 extending the scope of attorney services. This is Office of Independent Review. Umm … I support this. It’s a good … it gives me an opportunity to bring up the idea of a citizen review commission that we talked about several months ago. So I’d like to … I know the City Manager is interim, but I’d like to encourage the city to move forward with its recommendation … umm … soon. So … Madame City Manager?
EDWARDS: Thank you sir. Umm … one of the items that we have been waiting on, just for your information, is a report from the OIR that has recommendations … that is going to contain recommendations that ultimately we’ll be able to release publicly. I asked informally as to when they thought that might be produced and I was given an estimate of maybe a month to six weeks from now. So I wanted to share that with you.
TAIT: Very good.
At this time, the Anaheim Investigator cannot predict what kinds of recommendations OIR will present in the future. But what we do know, however, is when Gennaco attended a Fullerton City Council study session earlier this year to deliver a presentation about “oversight bodies,” he downplayed “citizen review commissions” in favor of the “auditor model” of police oversight–a service his own law firm offers. Nevertheless, even if he recommends that a “commission” be created, we suspect it will be rigged to be weak, toothless, and ineffective. Why? Because the groundwork to have the city control it through OIR has been established.
First, the text of the letter Gennaco sent to then-Interim City Attorney Michael Houston on Tuesday, April 23, 2013 emphasizes that the latter’s office–not OIR–will make the final determination of which “critical incident cases” involving the Anaheim Police Department are “reviewed” by that law firm. So if a “citizen review commission” is eventually formed–with OIR running it–it will only be allowed to look into those cases the City Attorney wants them to examine and nothing more. That means the “commission” won’t be permitted to investigate any matters on its own, effectively tying its hands.
Second, the City of Anaheim has the power to determine who OIR releases its information to, placing it in a position to withhold information from a “citizen review commission.” Earlier this year, the Anaheim Investigator obtained a copy of the original agreement that then-City Attorney Cristina Talley negotiated with Gennaco’s law firm in 2009. This agreement, which was not altered significantly by the recently amended agreement, makes it perfectly clear that OIR is a law firm hired by the city to defend its interests and that all of its work is considered “confidential attorney-client communications and attorney work-product material”:
[A]ll internal observations, determinations, notes or other applicable material made by OIR Group in the performance of this Agreement are and shall be considered confidential attorney-client communications and attorney work-product material and subject to the appropriate claims of privilege. With the exception of any final public reports, all communications and reports to the City, including the City Attorney and the Anaheim Police Department, shall be made or submitted on a confidential basis. OIR Group agrees that no documents prepared or assembled by it under this Agreement shall be made available to any individual or organization without prior written approval of the City, unless required by law.
Third, OIR not only has no authority whatsoever to conduct independent investigations into complaints against alleged police misconduct, but it doesn’t have any subpoena power to compel witnesses to testify or produce documents. All it does is have its staff of highly paid attorneys “audit” or review case files prepared by the cops themselves to determine if an officer’s actions were in compliance with the law. That being said, a “citizen review commission” dependent on this law firm for information would spend much of its time reading reports containing “facts” Gennaco’s attorneys gleaned from police files.
And finally, OIR is funded by the Anaheim Police Department. Financial records the Anaheim Investigator obtained in a California Public Records Act request filed back in March show they have received $24,510 from them since 2008. Multiple invoices submitted by this law firm have scribbled notations and markings which make it clear they are funded out of the police budget, not the city’s general fund. Whereas we don’t feel Gennaco’s law firm is as deeply compromised by this relationship as OC Human Relations is, the fact an “oversight body” is accepting money from a law enforcement agency it oversees is problematic.
In conclusion, the June 18th vote was a pivotal moment in the so-called “debate” that has been taking place in Anaheim over the creation of a police oversight committee. After months of foot-dragging, city officials finally decided to outsource it to OIR, already a paid contractor for the Anaheim Police Department. This makes a mockery of their claim of wanting “independent” police oversight. That Kerry Condon, president of the Anaheim Police Association, has repeatedly made statements expressing unwavering support for this type of “oversight body” shows how weak it really is.
And if the Anaheim Investigator is correct in its analysis, any “citizen review commission” created now will be as phony as a three dollar bill. But we doubt such a “commission” will ever come into existence. We suspect that when this matter comes back to council, there will be a round of political kabuki theater: Kris Murray, along with her colleagues, will point out we don’t need one because we have OIR; and Tait, although he’ll argue in favor of it, will be on the “losing” side. Although most people that night will only see a lopsided 4-1 vote against it, few will understand that on June 18th, in a 5-0 vote, both Murray and Tait voted to kill it, by backing OIR.
[Below are electronic reproductions of some of the documents referred to in this article. Click on them to enlarge.]
Gennaco to Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes, Wednesday, January 30, 2013 (1 of 2)
Gennaco to Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes, Wednesday, January 30, 2013 (2 of 2)
Gennaco to Anaheim City Attorney Talley, August 16, 2009 (1 of 2)
Gennaco to Anaheim City Attorney Talley, August 16, 2009 (2 of 2)
Gennaco to then-Interim Anaheim City Attorney Houston, April 24, 2013 (1 of 1)
OIR Group agreement with Anaheim, August 25, 2009, Page 1 (1 of 3)
OIR Group agreement with Anaheim, August 25, 2009, Page 6 (2 of 3)
OIR Group agreement with Anaheim, August 25, 2009, Page 7 (3 of 3)