A federal jury found that former Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick was wrongfully terminated for flagging what she thought was corruption in the police civilian oversight commission, the verdict reached more than two years after she was fired.
Thursday’s verdict arrived a week and a half after the start of the trial as reported by the Mercury News. Kirkpatrick was awarded $337,635 according to court records, which equals one year of severance pay that she would have received if she had not filed her lawsuit.
In a statement, Kirkpatrick’s attorney James Slaughter said, “Chief Anne Kirkpatrick has been vindicated. She said all along that she was retaliated against for blowing the whistle on misconduct and a federal jury agreed.”
Kirkpatrick claimed she was fired in retaliation for calling attention to illegal activities taken up by the commission’s members, including interfering with the day-to-day operations on the police force, abusing and harassing police staff and seeking access to confidential documents.
The former police chief filed her lawsuit in August 2020 after the civilian commission and Mayor Libby Schaaf fired her without cause. In her federal lawsuit, Kirkpatrick said she was fired for not honoring a commission member’s request to be reimbursed for towing fees.
Oakland had faced a more costly verdict if the jury found that Kirkpatrick was wrongfully terminated and was entitled to damages for lost pay, benefits and other earnings from the time she was fired through the end of her contract, which covered a two-year period.
Kirkpatrick was first hired in 2017, just months after former Chief Sean Whent resigned amid allegations that more than a dozen officers had sexually exploited a young woman. The department was also under federal oversight stemming from a 2000 class-action lawsuit alleging four veteran officers fabricated evidence, planted drugs and wantonly beat suspects.
During her trial, Kirkpatrick testified that the civilian oversight commission convinced her to take the job in Oakland, but within a few years her relationship with the civilian body grew fraught, and by 2019 she reported multiple actions taken by former commissioners that she viewed as abuse of their power. She also believed she would be fired for calling attention to their activities.
Previously, Kirkpatrick led multiple police departments in the state of Washington and in Chicago, where she led the department’s Bureau of Professional Standards, which grew out of a wider reform effort in the wake of the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014. The officer involved was convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery.
At the time of her hiring in Oakland, Kirkpatrick’s outsider status worked in her favor. She was not tangled in the city’s political power structure and therefore could help reform a troubled police department.
“I didn’t want to leave Oakland,” Kirkpatrick testified during the trial, as reported by Oaklandside. “I still want to be a police chief but I don’t know if that is going to happen. I am always going to take a stand whether I’m a chief or not. I hope it helps others to stand up.”