Spanking the disciplinarian: A civil settlement is about to come down between the city of Oakland and the plaintiffs in the “Riders” case, and people familiar with the class-action lawsuit say it’s gonna be mighty expensive for the city.
Due to a court-imposed gag order — set to be lifted February 19 — lawyers weren’t talking specifics. But inside sources say the settlement will award as much as $20 million to the plaintiffs — who claim they were discriminated against and physically abused by a group of four Oakland officers during the late ’90s — and will also compel the police department’s Internal Affairs unit to undergo a substantial overhaul.
Internal Affairs reforms might include better databases, early warning systems to track problem officers, interventions, and retraining, says Rashidah Grinage, a member of People United for a Better Oakland, or PUEBLO. Reforming Internal Affairs could cost the city additional millions over the next three to five years. That cost, sources say, would almost certainly include paying for a court-appointed monitoring team to oversee the new order. Unlike the cost of damages paid to plaintiffs and their lawyers, the bill for court-ordered police reforms would not be covered by the city’s insurance carrier, says Randolph Hall, a lawyer with the city attorney’s office.
Still, by negotiating a settlement, Oakland may get off smelling relatively rosy. Lawyers say a negotiated deal would distinguish Oakland from cities such as Los Angeles and Cincinnati, where the federal government imposed consent decrees to force reforms of rough-and-tumble cop shops. “If Oakland were to agree to a consent decree,” says plaintiff’s attorney Jim Chanin, “it would speak higher of them in some respects than, say, of LA, which had to have it rammed down their throats.” — Brandon Sprague
The dangers of being Frank: Although controversial Berkeley artiste Frank Moore likes to think of his work as dangerous, the cops rarely have to break up his act. But a couple of weeks ago Oakland police officers escorted Moore and his entourage out of the World Ground cafe in the Laurel District.
As Moore tells the tale, Alison “Chokwadi” Fletcher, organizer of the cafe’s “Poetry Diversified” series, “freaked out into irrationality” after reading a recent Express cover profile of Moore (“Touching Our Private Parts,” January 29) and pulled the plug on his previously scheduled poetry reading at the last moment. The cover story featured a photo of Moore in his wheelchair next to a painted, naked woman, and detailed his fondness for nude “erotic play” in his performance pieces. A few days before the reading, Fletcher asked the artist via e-mail if he planned “to do any of the erotic stuff or just poetry or what?” “My firm policy is to never reveal what I’ll do beforehand,” he wrote back (due to severe cerebral palsy, Moore cannot speak without an interpreter). “But most places do ask me back!” That was apparently too coy for comfort, and so Fletcher canceled his reading, although she planned to still host an open mic. “World Ground has many patrons, from small children to senior citizens,” she explained in another missive to Moore, “and I cannot risk having a show that would offend any of these people.”
When Fletcher arrived, she was surprised to find Moore and his posse already present. “What are you doing here?” she recalls asking. “I canceled you. I need you to leave.” Instead of leaving, a couple members of Moore’s entourage began reading poetry and, Fletcher says, one began yelling at the host, calling her “retarded” and accusing her of censorship. “They were basically attacking me,” she says. Fletcher then asked cafe owners Martha and Uffe Gustafsson for backup, and passions escalated further. Moore says Uffe “basically attacked” one of his female cohorts (the one doing most of the yelling) and pulled her outside, only to have her come back in crying, “He hurt me!” Uffe denies hurting the woman. According to Martha, irritated customers suggested calling the cops to break up the fracas. After the cops arrived, Moore took his impromptu reading to the sidewalk and the evening concluded without any arrests.
Moore later sent out a group e-mail titled “CENSORED,” blasting Fletcher and the cafe’s owners for overreacting. Fletcher, who first saw Moore do his poetry last year at the Art & Soul Festival in Oakland, says she intended only to make sure he wasn’t planning anything inappropriate (like getting naked), not censor him. “It’s a coffeehouse, it’s not a theater,” she says.
Martha Gustafsson says her cafe, which hosts many spoken word events, has a rule that artists need to disclose whether they’re going to do anything explicit beforehand so she can warn customers. “They didn’t respect the rules of the establishment,” she says.
The thing is, Moore says, he wasn’t planning on any nudity, and Fletcher should have realized that, since he didn’t get kinky at the earlier poetry reading she saw. “How ironic,” e-mails the artist. “After all I have done, this straight nudity-less poetry reading is the closest I have gotten to being busted.”
In another episode earlier this month, Moore’s series of twice-monthly performances through UC Berkeley’s art department was unexpectedly canceled after just one show (eight were scheduled through May). Art department manager Judith Coyote says the faculty sponsor, Katherine Sherwood, violated department policy by not attending the show, and apparently couldn’t guarantee her presence at future performances. Moore claims another reason for the series’ demise. According to him, an art department heavy also read the Express story and put the kibosh on future performances. Apparently, some people can’t handle the truth. — Will Harper
Que pasa?: Robert Cooper isn’t exactly the most popular guy in town. As the executive director of the nonprofit West Oakland Health Council, which runs an archipelago of low-income health clinics from South Berkeley to International Boulevard, he’s done a lot to dole out twelve-step programs and asthma inhalers to the East Bay’s poor. But in the past year, it’s seemed like everyone is itching to kick him to the curb.
First his own health-care workers mounted a series of angry walkouts last spring, arguing that as long as he’s paying himself $191,486 (almost twice the annual salary of his counterparts at health-care clinics around the Bay Area, and about $87,000 more than Mayor Jerry Brown makes), he could boost their pay a little. Then the Alameda County Board of Supes, which gives the clinic millions in contracts every year, started hearing that Cooper has consistently failed to hire Spanish-speaking staff, and that Latino immigrant clients were being told to hoof it on over to Fruitvale clinics faster than you could say “poverty pimp.” Now comes word that Margaret Gordon, a longtime West Oakland health worker, has sued Cooper for allegedly rigging an election to keep himself in power at the organization.
According to the lawsuit, which Gordon filed on February 6, Cooper and a bevy of unnamed defendants conspired to manipulate the election of the Health Council’s board of directors, including handing ballots to ineligible voters and keeping ballots from clients who had a right to vote. But the most colorful detail has be Gordon’s claim that somebody may have tried to add Martha Wilkerson-Walker on the ballot as a candidate for the board after she was already dead.
Gordon couldn’t be reached for comment, and Cooper did not respond to our phone calls. We’re not the only ones Cooper is ignoring, however: Supervisor Keith Carson says Cooper’s been blowing off the county’s repeated requests to hire Spanish-speaking staffers. “We’ve been holding back county money in order to force the board to tackle the bilingual issues,” Carson says. “He’s been apprised that those dollars would flow again if he took those steps. But he feels that as long as he’s in compliance with what it takes to get federal and state dollars, he’s chosen not to be more aggressive in providing health care.”
That’s about as close to a condemnation as you’ll ever get from Carson, so Cooper must really be wearing out his welcome. — Chris Thompson