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Due to alleged procedure flaws, Oakland reinstates officers fired over Jonathan Pawlik shooting

Five Oakland police officers who were fired last year for their roles in the fatal shooting of a homeless man in Oakland in 2018 have been reinstated because the Oakland Police Commission violated open meeting laws, the officers’ lawyers said.

The Police Commission voted to fire officers William Berger, Brandon Hraiz, Craig Tanaka, Josef Phillips and Francisco Negrete for the fatal shooting of 32-year-old Jonathan Pawlik in the 900 block of 40th Street at about 7 p.m. on March 11, 2018, ruling that they acted improperly.

But attorneys for the five officers said the Police Commission’s Discipline Committee acknowledged this week that the commission violated the state’s Ralph M. Brown open meeting law and has reinstated the officers pending a new hearing.

Oakland Police
Christopher Paulin/Flickr Five Oakland, Calif. police officers fired for their roles in the March 2018 fatal shooting of Jonathan Pawlik, 32, have been reinstated pending a new hearing due to what attorneys allege were gross procedural errors made by the Oakland Police Commission. (Christopher Paulin/Flickr)

Mike Rains, the lead administrative counsel for the officers, said in a statement that he is insisting that the Police Commission start the entire process over again given what he described as incurable flaws in its procedures.

Harry Stern, another attorney for the lawyers, said:

“Not surprisingly, the mad dash to fire officers turned out to be completely illegal. Ironically, the group continuously parroting the word ‘transparency’ violated the Brown Act, California’s vulnerable open meeting law.”

Stern said:

“We look forward to finally getting an opportunity to reveal to the commission and the public the myriad errors in this decision.”

Rains said:

“By upholding the terminations based on these facts and this record, the credibility of this recently-convened committee has evaporated.”

He said:

“These compounding series of mistakes clearly show both their misunderstandings of basic due process rights and the hasty manner in which the firings were handled.”

The Oakland City Council recently voted in closed session to approve a tentative settlement calling for the city to pay $1.4 million in damages to the family of Pawlik, who grew up in Virginia and had a history of mental health problems.

The City Council is expected to give final approval to the settlement at one of its meetings in May.

Nik Wojcik/SFBay Civil rights attorney John Burris speaks out from the steps in front of Oakland City Hall in Oakland, Calif. to support of Assembly Bill 392, police use-of-force legislation signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in August 2019.

Oakland attorney John Burris, who filed the wrongful death suit on behalf of Pawlik’s family, said Tuesday that he believes the fatal shooting of Pawlik was “particularly egregious” because he doesn’t believe that Pawlik pointed a gun at officers or threatened them in any way.

Burris said Pawlik had been sleeping on the ground and when officers, who were behind a large military vehicle, woke up Pawlik, he sat up part way but officers opened fire on him before he had a chance to respond.

But Stern said in a recent interview that the officers shot Pawlik because he had the gun in his hands and was pointing it at them.

A spokeswoman for the Oakland City Attorney’s Office didn’t immediately respond to a request for a comment on the ruling to reinstate the officers.

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