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Oakland Police Beat - Oakland Spent $74 Million Settling 417 Police Brutality Lawsuits

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An Occupy Oakland protester is arrested in the early morning hours of Thurs, November 3, 2011 in Frank Ogawa Plaza. Lawsuits alleging excessive force by OPD officers during the demonstrations have cost the city more than $6 million in settlements. Photo by Elijah Nouvelage.

A Catholic priest who said an officer put him in a chokehold and slammed his head into a glass door. A woman who said she shouldn’t have been handcuffed when officers arrested her.

A father who claimed officers beat him in the hallway outside of his child’s hospital room until his head was bloody. A bank robber who was shot by officers after a high-speed chase. A man whose head was slammed into something so hard that the bones in his face broke.

In each situation the Oakland Police Department was sued. And in each one, the City of Oakland chose to settle out of court rather than take the case to trial.

A review of Oakland City Attorney lawsuit data and hundreds of federal and state court cases has found that since 1990, Oakland and private insurance carriers have spent $74 million dollars to settle at least 417 lawsuits accusing its police officers of brutality, misconduct and other civil rights violations.

Oakland spends more on civil-rights police lawsuits than nearly any other California law enforcement agency, with multimillion-dollar settlements coming directly out of funds that could go to libraries, police and fire services or road repair.

Supporters of the Oakland Police Department say that high number is a reflection of the city’s willingness to settle at any cost. But Oakland Police Beat’s analysis found that the City of Oakland has successfully defended itself against many lawsuits it considers to be unfounded.

Our investigation found that more than 500 officers were named in those lawsuits. At least 72 of those officers were named in three or more of the suits. Settlement amounts per lawsuits range from $100 to the nearly $11 million paid out following the so-called Riders scandal, where more than 100 plaintiffs accused officers of beating, kidnapping and planting evidence on suspects.

Historically, the number of OPD-related lawsuits filed against the city varies from year to year. But over the last three years the number of cases settled dropped, leaving some — like Oakland civil rights attorney Jim Chanin — cautiously hopeful that long-sought-after reforms are beginning to impact the Oakland Police Department.