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March 18, 2008


Alex Katz, Communications Director, Oakland City Attorney's Office


I understand this is supposed to be funny or snarky or something. But what happened to reporting the truth? Your version of events is totally inaccurate.

Here's what actually happened: two Oakland cops went to Smith's house to follow a legit lead. One officer knocked on (not "burst into") the front door, the other went around back and found Smith hiding the assault weapon under his back stairs. They arrested him and got an extremely dangerous weapon off the street.

The jury may have bought Burris' conspiracy theory, although calling it an actual "theory" probably gives it too much credit. That doesn't mean journalists have to repeat it as fact.

These officers have numerous commendations for valor, for solving homicides, for Officer of the Year, for Investigator of the year, etc. It's not even remotely funny or accurate to label them as "corrupt." It's just insult to injury.

The City Attorney's Office will continue to pursue all legal avenues in this case.

Brian McDonough

Alex — I edited this item after Matt filed it, both trimming for length and introducing the word "burst" into the copy. Looking over the court document at the above .pdf link, which cites the facts as found by a jury, I see this:

"Plaintiff presented evidence that Mr. Smith was naked in bed when the police entered the house from both the front and back doors with weapons drawn. The officers forced Mr. Smith at gunpoint into a prone position on the bed and handcuffed him. The officers did not tell Mr. Smith why they were there and simply interrogated Mr. Smith ..."

And the plaintiffs prevailed with the jury. So, I don’t know, the cops may have knocked, but it doesn’t sound like they politely waited for anyone to open the doors. Both of them. I don’t care how softly you tiptoe into my home, if you’re coming through all entrances with guns drawn, I’m calling that “burst.” Your mileage may vary.

On the issue of whether the cops engaged in nefarious activities, we only have the jury finding, which is that the officers framed Smith:

"Here, the jury rendered a verdict that Defendant Officers violated Mr. Smith’s Fourth Amendment rights and falsely arrested him, and necessarily found that they planted the gun on Mr. Smith which led to his prosecution. The jury also found sufficiently opprobrious conduct to warrant punitive damages against Defendants. The jury thus necessarily found that Defendant Officers acted maliciously and with reckless disregard of Mr. Smith’s rights."

Matt's last paragraph addresses “corrupt cops” everywhere, suggesting — snarkily, as you note — that Judge Chen’s reasoning in reducing the award defines a range of liability for actions such as the jury found the Oakland officers committed. Matt’s post is completely in line with the record, but I’m glad you posted your take — it lets readers see both sides of the issue better than one short and "snarky or something" blog post can manage.

Scott Graham (Cal Law Editor)

As Brian mentions, we included a link to the trial court's order so readers can see the judge's take on the trial as well as our own. This paragraph seems salient: "To be sure, Defendant Officers vehemently denied planting the gun on Mr. Smith. At trial, there was significant evidence supporting Defendants' case -- e.g. the seeming unlikelihood that the officers would choose to plant a semi-automatic rifle on Mr. Smith rather than, e.g., a handgun or contraband if their intent was to frame him, inconsistencies in Plaintiffs' testimonies, the fact that the officers did not know Mr. Smith and had no reason in advance to frame him, and the fact that the officers did call for a technician while they were on the scene to process the gun, a step that seemed unlikely if they planted the gun. But, ultimately, the jury found Plaintiffs' version of events more plausible than Defendants' and rendered a verdict in favor of Plaintiffs on all claims."


Alex Katz,

Could you please explain how planting an assault rifle helps to "get it off the streets"?

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