The top brass have been facing tough questions about recruiting standards and training for new officers since a rookie cop shot and killed an unarmed man. The I-Team has uncovered new complaints about who is being let into the Oakland Police Academy and whether they're the best candidates for the job.
There is intense competition to get into the Oakland Police Academy. Hundreds of people vie for each spot. After all, new officers earn between $69,000 and $87,000 a year with great benefits and five weeks of paid vacation and holidays.
The latest recruits, graduating last Friday, got a warm welcome from Oakland Police Chief Wayne Tucker.
"A job in law enforcement, or a career in law enforcement, is really sort of a family affair," said Chief Tucker.
The question now is, did family connections get one recruit, 28-year-old Scott Valladon, into the police academy and keep him from being kicked out? Is there a better candidate among the 1,600 who applied for the current class?
The supervising deputy city attorney has concerns. In e-mails obtained by the I-Team, Vicki Laden writes, "unless OPD is taking all warm-blooded candidates, I can't figure out why they'd take Valladon." She cites his "spotty job history combined with poor school record ... past misdemeanors ... inconclusive lie detector test ... psych history" ... and the "investigator who interviewed references may have been a friend of the references."
Laden discussed her concerns with Chief Tucker.
"Well, it was brought to my attention that it was unfair influence. I take it very seriously. I asked that an outside investigation be done," said Chief Tucker.
The city attorney's office has hired an independent investigator to see whether Scott Valladon's father exerted unfair influence on behalf of his son.
Bob Valladon is president of the Oakland Police Officer's Association. In September of 1995 he said, "I don't feel that there's a code of silence in the Oakland Police Department."
He's appeared on ABC7 often during his 18 years as union chief, but not this time. Bob Valladon refused to be interviewed on camera. He told us by phone, "I had absolutely nothing to do with my son getting into the academy."
However, union vice president, Dom Arotzarena, certainly could have. Bob Valladon's close friend and colleague is in charge of all background checks and recruiting for the OPD. Arotzarena also declined to be interviewed about the Valladon case.
"This raises serious red flags," said Jakada Imani, the executive director of Bay Area Police Watch.
Imani says candidates for the academy get disqualified all the time for just a single issue. He wonders why Scott Valladon is still there, with the many concerns described in the internal e-mails.
"How did this young man get into the academy? Is he actually fit to serve? Who's making these judgment calls? Are they friends of his father's? All these things are fair questions," said Imani.
But the most serious issue of all appears in a letter from the Oakland city physician who says, "it is my medical opinion that Scott Valladon will not be able to perform the essential job functions as a police officer due to an unacceptably high risk for recurrent seizures." The doctor puts Valladon's risk of seizures at 7 percent for the next 12 months and 14 percent in the next 24 months. He warns, "even a seizure during routine questioning of a suspect can turn into a critical situation if it causes an officer to lose control of his or her weapon."
"I think if that were true, then we would say that's too great a risk for us to accept. If that were true," said Chief Tucker.
Chief Tucker tells us other doctors have weighed in, saying Scott Valladon does not have a risk of seizures.
Former San Francisco Police Chief Tony Ribera was careful not to comment directly on Valladon's case, but he says police departments have to make good decisions.
"You don't want somebody that has significant health problems," said Ribera.
A new recruit costs $250,000 in his or her first year, with all the background checks and training.
"For that investment, you hope you get 30 years of good productive police work, and if you take shortcuts and hire people that have problems, you're not going to get much for your investment and you may create significant liabilities for your organization," said Ribera.
Chief Tucker tells the I-Team all this will be worked out in the weeks to come, including the question of whether family connections played a role.
"I would want the public to know that the department takes these assertions or allegations very seriously. If in fact we have made a mistake, we will correct the mistake. We will correct it both administratively and correct it as a personnel decision," said Chief Tucker.
With Oakland's violent summer dragging on, and with calls for more police officers on the street, people will be watching.
"This is life or death stuff we're talking here and so it's not a small matter. It has to be dealt with 100 percent seriously, 100 percent above board, 100 percent fairly and impartially. We have to have one set of standards because we're talking about people's lives," said Imani.
A final note on the city attorney's mention of Scott Valladon's misdemeanors. Court records show he was convicted of petty larceny 10 years ago for stealing $900 worth of CDs and PlayStation games from his job at a music store. Chief Tucker says a mistake in someone's past does not always disqualify them for the police academy.