Community outraged at OUSD police chief pick

August 24, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Tuesday night in Oakland, the school board started back peddling. After promoting an officer who was involved in a fatal shooting, the board is now reconsidering. It was a change of heart that came after a pressure-filled meeting.

"In the course of last week, Officer Bhatt has been promoted to interim chief of school police!" said activist Jeremy Miller.

That promotion of an Oakland Unified School police officer ignited a firestorm of disapproval.

School officials say, last January, Sgt. Barhin Bhatt shot 20-year-old Raheim Brown seven times and killed him while Brown was sitting in a parked car threatening the officer with a screwdriver.

"They have been exonerated in our eyes for their actions and the legal process will determine if their needs to be some other remediation to the family," said Oakland Unified School District spokesperson Troy Flynt.

Brown's mother, Lori Davis, is filing a lawsuit against the school district.

"What does that say about all of you who made this decision? You don't care," said Davis.

Last week, Sgt. Bhatt was promoted after Chief Pete Sarna abruptly retired. An officer complained that Sarna made racist remarks during a police event. Bhatt became the new interim chief.

"For something that seems politically stupid frankly to do... I mean, why would you do that? Why would you enrage, unless you're deliberately trying to provoke a community?" said teacher Craig Gordon.

Even Cephus Johnson, the uncle of BART shooting victim Oscar Grant, spoke.

"We're looking for an opportunity to bridge the gap between the community and the police officers and this is not the way to do it," said Johnson.

"When the chief resigned, you know you have to move up somebody, and it was the natural order of progression that you move up the highest ranking officer," said school board member Alice Spearman.

"And then to have this chief, this acting chief be a shooter, what a role model for our young people," said Anne Weilles from the group Justice For Oscar Grant.

The message was received loud and clear. Now school board members are hoping to replace the interim police chief with a new interim police chief in about a week.

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