School district names new interim police chief


The district named Lt. James Williams, a 17-year veteran of the Oakland Housing Authority Police Department to replace acting chief Barhin Bhatt starting Tuesday.

Bhatt was appointed acting police chief on Aug. 5, when former chief Pete Sarna was placed on leave while school officials investigated allegations that he made racist remarks to two sergeants at an off-duty golf outing in July.

Sarna, 41, who previously worked for the Oakland Police Department and the California Department of Justice, resigned his post on Aug. 17 and retired from law enforcement.

In his resignation letter, Sarna admitted that he has a drinking problem and his remarks "hurt not only those who heard them but also the entire community."

On Aug. 24, activists gathered outside Oakland Unified School District headquarters to demand that Bhatts be fired as acting chief because he was involved in the fatal shooting of a suspect earlier this year.

Activist Cat Brooks said witnesses claim Bhatt and a fellow officer, Sgt. Jonathan Bellusa, made racist remarks to 20-year-old Raheim Brown shortly before Bhatt shot Brown five times in an incident on Jan. 22 outside the Joaquin Miller Community Center, where students from Skyline High School were having their winter ball.

School district police said Brown was in a stolen car and tried to stab one of the officers with a screwdriver.

School district spokesman Troy Flint said an investigation by a third party determined that there was no wrongdoing by Bhatt and Bellusa.

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