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Jeralynn Blueford addresses the Oakland, Calif., City Council on Tuesday evening, Oct 2, 2012, seeking information about the death of her son Alan Blueford, an 18-year-old shot to death in May by Oakland police Officer Miguel Masso. Many of a large group that marched to City Hall supporting the family were denied access to the council meeting. Last month's meeting was adjourned by a boisterous crowd of Blueford family supporters. (Karl Mondon/Staff)

OAKLAND -- Oakland police sometimes shoot people who are not imminent threats to officers' safety and internal affairs detectives who investigate are "predisposed" to determine such shootings are always justified, according to a scathing report written for a federal judge.

In some cases, people were shot in the back, the findings of police monitor Robert Warshaw state. No details of those shootings were given.

The report says Oakland "officers are too ready to use deadly force and if they do, clearly expect they will not be disciplined in any meaningful way," said Sam Walker, a University of Nebraska use of force expert who read the document Wednesday. "This is incredibly serious."

"People die," Warshaw wrote. "Nothing will shake the community's confidence in its police department more than the perception that (the Oakland Police Department) cannot police itself in matters of life and death."

Warshaw's report was released days before civil rights lawyers in the decade-old Riders police corruption case are scheduled to file a motion asking U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson to put some police functions -- including use of force investigations -- under control of the U.S. Department of Justice. The report puts more pressure on Henderson to act, Walker said.

Warshaw reviewed unnamed nine use of force incidents including two fatal shootings and a third that resulted in critical injuries.

His review is not believed to have included the May 6 police shooting of 18-year-old Alan Blueford, whose family has rallied over 100 people to recent council meetings and accused police of releasing false information about the shooting. That case remains under investigation.

Not all shootings "warrant closer scrutiny" but others "are not clearly justified," Warshaw wrote. "We do not believe the evidence supports the existence of an imminent threat at the time the trigger is pulled," including "cases in which a subject is shot in the back."

Included in the findings:

  • Investigating officers often insert boilerplate language into shooting reports "to provide justification for missing details.'

  • The scenes of shootings are often not tightly controlled; in one case as many as 80 people entered the area, causing the possible loss of evidence.

  • Shooting reports all begin with 'a detailed history of the (victim's) criminal record ... reinforcing that a 'bad guy' was involved and that should be taken into account."

  • Internal affairs investigators sometimes don't ask difficult questions and fail to find "actual justification" for use of force.

    Police Chief Howard Jordan declined to discuss the findings Wednesday. Mayor Jean Quan declined to be interviewed, and Administrator Deanna Santana didn't return messages.

    Police union president Barry Donelan ripped the report Wednesday, saying it "completely neglects the environment in which the incidents took place. Police are struggling everyday to protect the citizens of Oakland against criminals who are heavily armed and aren't afraid to use their weapons."

    District Attorney Nancy O'Malley, Alameda County's top law enforcement official, was not available to read the report Wednesday or comment on it, spokeswoman Teresa Drenick said. O'Malley's office, which also investigates all officer-involved shootings, is not mentioned the report.

    Drenick released reports Wednesday on 10 Oakland police killings since 2010 that the District Attorney reviewed and for which she did not file criminal charges. It was not clear if any of those shootings were among those Warshaw studied.

    Henderson, who ordered Warshaw's report earlier this year, has scheduled a hearing in December where he could decide to put the justice department in charge of Oakland Police, an unprecedented move.

    Riders case lawyers James Chanin and John Burris each said Wednesday that Warshaw's findings further justify the federal intervention they are seeking.

    "The taking of a life by a (police officer) is the most critical thing (police) can do. Even the governor of the state can't shoot anyone," Chanin said.

    "These cases have to be fairly investigated so it can be determined that the officer didn't have a choice. That isn't happening in Oakland," he said. "As long as they kill someone, they owe it to the public to have a transparent process and (Warshaw) has concluded that isn't happening. And that's just as bad as it could be."

    Once local advocate for judicial reform said Oakland's failures to deal with police reforms seems to give Henderson no choice.

    "Oakland has made no progress," said Dan Macallair, director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. "It's embarrassing. It goes right to top of city leadership.

    "If you've got a culture that's so entrenched and able to block any efforts to reform it, it's going to require more drastic measures."

    Warshaw wrote that one senior officer told him that if a criminal suspect is seen to have a gun, it might be impossible for that person "to surrender without being shot, given that his every action would be considered a furtive move."