OAKLAND -- A recent City Administrator's decision to lessen the punishment meted out to a police officer has drawn the ire of a federal judge with sweeping power over Oakland's police department.

In a two-page order Tuesday evening, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson wrote that a former administrator, who sources identified as Fred Blackwell, violated a previous court order by imposing "a different level of discipline" without consulting the department's court-appointed federal monitor, Robert Warshaw.

Henderson did not discipline the city over the incident but warned that further violations would "undermine any confidence in the sustainability of the reforms that have been and continued to be achieved."

Thelton Henderson, 2012. (Karl Mondon/Staff)
Thelton Henderson, 2012. (Karl Mondon/Staff)

Oakland has surrendered substantial control over its police department to the federal judiciary after failing to implement a series of reforms aimed at helping the department police itself. The court-mandated reforms stem from the 1999 Riders police brutality scandal.

Sources said that Henderson is referring to a 2013 arrest involving Capt. Ersie Joyner, in which the officer delivered two blows to Dantjuan McElroy after the suspect had not been subdued by a Taser jolt delivered by another officer. McElroy, who was on parole at the time of the incident, was charged with possession of an assault weapon and battery on a police officer.


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Joyner was originally to be demoted a rank, but sources said that police brass reduced the punishment to a 10-day suspension after both an appeals board hearing officer and a city-hired investigator determined that Joyner had not acted improperly.

Sources said that Blackwell further reduced the punishment to participation in a counseling program after being told that the suspension had little chance to be upheld on appeal.

Blackwell did not return a phone call Tuesday evening.

John Burris, an attorney who represented victims in the Riders case, praised Henderson's order, saying that Oakland police have struggled to discipline officers in a consistent manner. "It's good that the judge is watching it closely," he said. "Hopefully it will have a deterrent effect."

Burris is currently suing the city in connection with Joyner's 2011 fatal shooting of John Sloan following a police stop.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.