Oakland Police Department’s Sexual Abuse Scandal That You Forgot About
In a scandal mired in alleged murder, prostitution, and statutory rape, why was no one held accountable?
In September of 2015, an Oakland police officer by the name of Brendan O’Brien commit suicide. The note he left behind would unravel a sexual abuse scandal involving prostitution and statutory rape of a teenager with allegedly more than a dozen police officers culpable. In the note, O’Brien admit that he and several other officers had been engaging in a sexual relationship with a young female sex worker and his suicide was spurred in part by his fears that she would expose him.
But arguably the tale of corruption surrounding O’Brien and the Oakland police department began a little over a year earlier in June of 2014 when O’Brien’s wife, Irma Huerta Lopez, was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in their apartment. And although two bullets had been fired from O’Brien’s off-duty Glock 45 caliber pistol (one lodged in the wall of the apartment), the department ruled her death a suicide.
To this day, it is unclear whether either Huerta Lopez’s or O’Brien’s hands were tested for gunshot residue. Despite requests, Huerta Lopez’s family was not provided an autopsy report or her property, including her cell phone which she was carrying at the time of her death. Huerta Lopez’s sister believes that O’Brien killed his wife and that the Oakland police department neglected to conduct a thorough investigation, instead downplaying it as an open and shut case of suicide. The investigating officers were Sergeants Caesar Basa and Randy Brandwood both of whom still serve as law enforcement officers. Randy Brandwood was also involved in the shooting death of 15-year-old Jose Luis Buenrostro in 2008, for which the city of Oakland paid half a million dollars to Buenrostro’s parents to settle a civil rights lawsuit regarding the death of their son.
Sergeant Mike Gantt of the Oakland police department was originally assigned to investigate Huerta Lopez’s death but was removed as the homicide investigator and replaced with an inexperienced investigator when it became clear that he suspected O’Brien of killing his wife. Gantt also claims that Caesar Basa and a Lieutenant John Lois participated in a “campaign of harassment” against him following the investigation. Gantt went on to file a claim against the city revealing allegations of racism and retaliation.
— Mike Gantt
As you can see, the levels of corruption within the Oakland police department are like an onion — just as you peel back one layer, you find many more.
Jasmine Asbulin, the young woman identified in O’Brien’s suicide note, alleged that she had sex with more than a dozen police officers from several Bay Area departments, with a number of the encounters dating back to 2014 when she was underage. She also alleged that officers provided her information about sting operations in exchange for sex. Asbulin is the daughter of an Oakland police department dispatcher.
Gantt claims that the allegations of sexual misconduct revealed in O’Brien’s suicide note went largely ignored by Oakland police leadership until court-appointed monitor, Robert Warshaw, forced their hand by demanding an investigation. A series of investigations regarding this misconduct then began in the summer of 2016. As the investigation continued, numerous police officers throughout multiple East Bay police departments were identified as having engaged in misconduct:
Ryan Walterhouse was charged with one misdemeanor count of engaging in an act of prostitution and two felony counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice for allegedly meeting with a prostitute at a Castro Valley motel and paying her $200 and for tipping off a prostitute to an undercover sting operation. All charges were dropped and he hopes to resume his career in law enforcement one day.
Giovanni LoVerde was charged with felony oral copulation with a minor for allegedly having then 17-year-old Asbulin perform oral sex on him in the entranceway of an apartment building near Lake Merritt. The charge was dropped and he is still an officer with the Oakland police department.
Daniel Black was charged with two misdemeanor counts of performing lewd conduct, two misdemeanor counts of engaging in prostitution, and one misdemeanor count of supplying alcohol to a person under 21 years of age for allegedly having sex with Asbulin in his motor home and giving her alcohol. In exchange for pleading no contest to one count of performing lewd conduct, all other charges were dismissed and his conviction was expunged after 15 months. He voluntarily retired from the Livermore Police Department.
Terryl Smith was charged with five misdemeanor counts of unauthorized furnishing of a local criminal record for unlawfully accessing law enforcement databases to supply information to Asbulin about her criminal record. Evidence also suggests that Smith had sexual contact with a human trafficking victim for which no charges were filed. He entered into a plea deal which resulted in no conviction and the case was dismissed after 18 months. He resigned in May of 2016 during the internal affairs investigation.
James Ta’ai, Warit “Todd” Uttapa, and Luis Roman were not formally charged with any crimes though they were found to have exchanged sexually explicit text messages with Asbulin. Asbulin alleged in interviews conducted as part of an internal affairs investigation that she had sex with Ta’ai and Uttapa. Ta’ai admitted to having sex with Asbulin but stated that he did not know she was underaged. Uttapa potentially faced a misdemeanor charge of conducting an unauthorized search of a criminal justice database but charges were never filed. Ta’ai was placed on administrative leave and he voluntarily resigned. Uttapa and Roman were allowed to keep their jobs with the Oakland police department.
Ricardo Perez was charged with one felony count of oral copulation with a minor and two misdemeanor counts of engaging in lewd conduct for allegedly having sex with Asbulin six times in a car. The case was dismissed and Perez is no longer a police officer.
Brian Bunton was charged with one felony count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one misdemeanor count of engaging in prostitution for allegedly meeting with Asbulin in a hotel room to receive oral sex and texting her information about an undercover sting operation. All charges were dismissed and Bunton resigned.
Al Perrodin was charged with one misdemeanor count of soliciting a prostitute for allegedly paying Asbulin for sex at a hotel in Richmond. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to two years probation and five days in jail but was allowed to fulfill his jail sentence with “court watch” which means he was allowed serve his jail time by sitting in a court audience to watch proceedings. He was also fined $1200 and ordered to take a first offender prostitution program. Perrodin was a retired police captain at the time of his alleged crimes.
Leroy Johnson was charged with one misdemeanor count of failure to report child abuse for allegedly knowing about police officers having sex with Asbulin while she was underage and failing to report it as part of his duty as a state-mandated reporter. He entered into a plea deal and was sentenced to three years of court probation and ordered to pay a fine of $240 and another payment of $150 to a restitution fund.
Sean Whent who was serving as Police Chief at the time resigned in the wake of the scandal citing personal reasons. Robert Warshaw claims that Whent and his wife knew of Asbulin’s relationship with O’Brien as far back as June of 2015 but did not take any action.
Not one single person spent one single day in jail for serious crimes involving the sexual abuse of a minor. If there’s anything more unbelievable than the story itself, it’s the blatant lack of justice and accountability that came out of the investigation and subsequent criminal proceedings. It’s also abundantly clear that the police can’t be depended on to be the paragon of lawfulness or to conduct their own internal investigations when that lawfulness falls short.
Officer Mildred Oliver was assigned as one of several internal affairs investigators for this sexual misconduct case. In February of 2019, she filed a lawsuit accusing Oakland police officials, specifically John Lois, Alan Yu, and Donna Hoppenhauer, of failing to expand the investigation at Oliver’s urging. Oliver also claims that the department retaliated against her by removing her from the case due to her insistence in expanding the investigation. The retaliation against Oliver parallels that against Mike Gantt.
Corruption is a rot slowly eating away at any semblance of justice within the ranks of law enforcement from the rookies fresh out of the academy walking the beat all the way up to the police chief himself. If Brendan O’Brien hadn’t left his suicide note or if Robert Warshaw had not insisted on an investigation, it’s highly unlikely that these crimes would have been exposed — and once you realize that, it’s frightening to wonder how many other crimes are being committed by law enforcement officers, only to be neglected and swept under the rug before they make news headlines.
— Federal Judge Thelton Henderson
Amidst recent growing calls to defund the police, Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf seems to be of the opinion that such measures are not necessary. She seems to conveniently forget that she is partly culpable for the immense failures of her police department, including this very sexual misconduct case. Schaaf wants more police reforms, but attempting to reform a body rotting with corruption are more empty calls for civility that allow the Oakland police department to conduct themselves as criminals while being allocated 44% of the city’s budget. She is another official who was fine ignoring blatant injustices until the momentum of current day events forced her hand.
If you interviewed a hundred random citizens of Oakland who lived in the city during the height of this scandal, I would wager that a large majority probably couldn’t identify any officers who were involved in the scandal by name. They probably couldn’t tell you what, if any actual consequences were issued for what was clearly a crime — a crime which warranted a settlement of $989,000 on the taxpayer’s dime. They probably couldn’t tell you that some of the officers identified as part of the scandal are still serving as law enforcement officers today.
Throughout the past few years, it has been near impossible to focus our collective outrage on any one issue for too long. When dozens of new examples of the very fabric of our oligarchy-thinly-disguised-as-a-democracy being threatened are bombarded to us in news headlines every month, it’s no surprise why this was neatly swept under the rug and forgotten about. As crass as this is to say, we just forgot. They stalled the trials and hushed the journalists just long enough for the dismissal of these crimes to go by unnoticed while we raged at the endless other abuses we were subjected to throughout the past few years.
But now that the idea of defunding the police is up for debate, we should take the time to contemplate all their forgotten crimes.