A teenage girl is suing Oakland and its police department for $66 million, saying she was used as a "sex slave" by police officers while supervisors looked the other way.
The resulting scandal has already led to the resignation or firing of 11 police officers and three chiefs, in addition to investigations by the city's Internal Affairs unit, the local district attorney, and federal authorities, according to The Washington Post.
The victim, who said she had been a prostitute since she was 12 years old, ran away from an abusive pimp when she was 17 years old. That's when she ran into Oakland Police Officer Brendan O’Brien, according to the lawsuit filed on Sept. 16.
But instead of helping the abused teenager, O'Brien allegedly forced her to have sex with him, then passed her along to other officers who “continued to traffic, rape, victimize and exploit a teenage girl who needed to be rescued,” the lawsuit says.
O'Brien committed suicide in September of 2015 after learning of an internal police investigation into his conduct, and left a note naming several other officers who he said also abused the girl, the Post reported.
In the fallout -- and following the resignation of the police chief and two temporary replacements who lasted a week each -- Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has assumed control of the department, and police officers now report to city administrator Sabrina Landreth.
“As the mayor of Oakland, I am here to run a police department, not a frat house,” Schaaf told the Los Angeles Times in June, when the first news of the scandal broke.
The department is infected with what is "clearly a toxic, macho culture," Schaaf said, promising to root out the officers and supervisors who participated in the sexual crimes and allowed them to happen.
The victim's attorney, A. Cabral Bonner, also blasted the department for tolerating predatory and criminal behavior.
“It’s hard to imagine a situation where this happens, where you bring in so many cops doing things of this nature and you don’t have some fundamental breakdown in the department,” Bonner said. “It’s a cultural thing.”
While the lawsuit was filed with the name of the teenager -- who is now 19 years old -- newspapers as a matter of policy don't name sexual assault victims unless they come forward voluntarily to speak about their ordeals.
It wasn't just Oakland police officers who took advantage of the girl. As the investigation widened, officers from six different law enforcement agencies were implicated. Some paid the girl for sex, and some reciprocated by tipping her off to impending prostitution stings so she wouldn't be arrested, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Police officers in Richmond, California -- a city of more than 100,000 near Oakland -- were implicated in the scandal earlier in the summer, and on Aug. 26 they used money from the California Victims Compensation Fund to send her to a rehabilitation facility in Florida, 2,500 miles away.
Officers from that department -- where four regular cops and a lieutenant were accused of abusing the girl -- sent her out of state not out of altruism or a desire to help, Bonner said, but because keeping her in Florida made her inaccessible to local investigators.
The girl was arrested three days into her stay at the rehab facility, the newspaper said, complicating matters further.
“Right in the heart of the investigation, when charges are imminent, when a witness is required, she’s sent to rehab,” Bonner told the Post. “It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to pick the place the furthest away from where she lives. Even then, it should be a facility she’s free to leave -- and then she ends up in a situation where she’s arrested.”
Pamela Price, another attorney who is representing the teenager, said the investigation is critical not only during a time of national tension between police and the public, but also in an area where young girls and women are trafficked and used as sex slaves.
“If we allow her to become victimized by law enforcement or to be used or abused or tricked," Price said, "then every child on the street that is facing the same kind of life that is trapped in a web of sexual assault and sexual abuse would know that you cannot come forward."