OPD’s Driving Problem: Public Records Reveal Police Have Had 100s of ‘at-fault’ Collisions Since 2016; Many Were Due to Reckless Driving and May Have Caused Serious Injury

Posted on October 8, 2019


The Oakland Police Department had over 260 at fault vehicle collisions between 2016 and the first half of 2019, according to a recent public records release. During the three and a half years covered in the public records release, at least 28 at-fault collisions involved an OPD driver acting negligently, such as driving into a controlled intersection against the right of way, or going the wrong way against traffic, among many others.



The total OPD collision reports I received from the City of Oakland. The OPD at-fault reports are on the right.

Last year, as I was looking over City Council meeting agendas, I found a particularly disturbing item—a $12 million settlement for a March 2017 collision where OPD, clearly at fault, ran a red light and hit a motorcyclist. The motorcyclist, Elliot Van Fleet, had injuries so severe his leg had to be amputated. The settlement figure seemed staggering to me, and after some research I wasn’t surprised to find that it was the single-largest settlement payout in Oakland history–1 million over the Riders case. Darwin Bond Graham, who at the time worked for the now quasi-defunct East Bay Express later contacted the Van Fleet family and delved into the details. You can read that astonishing story here.

In the months to come, however, I noticed several more vehicular collision settlements involving OPD popping up in City Council agendas [where settlement payouts over a certain dollar amount must go for approval], including:

–the 77.5K suit of Miles Rappaport, a 10 year old hit by an OPD motorcycle in January 2017 as he crossed the street on a green light in the crosswalk returning from the Women’s March with his family.

–the 180k suit of Aaron Minyard, a bicyclist hit by a police vehicle running a stop sign in January 2017.

–the 154K suit of Chana Trahan, t-boned by an OPD vehicle who ran a red light with such speed that the impact knocked Trahan’s vehicle into a parked car and forced it onto the sidewalk in September 2017.

The four OPD-caused serious collisions clustered in 2017 made me wonder how many other OPD-involved accidents had not come to light. So in May of this year, I made a public records request for all collision reports from 2016 to that time. Though I wasn’t sure what to expect when I made the request, I definitely was not prepared for the size of the document dump when the documents were finally released—well over 400 individual collision reports in a banker’s box that outweighed a healthy pitbull. Even the public records steward warned me in an official response that the release was ‘voluminous’ and the box ‘heavy’. What I thought would be a few hours at most of review became the work of weeks–sorting, reading, and analyzing the OPD collision reports.

Over 260 at-fault OPD Collisions since 2016

I counted roughly 263 collisions where the OPD was found at fault [fault as apportioned by OPD reports, always adjudicated by a separate police officer answering a call to the scene]. That’s nearly two thirds of the total responsive records I received. To be clear, though a sizeable number of collisions were serious and alarming [and I go into greater detail on those in a minute] many of the at-fault reports detail garden-variety fender benders. Some of these are nevertheless illustrative of OPD’s problem-driving, and many should probably be examined more closely than I could with such an overwhelming amount of material.


A Love Letter to Keystone PD
In the more modest reports, OPD hit stationary vehicles, sheered rear view mirrors off, hit fire hydrants, jumped curbs, smacked trees and ran over large shrubs. I counted nearly a half-dozen collisions with stationary objects within OPD’s own parking lots without really trying. Some of these seem perennial: two favorites, backing into concrete pillars at Eastmont Substation and wedging against the “yellow pole” at the exit of the off-site OPOA parking lot downtown.

Some of the accidents ranged to the darkly comedic or ironic— like when Officer Donall Rowe took a turn at 50mph and sideswiped a parked vehicle in his excited rush to respond to a sideshow that seems to have not actually occurred [18-008970]. In another case, Officer Randall Brown collided with a resident’s parked car trying to position the Bearcat, giving some insight into how difficult the vehicles are to operate safely [18-063252].

Lt. Dominique Arotzarena, one of the key figures in the Your Muslim Bakery Investigations ten years ago, was finishing up a Council Staffer police tour in a rental van when he crushed the front wheel-well of a parked police cruiser as he tried to parallel park. According to the report Arotzarena functionally disabled the cruiser, breaking its axle [19-003845]. And in two separate cases, OPD’s dash-board mounted swiveling laptops swung around and lodged in steering wheels, causing both Officers Wesley Huynh and Ronald Yang to lose control, jump the sidewalk and hit stationary objects [17-023972, 17-002577].


Twenty Eight Troubling at-fault OPD Accidents
In trying to make some kind of meaningful rubric for the hundreds of at-fault reports, I created an ad hoc category for accidents that resembled those from the lawsuits mentioned above—collisions caused by egregious driving that typical drivers could not be prepared for. In this category are things like running a controlled intersection, driving the wrong way, pulling a sudden u-turn from across multiple lanes, or leaving a presumed secured car in gear and running. These are situations where an average driver following the rules of the road could have no hope of expecting or predicting, and almost anyone would consider criminally negligent driving if done by a civilian. It’s not to say that many of the nearly 300 other accidents weren’t as potentially dangerous as these. But I singled these out as the kinds of incidents that caused grave injury to Chana Trahan and Elliot Van Fleet, Oakland residents who are today lucky to be alive.

Of the more severe 24 accidents that I pulled aside [28 when including the lawsuits mentioned above], several extreme examples stand out. Perhaps the most egregious, a near-lethal crash by Officer Jordan Wingate [18-040547]. The spectacular early morning accident was initially reported by news media—but the details of the accident, and fault, were not revealed publicly until now.  KTVU, in fact, ran a human interest story about Wingate, reporting the accident in neutral terms two weeks later on August 28, 2018. But by that time, OPD had already completed a scene report and video analysis showing that Wingate caused the accident and was chiefly responsible for its severity.

According to the OPD on-scene report, Wingate’s patrol vehicle “black box” recorded the vehicle’s speed at 91 mph one second before he collided with a longshoreman driving home after his last night shift on Middle Harbor Rd. Wingate veered at the last second, but still made contact with the vehicle. The video and scene analysis later indicated that Wingate could have been traveling at up to 83 mph at the moment of impact with the vehicle.


At such high speed, the collision caused Wingate’s vehicle to careen into a parked container trailer. Wingate didn’t have his siren or lights engaged, and wasn’t responding to a “code 3” call. In Wingate’s defense, he did attempt to veer away at the last minute from the other driver, causing only the glancing collision that sent Wingate into the trailer, instead of a full-on at 90 mph that would have likely killed both drivers. But even in the most generous appraisal, this other outcome where only Wingate was seriously injured was the product of simple luck. Wingate was hospitalized for months and his current condition is unknown.

In another serious accident that only luck prevented from being far worse, Officer Christopher Buckhout drove his vehicle into the opposing traffic lane on 22nd Avenue in Fruitvale, trying to get around traffic to run a red light at International Boulevard [18-060999]. Buckhout entered the intersection against the light, where he collided with a Gig car that had the right of way. In a last minute attempt to mitigate the impact, Buckhout steered away from the Gig—combined with the momentum of the collision from the Gig, Buckhout’s vehicle barreled toward the Tacos Sinaloa food truck on the corner of 22nd and International.


The owner of Sinaloa was in between the vehicle and his food truck moving some abandoned scooters, and according to his own account, barely managed to get out of the way of the OPD vehicle—the vehicle hit the scooter he had in his hand which smacked him in the jaw. The OPD vehicle continued, flying up on to the sidewalk and hitting the Sinaloa food truck. Both the OPD driver and the driver and passenger of the Gig were hospitalized—the Sinaloa owner, and the workers in the food truck may have been hospitalized later as well, as all three complained of pain from their encounter with the runaway OPD vehicle.

In a similar collision, Officer Matthew Jung’s vehicle ended up on the sidewalk after he ran a red light and collided with a truck [16-006005]. The collision was severe enough for the officer to be hospitalized.

In another case, Officer Anthony Campbell drove his vehicle blindly into both opposing traffic and through a red light on Fruitvale avenue [18-020245]. Campbell stated he wanted to get out of backed-up traffic to respond to an emergency call. Though a bus was blocking his view of the intersection and he had no idea what to expect, he went into opposing traffic and ran a red light anyway. He struck a driver who had a green light crossing the intersection. That driver was injured and is currently suing OPD over the collision. The list goes on. I found at least sixteen major accidents where OPD ran a red light–and that’s likely an undercount.

OPD had other collisions caused by going the wrong way. In one of these, Officer Raymond Ward followed a suspect driver the wrong way onto the exit ramp of 580 at Oakland Avenue [16-051483]. Though the suspect avoided collision with the first vehicle waiting to exit the freeway, the OPD driver struck that car. In a chilling statement, the driver of the vehicle says that he saw the police SUV barreling toward his vehicle and “I grabbed my daughter…and pulled her towards me” as the SUV collided with the vehicle.

In at least three separate cases, OPD drivers left their vehicles running and in gear while they engaged suspects, only to return and find the vehicles had run through intersections, or on to sidewalks before colliding with a stationary object [17-016527, 16-013447, 17-028936]. In one of these cases, while the driver ran with gun drawn after a suspect presumed to be armed, his partner wrestled with the vehicle he had left running and engaged, eventually running over and breaking his own leg before the vehicle collided into a pole [17-028936]. After finding their suspect was not armed, the officer returned and was mystified to find OPD vehicle crashed into a fence post and his incapacitated partner writhing on the ground.


In another case, the untended vehicle was left in reverse, with the doors locked [17-016527]. As the police officers pursued a suspect, the vehicle entered the intersection of MacArthur and 83rd Avenue and crashed into a traffic signal pole–the doors were locked and the police had no idea the vehicle had been in motion.


One final note. In compiling these collisions, I’ve had to rely on OPD’s own investigations at the scene. But there’s some evidence that both involved and investigating officers have not always been honest. The East Bay Express account of the Van Fleet collision, for example, claims the at-fault officer in that collision, Danny Sy Chor, lied to Van Fleet about the accident while he waited emergency medical attention. While, in another case, I found a lawsuit against OPD for an accident I had already put on the ‘not at-fault’ pile. The other driver in that case claims the investigating officer arrived with the goal of clearing the involved officer, and did not interview a witness that claimed OPD was at fault.


Moreover, I discovered several collisions involving cyclists that were found by the investigating officer to be the fault of the cyclist. At least in two of these [17-034576, 18-015958] the police seem to have used their vehicle to ram the cyclist [a suspect], or otherwise cause the accident.


Finally, the records released from January to May 2019 seem uncharacteristically sparse when compared with the load from 2018, leading me to believe that many reports were for whatever reason not included from this year. 2018 was one of the worst driving years for OPD for the period, with over 70 at fault accidents—so it would make sense that not much changed in 2019.

Regardless of the completeness of the records release, it’s clear that the OPD has a serious problem with vehicle accidents. In the most harmless equation, this is costing the city money in repair, insurance costs and injury time for officers. In the worst version of this reality, Oakland drivers are daily facing hundreds of unaccountable drivers, carelessly breaking the rules of the road in frightening and unpredictable ways. At the very least, this brings up the question of whose driving is a more critical threat to residents, as OPD has been responsible for far more accidents over the past three years than any Sideshow.

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