Photographs of messages exchanged with then-teen 'Celeste Guap,' who was at the center of a massive sexual exploitation case involving up to 17 Oakland Police officers, as well as officers with several other Bay Area departments. (Via Oakland Police Department)
Updated 9:39 a.m. Thursday
Oakland on Wednesday released internal affairs records for five officers who were found to have committed sexual assault or dishonesty in the widespread police sexual exploitation case involving a then-teenager known as Celeste Guap that rocked the department in 2016.
“I’m grateful that Sen. Nancy Skinner’s SB 1421 finally allows the public to see the information they deserve about the most serious investigations of police misconduct,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a prepared statement that was released with the internal affairs records. “This increased transparency is critical to repairing public trust in police and healing the devastating effects of this scandal on our community.”
However, records related to the investigation of twelve additional officers remain secret. Seventy-five percent, or 292 pages out of 393 pages, of the newly released records are either heavily redacted or completely blacked out. And while the city announced in 2016 that it had fired four officers, suspended seven and required training for one, the newly released records still do not clarify which officers received which discipline. Senate Bill 1421 clearly requires disclosure of that information.
The city stated all these redaction are required by state law to protect individuals’ privacy, and that more records will be released “in the coming weeks and months.”
The records show that two officers, Warit Uttapa and Luis Roman, kept their jobs despite internal affairs investigators finding they committed misconduct for exchanging sexually explicit text messages with Guap. The documents do not show what if any discipline they received.
But they do describe a scene in the locker room at Eastmont Substation in September 2015, when Roman showed Officer Vernell Brothers a picture on his phone of Guap in a bikini, told him to “check her out” and said he was “talking to her," Brothers told investigators. Brothers did not know whether Roman had actually had sex with her, the records say.
Officer Terryl Smith, who resigned on May 16, 2016, was found by investigators to have attempted forced sodomy on Guap. Officer James Ta’ai resigned on May 13, 2016, and was found to have engaged in lewd acts in public with Guap — a misdemeanor, records show. Guap’s family friend Sgt. Leroy Johnson failed to report underage sexual misconduct when she told him about it, the investigation found.
Guap texted Johnson in 2015 that she was having sex with officers including an unidentified captain, records show. To which Johnson replied, "tell me you were an adult."
“I’d be lying,” she replied.
Johnson opted to retire on December 11, 2015, facing consequences for not reporting the information to authorities. He pleaded no-contest to failing to report child abuse and was the only Oakland police officer convicted of a crime in connection with the case in Alameda County. A retired Oakland police captain also pleaded no-contest and was convicted on Contra Costa County for soliciting prostitution.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said in September 2016 that she planned to charge Uttapa, but a month later declined to file those charges. She also said at the time that Uttapa could face charges in Contra Costa County, but those, too, were never filed.
Strangely absent from Oakland’s release are records related to the investigation of Brian Bunton, the former officer known to Guap as “Superman,” who was charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and prostitution. Those charges were ultimately dropped.
The newly released documents do shed more light on Guap's encounters with Officer James Ta'ai. In interviews with administrative investigators, Ta'ai initially said he never met Guap in person, and the two only talked about sex through online messaging. When investigators provided information about his Honda Civic, his story changed.
The rookie cop admitted to "lying about not having sex with" Guap, the documents show. He confirmed Guap's statement to investigators that the two had sex on a picnic table in a Richmond park, not far from where Guap had sex with two other Oakland officers. Ta'ai said the encounter occurred a week before the suicide of Officer Brendan O'Brien, whose suicide note said Guap was having sex with Oakland officers, starting the internal investigation that led to the sudden resignation of former Police Chief Sean Whent — and a chain of successors.
"Ta'ai stated that he had lied because he was afraid of the allegation that he purportedly had sex with a minor," according to the documents. Ta'ai claimed the two had sex in early September 2015; Guap turned 18 years old in August.
The internal records show that investigators tried to convince Guap to cooperate “in order to prevent other officers from hurting themselves.”
Thomas Peele of the Bay Area News Group contributed to this report.
This story was produced as part of the California Reporting Project, a collaboration of 40 newsrooms across the state to obtain and report on police misconduct and serious use-of-force records unsealed in 2019.