The Oakland Police allegedly kept Van Chau (or Chau Van) on a "Most Wanted List" for six months even there was no warrant out for his arrest.
On February 6, 2012 Police Chief Howard Jordan held a press conference and named four people as being responsible for a recent outbreak in crime.1 Van Chau was named as a suspect in a December assault, but no warrant was put out for his arrest. Chau states he saw himself on the news and heard from friends and family that this was going on and turned himself in to OPD.2 According to later events, Chau's lawyer confirmed that there were no outstanding warrants, and Chau turned himself in to clear his name.
On February 14, 2012, Johnna Watson of Oakland Police's Media Relations Office released a statement congratulating themselves from imprisoning Chau. The press release was titled: "Most Wanted Turns Himself In", (the press release appears to have been pulled from the OPD site, but is still available online here.) and continues ""One of Oakland's four most wanted suspects has been taken off the streets. Last week, Oakland's Police Chief Howard Jordan named Van Chau as one of the City's four most wanted criminals. Today, the Oakland Police Department reports that Van Chau is off the streets of Oakland and is safely behind bars after turning himself in due to media pressure. Chief Howard Jordan said, 'A week ago I stood with community members and asked the community to stand with me to fight crime and today we have one less criminal on our streets. Today a victim is one step closer to justice.'"
The police then imprisoned this innocent man for 72 hours, even though he was charged with no crimes before releasing him.
On March 11, 2013, this story was released on courthousenews.com. The victim is now suing the city for defamation, false arrest and imprisonment, civil rights violations, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He states that he is a law-abiding citizen with no history of violence. The Oakland Police and City Attorney's office declined to comment on the news story.3 John Burris is representing Chau in the suit.
On March 15, 2013 Chief Jordan released a Nixle Alert denying allegations of false arrest.
"Allegations regarding a February 13, 2013 arrest of Mr. Chau Van have caused potential belief within the community that Mr. Van was falsely arrested, accused, and mistreated; I do not believe this assessment is accurate. In short, the underlying assault with a deadly weapon case is an open, active investigation for which Mr. Van remains as an identified and named suspect.
On December 9, 2011, at about 2:30a.m., a victim was seriously battered near or within the 1000 block of Webster Street. This victim was struck in the head with a bat and beaten by four suspects as he lay defenseless on the ground. Officers contacted this victim as he was being treated for injuries at a local hospital, and investigators learned that one or more of the suspects could possibly be identified by examining a potential motive and speaking to others involved.
On December 13, 2011, my investigators contacted a citizen who outlined a potential motive and identified Mr. Van by name as a suspect. Using this information, Mr. Van’s photo was included in a line-up and shown to the victim who positively identified Mr. Van as the man who struck him in the head with a bat; Mr. Van was also identified as a suspect by a witness to the offense. On December 19, 2011, the investigator presented these facts and circumstances to a Judge, and an arrest warrant was issued for Mr. Van.
On February 7, 2012, in our efforts to involve and inform the community of our efforts to address violent crime in Oakland, I asked for the public’s assistance in locating Mr. Van for arrest. His photograph was included in a Department issued press release asking for information leading to his arrest. Mr. Van self-surrendered six days later and was booked for assault with a deadly weapon (PC §245 (a)(1)) and not for PC §245 (a)(2) as originally stated at the press conference. Mr. Van was released from custody without charges pending additional investigation.
The fact that these charges were not immediately filed does not mean the arrest was unlawful or unwarranted. The Oakland Police Department maintains the option to request charging following additional investigation. In fact, on the day Mr. Van was released from custody, investigators developed additional information that placed Mr. Van at the scene of this offense when it occurred. We believe persons who can provide further information, statements, or evidence exist and may come forward. Anyone with information related to this case is asked to call investigators at 238-3426.
Additionally, at no time was Mr. Van’s name or photo maintained on a “Most Wanted List,” nor does the Department maintain a “Most Wanted List” made available to the public as alleged. The only related record was the Department’s press release which was automatically archived, as are all officially issued press releases, on the Department’s website as a public record. After concerns were raised in Mr. Van’s lawsuit, this press release was removed from the archive pending review by the City Attorney’s Office."
- 1." Oakland Police Chief Says Gangs To Blame For Recent Murders." CBS, SF Bay Area: Feb 7, 2012.
- 2. Fowkes, Susie. "One of Oakland's most wanted surrenders to police." Examiner.com: Feb 12, 2012
- 3. Pastis, Steve. "'Most Wanted' for What?" Courthouse News Service: Mar 11, 2013.
- 4. "Oakland Chief Jordan Should Apologize Immediately" March 13, 2013