June 16, 2014
Cause of death: Shooting
Last updated: over 3 years ago
Her family believes that O’Brien shot her. “He killed her," Paulina Huerta, Irma’s sister, said in an interview today. Huerta said the police ignored her family. "Nobody’s listening."
Huerta Lopez’s coroner’s report — which was released for the first time earlier today after the Express requested it — called her death suspicious. The coroner’s report on O’Brien’s suicide also noted that his wife’s death the year before was suspicious. And Alameda County sheriff’s department investigator Solomon Unubun wrote that “O’Brien’s wife committed suicide in the same apartment on 6/16/14 and her family thought her death was suspicious.”
A year and three months before O'Brien's suicide, Oakland police were at his apartment investigating another death. It was June 16, 2014.
Officer Brendan O'Brien had called 911. Detectives arrived to find his wife Irma Huerta Lopez dead from a gunshot wound to the right side of her head, according to the coroner's report.
A government official showed CNN pictures of the crime scene. It appeared Lopez had been sitting on the edge of the bed when she shot herself. Both of her feet were planted on the carpeted floor. A gun was lying near her foot on the carpet, along with a shell casing. A second casing was also found on the floor.
O'Brien told investigators he was arguing with his wife that night, according to the coroner's report. He left to go pick up cigarettes at a nearby store. Fifteen minutes later, he told them, he returned to find his wife unresponsive. It was a few minutes before 10 p.m.
Irma Huerta Lopez was pronounced dead at 10:12 p.m. The autopsy report says the gun used belonged to her husband. It was O'Brien's "off-duty firearm a Glock 45 caliber." The death was initially deemed suspicious. The coroner's investigative report said, "a press hold will be placed on the case because of the potential criminal investigation."
Then the rumors started. The whispers turned into accusations by Lopez's family that Oakland Officer O'Brien had killed his wife. To this day, Lopez's family members still believe so.
"Our whole family does not believe she took her own life," a family member told CNN. But Oakland police and the Alameda County Sheriff's Office Coroner's bureau both concluded otherwise. The coroner declared Lopez's official cause of death a suicide. But the whispers around town persisted. Then O'Brien, who had a "history of depression and post traumatic stress disorder," according to the coroner's investigative report, committed suicide.
A source familiar with both death investigations says when that happened, an indivdual pushed the federal monitor and compliance director to examine O'Brien's wife's death to ensure there was no cover up.
Compliance director Robert Warshaw began examining the death. It remained classified a suicide, but the investigation revealed something else, a source told CNN.
Warshaw did not return CNN calls for comment on this case. Court documents show the monitor did take action.
Warshaw alerted U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson to "irregularities and potential violations" of an old "Negotiation Settlement Agreement" Oakland police were supposed to be following due to a separate case involving the department.
That agreement required the department to alert the monitor in a matter of days if there was an internal investigation going on.
But nobody notified the monitor about the sexual-misconduct allegations involving Guap though they were investigating the case for six months, Oakland civil rights attorney Jim Chanin says.
"They broke the agreement," Chanin says.
Judge Henderson ordered the federal monitor take over the latest internal investigation involving police officers on March 23, 2016, taking it out of the hands of Oakland Police Department's Internal Affairs.
"Almost immediately, with the monitor compliance director in charge of the investigation, officers started getting walked out of the building," Chanin says. "There were suspensions and at least two resignations."
He says no action had been taken during the six months Oakland police handled the allegations themselves.
Oakland police: No strangers to scandal
Since 2003, a federal monitor has been in place to make sure the Oakland Police Department complied with a negotiated settlement agreement stemming from a police corruption scandal.
Officers had been accused of planting evidence and beating up suspects. No accused officers were ever convicted but one officer fled prosecution and to this day is still on the run. The city paid out more than $10 million to more than 100 plaintiffs and agreed to make reforms, eventually ending up under federal monitoring.
They were almost to the finish line after 13 long years. Attorney Chanin along with attorney John Burris agreed to work with Oakland police to make sure they were complying with the settlement agreement.
Chanin says the department had been doing so well under the leadership of then Chief Sean Whent that those involved with the monitoring, including Chanin, were about to recommend the department could run itself without federal oversight.
Then the sex scandal broke. Chief Whent, who had come from the department's Internal Affairs division, suddenly resigned.
The fallout at the Oakland Police Department had just begun.
July 2016 Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley concluded last week that an Oakland police officer's suicide in 2015, and his wife's suspicious death the previous year, were both thoroughly investigated by the Oakland Police Department. The DA's report, conducted after Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf requested both cases be reviewed, bolsters OPD's contention that the wife's death was a suicide, not a homicide, as believed by the woman's family and others.
August 2016 Because Guap is now in custody and facing a felony charge, she will probably not be allowed to leave Florida until her case is resolved. This could be a potential setback to any plans by district attorneys in California to file charges against officers identified during the course of the sex-crime scandal investigations.
September 2016 Four Officers Fired
September 2016 Seven police to be charged
September 2016 Three more officers charged
October 2016 Three more officers fired