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Paramedic whistleblower alleges Oscar Grant cover-up, system-wide racism

June 23, 2011

by Phil Horne, Esq.

Once the videos of Oscar Grant’s cold-blooded murder went viral, outrage in the Bay Area and beyond was expressed in countless rebellions, protests, meetings and activism of all kinds. Information about exactly what happened on the BART platform at 2 a.m. New Year’s Day 2009, however, has been hard to come by.
Paramedic Sheehan, or Sean, Gillis, an instructor and supervisor at the Oakland Fire Department, filed suit on Friday, June 17, 2011, against the OFD at Alameda County Superior Court in Case No. RG-11-581209. In his complaint, Gillis alleges that the OFD mistreated Oscar Grant in its response to Grant’s 911 calls on Jan. 1, 2009, destroyed all evidence related to the mistreatment, ordered Gillis to stop his investigation of the call response, refused to comply with an order for a call review by former OFD Medical Director Dr. Michael Howard, M.D., forced Dr. Howard to quit by withholding his paychecks and is currently retaliating against Gillis.

OSCAR GRANT. On Jan. 1, 2009, the OFD responded to the BART police shooting of Oscar Grant, an unarmed BART passenger. The shooting became the focus of community direct action during 2009 and 2010 and just recently when the shooter was released after serving a brief prison sentence.

OVERLOOKED. Overlooked until now is the OFD’s role in Grant’s death. According to Gillis, the OFD mistreated Grant and that mistreatment is so egregious that it should be criminally investigated.

WOUND UNTREATED. Grant had been shot at pointblank range. The bullet made both entry and exit chest wounds. The OFD Emergency Medical Services Division’s first responding paramedics applied an air-tight treatment only to the entry wound, leaving the exit chest wound open to air. According to Gillis’ complaint, this misconduct constituted a “death sentence.” Grant died from his wounds five and a half hours later.

SCUTTLED INVESTIGATION. On Jan. 6, 2009, Gillis launched an investigation and requested the coroner’s report to assess whether paramedic misconduct contributed to Grant’s death. On Jan. 10, 2009, the OFD issued a written order to Gillis to stop the investigation and to refrain from reporting his findings to anyone, even the Grant family and law enforcement. The written order is attached to Gillis’ complaint.

EVIDENCE DESTROYED. Around this time, according to Gillis, the OFD destroyed all paper records related to the Grant response and the computer archive of Grant’s Patient Care Report.

DR. MICHAELS. The OFD’s medical director, Dr. Howard Michaels, M.D., ordered a call review. Even though, at the time, Michaels was the highest medical authority at the OFD, the EMS Division ignored his order. Gillis alleges that the OFD retaliated against Dr. Michaels by interfering with his paychecks until Dr. Michaels finally left in September 2010. Dr. Michaels left with six months of pay owed to him. When he finally left, Dr. Michaels turned to Gillis and warned, “You’re next.”

This is the “execution frame” of one of the passengers’ videos. Officer Mehserle is mostly hidden behind Pirone, but his arm and hand holding his gun aimed down at Oscar’s back is visible in almost the exact center of the photo. As Oscar lay dying, BART police made it their highest priority to confiscate as many cell phones from passengers as they could; only a few escaped them. – Photo courtesy of attorney John Burris, who represents Oscar’s family
RETALIATION AGAINST GILLIS. Dr. Michaels was right. According to Gillis, the OFD launched a retaliatory campaign of harassment that included moving Gillis’ office from Jack London Square to a small trailer in the middle of a parking lot in a remote area of Oakland, eliminating his lunch break, taking his mailbox and city car access, weekly bullying sessions and monthly performance reviews, demoting and suspending Gillis.

PUBLIC RECORDS ACTION. Gillis made a Public Records Act request for the Grant file and staff meeting audio tapes with racist and inappropriate statements about Oscar Grant. According to Gillis, OFD refuses to confirm or deny the destruction of the Grant file and, at first, falsely denied the existence of the recordings. Gillis filed suit under the Public Records Act in Alameda County Superior Court (No. RG-11-576250). Said suit is available for download by clicking the public records act link on

SYSTEM-WIDE RACISM. Gillis alleges the mistreatment of Grant is an example of system-wide discrimination against people of color.

HISTORY. In the year 2000, on a television special on the OFD entitled “Test of Courage,” discriminatory practices against women and Black people of the OFD were investigated by PBS. PBS showed that the OFD historically tolerated discrimination, believing employment practices favoring males from “certain families” was based in sound science. Their historical perspective was described as follows:

“Many firefighters come from families with several generations of white men in the fire service. Recruitment, training and leadership have helped to honor and preserve lineages that [allegedly] favor bigger, stronger fire fighters.”

Though the statement is not attributed to any particular personnel, Mark Hoffman worked closely with the reporter and is believed to be the source of that information. The OFD promoted Hoffman after the special aired and Hoffman is interim chief today.

MEASURE Y. Gillis alleges that evidence of the bigotry at the OFD can be found in their failure and refusal to comply with Measure Y − a special tax fund created to support “at risk youth mentoring.” Measure Y requires the OFD to create and maintain one “at risk youth” mentoring program in each of its 15 fire stations. They collect $4 million in Measure Y funding every year but fail to create or maintain any “at risk youth” mentoring programs – not one of the 15 required.

The way BART police treated Oscar Grant and his friends – a small group of young Black and Latino men – on the platform was so unnecessarily brutal and racist that many passengers pulled out their cell phones to start recording before the fatal shooting. Here, Officer Tony Pirone kneels with all his weight on Oscar’s head and neck as Officer Johannes Mehserle prepares to shoot. – Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Superior Court
MERRITT COLLEGE. Gillis alleges that, instead of implementing programs that help “at risk youth,” the OFD is dismantling such programs. They forced Gillis to quit his directorship of historically-Black Merritt College’s EMT program, in part to accommodate the competing program of National College of Technical Instruction (NCTI) − a for-profit college based in Colorado with a historically white student body. They now provide NCTI with access to OFD facilities and classrooms that Merritt College formerly enjoyed. This means that NCTI students will be the only Bay Area students with “real world” OFD experience on their resume and be much more likely to receive OFD jobs and, once hired, promotions. In this way, the OFD will perpetuate historical discrimination against Black job applicants and employees.

DIRECT ACTION. Gillis invites the public and his co-workers at the OFD and throughout the city to become involved in the effort to bring accountability to the OFD for misconduct against Grant – and to use his action to highlight racism, sexism, privatization and corruption throughout the City of Oakland. “Now is the time for change,” says Gillis.

DEMAND INVESTIGATION. Demand that District Attorney Nancy O’Malley launch a criminal investigation of OFD misconduct against Grant and willful destruction of evidence by calling (510) 272-6222.

INDY NEWS. Watch for independent press interviews on KPFA radio and independent newspapers throughout the Bay Area, community meetings, direct action against O’Malley, Mayor Jean Quan, who promised to “clean house,” the City Council and the OFD.

For more information, visit, a Google group you can join for updates on Seans case. This story first appeared on Indybay.

Appendix: More information on Gillis

Gillis is the shop steward and vice president of Local 21 of the International Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE). He is an active member of his community; for example, Gillis participates in “National Night Out” every year, helped build the Black Community Garden in his former neighborhood at Peralta Street and 36th Avenue and helps raise money for charitable organizations like Random Acts.

Paramedic Sean Gillis
Gillis grew up poor, in a trailer in Alaska, with a mother who only knew poverty and worked in a women’s domestic violence shelter. He identifies with other disadvantaged people and volunteers to help traditionally disadvantaged people, including “at risk” youth and people of color, so that they can also hope to climb out of poverty and oppression.

Starting on or around early 2006, Gillis volunteered, without pay, to teach classes at the traditionally Black, public Merritt College. Gillis taught traditionally disadvantaged people, including “at risk” youth, people of color and/or ethnic minority ancestry, women and gays and lesbians skills that could lead to a better life.

Merritt College was so happy with Gillis’ work that they offered Gillis a paid job as instructor and, later, program director in 2009. The OFD allows emergency medical service employees to work during OFD off hours. Merritt College wants an active-duty OFD program director in order to ensure Merritt students receive “real world” training and experience.

Oakland whistleblower OFD Paramedic Sean Gillis needs your help now. Help him expose the mistreatment of Oscar Grant and the coverup.

For information related to Sean’s fight, go to You can contact those who are helping Sean at or contact Phil Horne, Esq., attorney for OFD Paramedic Sheehan (Sean) Gillis, EMT-P, at (415) 874-9800.

Sean Gillis, an Oakland Fire Department EMT paramedic trainer and vice president of IFPTE Local 21 Unit M, called for an investigation of the treatment of Oscar Grant, who was murdered at the Fruitville BART station. As a result he has been targeted for firing and harassment.

Gillis talks about the conditions in the department and the efforts to silence him after he called for an investigation. He also discusses the atmosphere of racism and the privatization scheme being pushed by the management of the department to outsource from Merritt Community College the training of paramedics from the community to a private company, AMR. Also interviewed is labor and civil rights attorney Phil Horne, who is representing Sean Gillis. This interview was conducted on June 12, 2011. – Production of Labor Video Project,,


13 thoughts on “Paramedic whistleblower alleges Oscar Grant cover-up, system-wide racism

  1. Dave Chappelle

    Oscar Grant was just another typical Oakland hood…causing trouble for no apparent reason and now dead because he acted like an idiot. Cause and effect. He caused a problem and then got shot. Straight up. I can't feel sorry for someone who ignites a problem. Funny thing is that it had no affect on blacks around Oakland other than to give them a platform to act out. They still walk around with blunts in their mouth or ear, jay walking and daring you to do something about it. Blacks like Oscar Grant deserve all the trouble they get into because they're thugs and deep down feel that the white man still holds them down. Reality is that blacks hold themselves down. Latching on to the Oscar Grant case doesn't make your people any better. It makes them angrier. And from past experience, angry black only knows violence and strive to "keep it real". You couldn't possibly discourage other blacks from acting like Oscar Grant. Oh no, God forbid that a thug can't act like a thug especially if black. Put on a collar, stop talking so damn loud, get a real job and act like you want to make a difference in the world…even your own immediate world. Really though, at the end of the day, blacks will always act like someone owes them something.

    1. Laurie Encinas

      Honey, calm down! Your color is showing. Thou dost protest-ish too much! You sound like the idiot.
      I can imagine whar your job is.

    2. Job

      Really? He caused a problem and then got shot in the back with handcuffs on? Is that what police are supposed to do? I do believe your white hoodie is keeping you from seeing the truth of the matter.

  2. Steven

    I must say this is almost one of the crappiest articles I've ever read. The nuggets of information are so disjointed, fractured!! Reason I say 'almost' is because it seems this is just par for the course for this industry- everyone is a terrible writer so this is just another piece of crap journalism. But this is what the system has bred. Educational system is not education it is indoctrination, & w/ the massive dumbing down of society w fluoride it's no wonder anyone car write at all. But still this piece, especially, is so fragmented, disjointed, I found myself having to read 2 & 3 times over to confirm I understood what is being related to me. It's quite pathetic. It wasn't until I watched the video that I had a MUCH clearer understanding of what's going on!! That is very very bad. It's a sad day for journalism, sad indeed. And to think someone might just be getting paid for this garbage.

  3. Laurie Encinas

    This article is an eye opener and I appreciate the information. I think it's important. I also think the previous replies were emotionally charged and absurdly adolescent, (bad journalism, ha ha) and obviously have some personal stake in the accusations.

  4. Shabazz

    Finally…the leaders of the Oakland Fire Department are completely exposed!!!
    The OFD always claims that they are the front runner in diversity, yet they are really the worst type of racist…self haters!
    Many great people within the organization but the leaders are the worst.

  5. Paul Whitmere

    I couldn't believe when Oakland Fire Chief Mark Hoffmann actually came out and said "hello everyone I am a racist." Check out what he also said on PBS….
    This idiot should be fired…now! We are counting on you to clean up this mess Mayor Quan!
    Anyone want to call Mark Hoffmann (510) 238-4050 or (510) 238-3856

  6. Unbelieveable posts a story todayabout BART police officers shooting a man that allegedly threatened. Here is a comment left by one of the members, Robocop33, in referenced to the story, Robocop33 said:

    "Isn't it stupid and sad to be glad it was a white man that they shot? Had it been a Black guy then all hell would have broken loose withing the hour with protests and demands to charge the Officers involved with murder. God Bless the Officers who work there as I would not work in that cesspool called Oakland for any amount of money."

    tell what you think about these comments


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