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The Oakland Police Department Trafficks a Teenager: Background information when reading Nightcrawling

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A novel

by Leila Mottley

Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley X
Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2022, 288 pages

    Apr 2023, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

The Oakland Police Department Trafficks a Teenager

This article relates to Nightcrawling

Print Review

As she explains in her Author's Note, Leila Mottley based Nightcrawling loosely on real events involving a teenage sex worker who was sexually exploited for months by members of the Oakland Police Department. The girl is known as Celeste Guap in court documents. According to her, she began "dating" Officer Brendan O'Brien in February of 2015, when she was 17, after running to him for help on East Oakland's International Boulevard when she was being threatened by a pimp.

Her relationship with Officer O'Brien led to Guap having sex with multiple other members of the Oakland Police Department, as well as officers from other jurisdictions, often in exchange for information about prostitution stings. As the East Bay Express (who broke many details of this story as it unfolded) explains, "[Guap's] interactions with officers as a minor fit the legal definition of human trafficking." Brendan O'Brien died by suicide and confessed to his involvement with Guap in a note, naming other officers that had sex with her as well, a detail that Mottley includes in Nightcrawling. According to KQED News, Guap was asked to "cooperate" by the Oakland PD internal investigators in the aftermath of this incident as the facts were coming to light, "in order to prevent other officers from hurting themselves."

Guap alleges that four officers had coercive sex with her while she was underage. Seven officers were charged with crimes, though the explicit charges varied. For instance, Officer Tyrell Smith reportedly engaged in sexual conduct with Guap but because the act took place outside of the district attorney's jurisdiction, he was charged only with "conducting search of criminal justice data without authorized purpose" for looking up information about Guap and her family in the department's computer system. Charges were dropped in most cases; a few officers were given plea deals. None served time in prison and some officers who faced charges still work for the Oakland Police Department, like Officer Giovanni LoVerde. The Oakland PD chief at the time, Sean Whent, was reported to have resigned for "personal reasons" right before the story hit the press. Since then, Whent has worked as an instructor at the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association.

In 2017, the city of Oakland agreed to pay Guap, then 19, $989,000 in restitution for the abuse she suffered. She told Richmond Confidential in 2020 that she is angry that several officers involved received reprimands and remain on the job, explaining, "I was wronged … They took advantage of the situation … Even if I was 18 at the time with certain officers it doesn't take away there were certain power differences."

Filed under People, Eras & Events

Article by Lisa Butts

This "beyond the book article" relates to Nightcrawling. It originally ran in September 2022 and has been updated for the April 2023 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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