OAKLAND -- The city of Oakland has suspended and is evaluating its involvement with a county-funded work program for young criminal offenders after a participant was arrested on his job with a gun and powder cocaine, officials said.
Police said Christian Leonard, 19, admitted carrying the gun for protection and that he regularly sold cocaine. Police don't know if he sold drugs while working at job sites in the program, known as Highway to Work.
He has been charged with possession of a controlled substance with firearm, unlawful firearm activity and possession of cocaine for sale. He has pleaded not guilty and is due in court Dec. 2 for a pretrial hearing. He is being held at Santa Rita Jail in lieu of $60,000 bail.
Leonard, who was an intern with the Public Works Agency doing weed abatement, was arrested Nov. 14 near Telegraph and Hawthorne avenues.
Oakland police officer Omega Crum said when officers searched Leonard they found a semi-automatic pistol with its serial number filed off in one of his pants pockets and 17 "twists" of powder cocaine with a street value of $500 in another.
Police had been tipped off about Leonard's possible narcotics involvement by Chico police who had prior contact with him in drug investigations.
According to court documents, Leonard was convicted in Alameda County Juvenile Court in September 2010 for carrying a concealed firearm.
The Highway to Work program is under Alameda County Social Services which awards contracts to nonprofit organizations that run the program in different parts of the county. The county provides the nonprofits with lists of 14- to 19-year-old juvenile offenders and foster children eligible for the program. The county subsidizes the youths' $10 hourly salary and in the partnership with Oakland Public Works, the Oakland Private Industry Council, a nonprofit workforce development group, manages the program.
Thirteen interns, including Leonard, were working at Public Works jobs this year. Since the city notified the private industry council they were suspending the program, the other interns have been moved to other jobs with other organizations or are waiting to be.
According to city spokeswoman Karen Boyd, the city told the Private Industry Council after its evaluation is completed it would contact them with the results. Until then, no Private Industry Council interns would be accepted by Public Works. Boyd said the city told the Private Industry Council that "we remain committed to supporting re-entry programs and have valued the partnership that we have had over the last few years. We have to maintain a safe environment for the city staff as the highest priority."
Rayna Lett-Bell, program coordinator for Highway to Work for the Private Industry Council, said it is a worthwhile program that gives young people work experience and helps change their lives. She said in the more than two years the program has been in existence, Leonard was the first of hundreds of interns to be arrested at a job site.
Lett-Bell said the Private Industry Council has used what happened as a "teachable moment" for the other city interns and that they will continue in the program. She said the interns were made "to understand the severity of the situation" and "not to feel defeated.
"We told them you are going to move forward in this program and we will help you."