Pubdate: Wed, 18 Sep 2002
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2002 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Herbert A. Sample, Bee San Francisco Bureau


Top Oakland Officials Urged Tough Policing, The Defense Contends.

OAKLAND -- Three former Oakland police officers, on trial for allegedly 
fabricating reports, making false arrests and, in the case of one of them, 
assault and kidnapping, were actually doing the aggressive policing that 
top city officials wanted, their lawyers contended Tuesday.

Each of the defendants' attorneys asserted during their opening statements 
that their clients did nothing unlawful two years ago during a handful of 
incidents in West Oakland, a section of the city they portrayed as 
then-rampant with drug-selling hot spots.

Rather, the lawyers said, the three officers were engaged in an active 
effort, devised by Police Chief Richard Word and championed by Oakland 
Mayor Jerry Brown and other top officials, to eradicate illegal drug markets.

Further, they ridiculed Keith Batt, the rookie officer whose allegations 
are central to the prosecution case as naive, frightened by the tough 
neighborhood he patrolled and, now, out to make money from a lawsuit he has 
filed against the city of Oakland.

"Life in West Oakland is ugly. Life in West Oakland for (the three 
officers) was ugly," Michael Rains, attorney for former Officer Clarence 
Mabanag, told jurors.

The Oakland Police Department declared war on street drug dealing in the 
fall of 1999, he added.

"When they did that they sent their soldiers out to fight the war," Rains said.

The three officers known as the "Riders" -- Matthew Hornung, Jude Siapno 
and Mabanag -- face 26 felony counts. Most relate to allegations of 
fabricated police reports, false arrests and conspiracy. Siapno, however, 
also faces more serious charges of kidnapping and assault by an officer.

A fourth officer who was considered a leader of the Riders, Francisco 
Vazquez, is a fugitive.

Prosecutor David Hollister, in his opening statement last week, contended 
the officers invented details of the West Oakland incidents in order to 
support the arrests they made.

They did this, Hollister said, because they craved the adulation of fellow 
officers for making large numbers of significant arrests.

But Rains, focusing on each of the incidents forming the setting for the 
charges, said the police reports reflected events that actually occurred. 
He suggested there were legitimate reasons why separate reports that his 
client and Batt wrote about the same incidents used the exact or similar 

The victims of the allegedly false reports and assaults were drug dealers, 
Rains charged. He painted some intersections of West Oakland as infested 
with drug dealing, at one point showing jurors a surveillance tape of 
street transactions.

He also displayed documents describing how Chief Word and other police 
officials expected the notorious sections to be cleaned up.

Moreover, he said, Oakland officers learned they had to talk tough and be 
perceived as tough in order to do their jobs effectively.

"The mandate was to do 'walking stops' and find ways and reasons to get 
these drug dealers off the street," said Rains, referring to searches of 
suspected drug dealers.

"They were right out there ... dancing on the head of a pin called 
'probable cause' to do what the department wanted them to do."

And Batt, Rains charged, is conducting a "money grab" by suing Oakland. 
Batt's allegations to police internal affairs investigators led to the 
current charges. He left the department after only 2 1/2 weeks and is now a 
Pleasanton officer.

William Rapoport, Siapno's lawyer, noted that the alleged victims of the 
officers' conduct also are seeking monetary damages in a federal civil 
rights lawsuit.

And Ed Fishman, Hornung's attorney, noted that his client is on trial even 
though Batt never mentioned him in taped interviews with internal affairs 

"Something stinks," Fishman told the jurors. "Something just isn't right."

The first witness for the prosecution, expected to be Batt, is scheduled to 
begin testifying today.
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