Pubdate: Fri, 03 Oct 2003
Source: Drug War Chronicle (US Web)
Author: Phillip S. Smith, Editor
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)


Suburban Jury Fails to Convict Oakland Police Rogues

A year-long trial for four Oakland, California, police officers
accused of beating black inner city drug suspects, planting drugs,
framing suspects and other related offenses ended Wednesday when an
Alameda County jury that included no blacks cleared the officers on
eight counts and declared itself hopelessly divided on 27 others. The
case, which has polarized the city, is now in limbo while Alameda
County District Attorney Thomas Orloff ponders whether to retry the
defendants. He will announce a decision by October 15.

The Rough Riders were Oakland police officers Clarence "Chuck"
Mabanag, Jude Siapno Matthew Hornung, and Frank Vazquez, who was tried
in absentia after presumably fleeing to Mexico. They were fired from
the force in July 2000 after two rookie policeman, Kevin Batt and
Steve Hewison, informed their superiors about their alleged misdeeds.
Their allegations led to a police internal affairs review, which in
turn led to the four losing their jobs.

The four had night-shift patrols in the West Oakland flatlands, a
predominantly black area of the city plagued by street-level drug
dealing and related crime. In dramatic testimony during the year-long
trial, witness after witness described beatings, false arrests, and
trumped-up charges perpetrated by the Rough Riders. Oakland officials
were so convinced of the Rough Riders' misbehavior that not only were
the four fired, the city has paid out almost $11 million dollars to
people claiming to have been attacked by the Rough Riders and it has
dropped more than 90 drug cases tainted by the touch of the Rough Riders.

But none of this was sufficient for the jury in this case. Selected
from a jury pool of 136 -- a pool that included only 12 blacks -- the
jury ended up including seven white men, two white women, two women of
Latina descent, and one Asian woman. The foreman was a white man who
is a law student and works for a state agency. All of those who
testified about being abused by the Rough Riders were black.

The Oakland Tribune reported this week that jurors described their
seven week of deliberations as "polarized" from the outset, with the
unnamed foreman declaring on day one that there was too much
reasonable doubt to convict on any of the 35 charges. Jurors quickly
broke into two blocks, one that supported the police and one that was
skeptical, the Tribune reported. Some panel members told the Tribune
other jurors dismissed the testimony of the admitted drug sellers and
users who testified to being abused by the Rough Riders, while a black
alternate juror told the paper it was unfair that no black jurors were
on the panel.

"The thing that was scary was, at the end, it felt like the
personalities overtook the whole thing," one juror told the Tribune.
"The sad thing was, the case was there but it was about people proving
themselves right and getting over on the other person. It was ugly, so

That wasn't the only ugliness in the jury room. According to the
Tribune, which has gained access to some juror notes, jurors were
grappling with the notion of "Noble Cause Corruption," which the paper
described as "the inference it is morally acceptable to do nasty
things to despicable people."

Oakland NAACP president Shannon Reeves criticized the jury make-up.
"When you bring in jurors who have no context of experience relative
to the relationship between the police and the African-American
community and what actually happens on the street, that means it was
hard for them to believe cops plant evidence," Reeves told the
Tribune. "They can't fathom it -- they don't live in that

Oakland Vice Mayor Nancy Nadel, the council member who represents the
West Oakland district where the Riders were assigned, joined in that
criticism. "This jury may not have been familiar with how police treat
citizens in West Oakland, so perhaps they were not able to objectively
analyze what occurs in the community," Nadel said. "I think the jury
viewed them all as having a criminal history, even though that is not
true. And no matter whether individuals were at other times involved
in criminal activities, they have rights as well. The verdict does not
help build trust between the West Oakland community and the police,"
she told the Tribune.

Attorney John Burris, who orchestrated the settlements with Rough
Riders victims, was flabbergasted at the apparent racial divide, he
told the Tribune. "This case is another clear illustration of the
different attitudes of the black and white communities," he said,
suggesting that members of the white community thought police were
just doing their jobs. "But the black community feels there is no
question that these officers were engaged in a pattern of misconduct,"
Burris said. "They see the white community as giving these officers a
wink and a nod."

PUEBLO Oakland (, a 14-year-old social
justice community organization in the Oakland flatlands also
criticized the jury. "We think that justice was not served," PUEBLO
executive director Dawn Phillips told DRCNet. "It appears that the
jury foreman prevented jurors from examining the evidence in a clear
and impartial manner," she said. "It is clear that the victims in this
case have been twice brutalized, once by the police and once by the

PUEBLO Oakland is calling for a retrial on the remaining 27 counts. It
is also calling for a federal investigation with an eye toward filing
charges under the Civil Rights Act. It is not alone. While a
Department of Justice investigation seems a long-shot at this point,
Oakland District Attorney Orloff has vowed to seriously examine a
retrial. "The last chapter in this case has not been written yet,"
Orloff said. "It is a very important case to us... It questions the
very integrity of the system."

The Oakland Police Department and Mayor Jerry Brown would like to put
all this behind them, with Brown suggesting but not saying he was
opposed to a retrial. "My view is the police are doing a hell of a
job, I back them 100 percent," he said at a Tuesday press conference.
"I think these things can put it to rest... given the fact that the
jury spoke and we have invested millions of dollars in putting greater
controls to avoid the kind of abuses that did in fact happen in this
case, and that justified the firing of these police officers. We fired
these cops because we thought they did not observe the kinds of
standards we require and the law requires," Brown said. "I stand
behind that judgment; I don't believe they are going to get their jobs
back. They've lost their pensions, they had to sit through a grueling
trial, they've been punished quite a lot."

Later in the day, Brown emphasized to the Tribune his sympathies with
the police. "We've got some tough streets out there, with some
individuals who will not hesitate to kill, to maim, to lie, to steal
or to cheat, and we ask officers to go out there... and put their
lives on the line every night, and I have a lot of sympathy for what
they do," said Brown before -- and this is verbatim from the Tribune
- -- "he headed off to the Warehouse, a bar in the produce district that
caters to police officers."

Meanwhile, "it's still business as usual" on the mean streets of West
Oakland, said PUEBLO's Phillips, and the area's residents have a
slightly different view than Brown's. The Oakland Tribune managed to
gather the following quotes in a couple of hours on the day the
verdicts were announced:

"Somebody got a lot of money somewhere," said Ben, a 10-year resident
of 13th Street who did not want his last name used. "If I had been on
that jury they'd be guilty. I see what they do on the streets. The
funniest part of those Riders, there'd be a group of guys selling dope
on the corner but they didn't mess with them. They were always messing
with the wrong people," he said.

"They just don't treat this area the same at all," said Matt Baker, a
member of the community group West Oaklanders on Peralta Street. "The
law-abiding citizens in this part of town, the police don't have the
same attitude toward us as they do the law-abiding citizens in other
parts of town. I'm sure those guys thought that was the thing to do,
even though it wasn't the thing to do," Baker said. "Nobody wants
dirty cops. Even though there is a lot of drug activity in Oakland,
you can't just pin it on whoever you want."

At 33rd Street and Martin Luther, James Johnson, 38, told the Tribune: "The
police have always been rough on this community. They planted drugs on me
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake