Oakland police ‘Riders’ trial begins this week

By Kim CurtisThe Associated Press
Friday September 13, 2002

OAKLAND — Two summers ago, a band of four Oakland police officers who called themselves “The Riders,” patrolled the streets, administering their own brand of justice. 

Prosecutors say the officers, who since have been fired, routinely beat up suspects, concocted evidence and falsified police reports. 

Now, Clarence “Chuck” Mabanag, 36, Jude Siapno, 34 and Matthew Hornung, 30, are on trial for 26 felony charges stemming from their West Oakland patrols during the summer of 2000. Siapno faces the most serious charges, including kidnapping and assault. 

Frank Vazquez, the alleged ringleader of the group, is believed to have fled the country. 

Defense lawyers say the officers simply were doing their jobs in a tough neighborhood. All have pleaded innocent. 

Assistant District Attorney David Hollister began presenting his opening statement to the jury Thursday. 

“We look forward to finally get the opportunity to present our case,” he said. 

It took two months to seat the Alameda County panel of six men and six women for the trial, which is expected to last through year’s end. 

The scandal, which has resulted in the dismissal of about 90 criminal cases, mostly drug-related, and 17 civil rights suits by 115 people, surfaced after a then-20-year-old rookie reported what he saw on duty with Mabanag, his training officer. 

Keith Batt, now a police officer in Pleasanton, is the prosecution’s key witness. During the preliminary hearing last July, Batt painted a disturbing picture of the officers’ “stop and grab” tactics in which suspects randomly were accosted on the street, handcuffed and put in the patrol car before they were questioned about their activities. He called their methods illegal and immoral. 

Batt also hinted at a conspiracy of silence among the police brass who supervised “The Riders.” 

Police and city officials have repeatedly called “The Riders” a rogue group, but they have, nonetheless, instituted a series of protective measures, including more internal affairs investigators and more supervisors. The department also created an Office of Inspector General, an internal audit division, and has generally increased internal scrutiny.