Prosecutor shows Oakland cops’ pattern of setting up suspects

By Kim Curtis THe Associated Press
Saturday September 14, 2002

OAKLAND— In the opening statements of a trial involving three former Oakland police officers, the prosecution attempted to paint the trio as ruthless, egotistical cops out for themselves with no regard for others. 

Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Hollister told the jury on Thursday that the defendants, known as “The Riders,” regularly disregarded the law when making arrests that often involved young black men. He outlined the cases of five alleged victims and showed the officers’ pattern of “hitting corners.” 

“Ride up fast,” Hollister explained. “Grab them, handcuff them and search the area.” Then make the evidence fit the alleged crime, he said. “The problem is the level of deceit and the shortcuts used in the police reports.” 

Hollister said Clarence “Chuck” Mabanag, 36, Jude Siapno, 34 and Matthew Hornung, 30, went too far in their quest to increase their arrest numbers. 

“The defendants fed off this attention,” he said. “They liked being looked up to by the younger officers. ... There’s no doubt about it — they were producing numbers.” 

The officers, who have since been fired, are on trial for their activities during the summer of 2000. They face a combined 26 felony counts, including beating suspects and falsifying police reports. 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. 

Prosecutors wrapped up their opening statements Thursday. Defense lawyers, scheduled to make their opening statements next week, say the officers simply were doing their jobs in a tough neighborhood. All have pleaded innocent. 

Mike Rains, Mabanag’s lawyer, said outside court that the officers are scapegoats. 

“The department was saying, ’We better do something,’ and they did something,” he said. “They are scapegoats. There’s another side of this case the jury needs to see.” 

It took two months to seat the Alameda County panel of six white men and six women — who are predominantly white — 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.