OAKLAND — The alleged ringleader of a violent clique of Oakland police officers known as “The Riders” will be conspicuously absent as defense lawyers launch their case next week.
Whether that will help or hurt the case against the four former officers accused of misconduct remains unclear.
“My intention is to try this case as if Frank Vazquez is sitting there,” said Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Hollister.
Hollister delivered his opening statement Thursday. Defense lawyers are scheduled to present their openings Tuesday.
Authorities believe Vazquez, whose nickname was “Choker,” fled to Mexico to escape prosecution.
Still, Hollister made Vazquez’s allegedly brutal leadership of “The Riders” a focal point of the trial’s first day. He outlined the accusations against Vazquez, repeated threats he made against rookie Keith Batt — who eventually turned in the four former officers — and even showed the jury of six men and six women a photo of Vazquez in uniform.
The veteran training officer bragged about beating up a suspect after emptying a canister of pepper spray into his mouth, Hollister said, and then glossed over the incident in a police report and pressured the suspect to sign a falsified account.
The officers, who have since been fired, are on trial for their alleged activities during the summer of 2000. They face a combined 26 felony counts, including beating suspects and falsifying police reports.
Outside court, Hollister said he and defense lawyers for Clarence “Chuck” Mabanag, 37, Jude Siapno, 33 and Matthew Hornung, 30, agreed not to tell jurors that Vazquez is a fugitive.
Peter Keane, dean of the Golden Gate Law School, called the decision unusual and extremely risky — for both sides.
“The jury is going to wonder why he isn’t there: ’Where is he?’ ’Have you given him a pass?”’ Keane said.