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Former Oakland Officers May Be Retried

The State

Prosecutors plan to return to court in a case that led to a deadlocked jury. The three 'Riders' are accused of beating and framing suspects.

November 05, 2003|John M. Glionna | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Prosecutors said Tuesday they would retry three former Oakland police officers on charges of beating and framing suspects, even after a jury admitted Sept. 30 that it was hopelessly deadlocked in the controversial case.

The graveyard-shift officers, known as the Riders, had allegedly made illegal arrests in the city's tough northwest corner in the summer of 2000 before being turned in by a rookie cop who had followed one of the men for field training.

In the yearlong trial, the longest in Alameda County history, jurors deliberated for 56 days before acquitting the officers on eight charges. The beleaguered panel, chastised by Superior Court Judge Leo Dorado for continued infighting, said it remained deadlocked on 27 other counts.

On Tuesday, Alameda County Dist. Atty. Tom Orloff told Dorado's successor, Superior Court Judge Jon Rolefson, that he believed that the original charges had been accurate. He said he was convinced that a second jury would convict the defendants -- Matthew Hornung, 31, Clarence Mabanag, 37, and Jude Siapno, 34.

In an interview, Orloff said he had spent the last few weeks reviewing transcripts of the trial and interviewing former jurors to see what could be done differently.

"One of the questions I had to answer is whether we could prove this case to an unbiased jury," he said. "And I felt the probability of a conviction warranted a retrial."

Defense attorneys ridiculed those statements, saying the county had already wasted more than $3 million trying to convict innocent men.

"This isn't a search for justice; it's a search for vengeance," said William Rapoport, who represents Siapno. "It's just sour grapes. There's nothing more to be gained by beating on this issue. These officers' lives have been ruined already."

Both sides are due back in court Dec. 9, but defense attorneys said any retrial would not begin until next spring or summer.

Jurors said the big problem was the credibility of the victims who testified -- many of them convicted felons. Another key witness, Keith Batt, the officer who blew the whistle, was not considered believable, they said.

The accused officers, one white and two Asian, faced lengthy prison sentences had they been convicted on charges including kidnapping and falsifying arrest reports and beating a handcuffed suspect in the face, stomach, back and legs.

A fourth Rider charged in the crimes is believed to have fled the country.

Officials say the controversial case has divided this city, which is already plagued by rising rates of murder and other crime, causing many low-income residents to distrust the police.

To many blacks in Oakland -- which is about 38% African American -- the hung jury represented a blanket acceptance of police misconduct.

Others expressed concern that none of the jurors were black, though all of the alleged victims were.

The U.S. attorney in San Francisco has said the Justice Department would consult the district attorney and explore the possibility of filing federal civil rights charges against the officers.

Some residents said a retrial would be the best medicine for Oakland.

"It's a good thing," said Kenneth Rogers, an area minister. "A lot of people were hurt by the hung jury. In the past few years, the police have been getting away with things. It's time for this nonsense to stop, for the these officers to go back on trial."

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