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An Alameda County prosecutor painted a picture Thursday of a rogue band of Oakland cops, spending their graveyard shifts preying on poor sections of West Oakland. During his opening statement before Alameda County Superior Court Judge Leopoldo Dorado, Deputy DA David Hollister told the jury of six men and six women and a packed Oakland courtroom that the officers who called themselves the “Riders” — Matthew Hornung, Clarence Mabanag, and Jude Siapno — committed a string of offenses that included kidnapping, lying in police reports, and beating and falsely imprisoning suspects. A fourth officer, Francisco Vazquez, is a fugitive, and is believed to be in Mexico. All four of the officers have since been fired. Hollister presented the following scenario to the jury: An unmarked police van stops suddenly at a street corner. Riders cops jump out and arrest whomever happens to be nearby. And what if the person they grab doesn’t have drugs? Rock cocaine would be planted, Hollister said. And a suspect beaten by a rogue cop would be forced to sign a statement saying he fell down. On top of all that, Hollister told the jury, no one seemed to be watching. “Their squad was virtually unsupervised,” Hollister said in his opening statement, which lasted for most of Thursday. The Riders were admired by younger officers, and they relished the fact that their nickname was feared in West Oakland, he said. The trial, which is predicted to last about three months, will have an impact that will extend far beyond the three officers on trial. More than 80 cases were eventually dismissed because they relied heavily on police reports or testimony from the accused officers, and a civil case — with more than 100 plaintiffs lined up — is pending in federal court. The alleged crimes came to light when rookie officer Keith Batt, who is now a Pleasanton cop, told superiors about misconduct he said he witnessed while he was a trainee. Hollister talked about incidents that involved “hitting corners” or “jump and fucks” — driving up to pedestrians at high speeds, jumping out of the vehicle and making arrests. One arrest Hollister described for the jury involved Delphine Allen, who is also a plaintiff in the civil suit. The prosecutor said Siapno beat the bottoms of Allen’s feet with a baton so he couldn’t walk, and then, along with Vazquez, took the suspect under a deserted freeway overpass and beat him while he was handcuffed. In nearly all of the incidents that Hollister described, the officers used their police reports to cover their tracks. The phrase “I was not injured”– purportedly coming from the suspect — was later added to police reports by Mabanag. Hollister warned the jury that there are some unsavory aspects in the prosecution’s case. Many of the alleged victims who will testify have rap sheets, are drug addicts or have committed offenses since the investigation began, he said. The prosecutor added that one witness “hates” him because Hollister prosecuted a case against him long ago. The defense is expected to present its opening statement on Tuesday, and defense attorney William Rapoport said he and his two colleagues will show inconsistencies in the case and unreliability among the witnesses. It is expected that the defense will argue, among other things, that the accused cops received orders from police brass to do everything that they could to curb street crime in West Oakland. The defense attorneys are Michael Rains, an ex-cop who is a name partner at Pleasant Hill’s Rains, Lucia & Wilkinson, representing Mabanag; Edward Fishman, a Petaluma attorney representing Hornung; and Rapoport, of San Mateo, representing Siapno. Police Chief Richard Word is expected to testify, as well as Batt, who will be one of the first witnesses. After a few weeks with the Riders, Batt was ready to leave the Oakland police force, Hollister said. “He was ripped apart emotionally and physically. He had had enough,” Hollister said. More than 100 plaintiffs in the civil case have alleged that the Riders were responsible for widespread civil rights violations. Many of the plaintiffs allege that they were wrongly incarcerated, and one plaintiff claims he spent 5 1/2 years in prison because of the officers’ illegal tactics. The plaintiffs seek damages and reforms to solve what they see as systemic police department problems. The outcome of the criminal case will have a strong impact on the civil suits, since a conviction in the criminal case could become evidence in the civil trial. In addition, both sides hope — for different reasons — to establish that the police department’s top brass needs to share in the blame. The defense team wants to show the officers merely acted on orders from above. The plaintiffs want to prove that beat cops and higher-ups are responsible so that they can get injunctive relief in the form of police department reforms. It is expected that Senior U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson will postpone the civil case until the criminal trial is over. Although there have been intense settlement talks, only one case has been resolved. In December, the city reportedly paid $195,000 to a man who was arrested by two of the Riders officers and served 10 months in prison.

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