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A former Oakland rookie cop claims he was introduced to “the dark side” by the officers he trained with — men who now are standing trial on charges of brutalizing suspects and falsifying reports. Keith Batt told jurors that during his first week on the job for the Oakland Police Department he was asked repeatedly if he was ready for the dark side — which translated into being ready to beat suspects. And, Batt said, he was warned that if he turned into a snitch, he’d be beaten himself. Batt, who on Wednesday wore the uniform of Pleasanton’s police department, where he is now an officer, was the prosecution’s first witness in the criminal trial of three fired Oakland police officers who called themselves the “Riders.” The three defendants — Matthew Hornung, Clarence Mabanag and Jude Siapno — face a litany of charges including kidnapping, brutalizing suspects, lying in police reports and conspiracy. The offenses came to light when Batt resigned after working only 10 shifts at the Oakland Police Department. Another officer, Francisco Vazquez, who was also fired, is a fugitive and authorities believe that he has fled to Mexico. Batt told jurors that Vazquez gave him such instructions as “fuck all that shit that you learned in the academy, fuck probable cause,” and “we are just going to jump out and grab these motherfuckers.” Batt said that before his very first shift as Mabanag’s trainee, a female officer told him that Mabanag “will show you how to hit people and get away with it. He will show you how to write police reports to cover it up.” Other officers told him that Mabanag was tough on rookies and ridiculed them, Batt said. Batt testified that he saw Mabanag, Vazquez and Siapno slap, kick and punch Kenneth Soriano. Soriano had resisted arrest but the hitting continued after he stopped struggling and said “I give up,” Batt said. Mabanag later falsified police paperwork to cover up the fact that the officers beat Soriano, Batt said. Batt, a slender man who’s in his mid-twenties but looks younger, was on the stand for hours Wednesday being questioned by Alameda County prosecutor David Hollister. He told jurors that the Riders encompassed more than just the three officers on trial and was a distinct clique within the police department that took pride in its menacing reputation in West Oakland. At one point, Hollister asked Batt about a softball with the word “Riders” written on it. Batt said it was passed around the locker room, signed by the officers and then given to an injured officer as a get-well present. It was signed by the three men on trial, along with other officers, Batt testified. When the ball was passed to Batt, he was not allowed to sign it because, the officers said, “he’s not a Rider yet.” The officers signed the ball with nicknames like “St. Jude,” which referred to Siapno and “Chuck X,” which referred to Mabanag, Batt said. After Mabanag and Batt began to patrol together, Batt said, Mabanag often talked about a citizen complaining about the Riders to another Oakland police officer. Batt testified that the person was reported as saying: “After midnight the Riders come. They don’t even come in police cars. They jump out; they beat us up. They plant drugs on us and take us to jail. Sometimes they beat us up and let us go.” According to Batt, Mabanag told the story “over and over.” Earlier, defense attorneys Michael Rains, William Rapoport and Edward Fishman touted the professional accomplishments of their clients. Mabanag, who was Batt’s field training officer, was “the cream of the crop” who rarely missed a day of work during his 12 years at the Oakland Police Department, said Rains, who represents Mabanag. In 1999, one year before the allegations came to light, Mabanag got an award from the police department for Officer of the Year on the “dog watch,” or graveyard shift. Meanwhile, attorneys who are involved in the Riders case say that depending on the outcome of the trial, the U.S. attorney could enter the picture and charge the former officers with criminal civil rights violations. Federal prosecutors used a similar strategy after officers were acquitted in the Rodney King trial, said civil rights attorney John Burris, who is representing alleged victims of the Riders in pending civil litigation. Defense attorney Rapoport said it appears that federal prosecutors and the Alameda County district attorney are working together closely. The federal prosecutors used staff to transcribe some of the early internal affairs interviews that have been used to prosecute the criminal case in state court, he said. “They are watching,” said Rapoport. Assistant U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, chief of the White Collar Crime Section, has been a spectator during the criminal trial. She would not comment on what the federal government’s possible role in the case might be. In addition, a civil suit led by Burris, with more than 100 plaintiffs who say that they were victims of the Riders and other officers, is pending in federal court.

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