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Jude Siapno, the first of four former Oakland “Riders” officers to take the witness stand for the defense in their police misconduct trial, said Tuesday he hadn’t participated in many of the alleged incidents that ended his 10-year career. The allegations that police brutalized suspects, planted evidence and falsified reports came to light in the summer of 2000 when a rookie officer, Keith Batt, quit the Oakland police force after working 10 shifts with the self-styled Riders. The subsequent investigation ended the four accused officers’ careers and led to the dismissal of more than 80 cases that relied on their statements. In February, Oakland leaders agreed to pay $10.9 million and to institute reforms to settle federal suits filed by more than 100 plaintiffs who said the Riders and other cops violated their civil rights. “I saw police officers work to help people in my neighborhood; I wanted to do the same thing,” testified Siapno, 34, who said he immigrated to the United States from the Philippines when he was a boy. Siapno is on trial with former officers Charles Mabanag and Matthew Hornung. A fourth officer, Francisco Vazquez, is missing and considered a fugitive. Although the other ex-officers are charged with similar crimes — such as falsifying police reports — Siapno is also charged with several counts of kidnapping and assault. If Siapno is convicted of all of the charges, he could face a median prison term of 16 1/2 years, said Siapno’s attorney, William Rapoport. It was critical that Siapno gave his side of the story in court, the San Mateo solo said. “There are accounts where it’s just him and Vazquez” and the suspects who witnessed the alleged incident, the lawyer said. According to earlier testimony, Siapno — whose nicknames were “St. Jude” and “Foot Doctor” — was known for beating suspects’ feet with a baton. In one alleged incident, Siapno struck the bottoms of suspect Delphine Allen’s feet until he could not walk. Siapno and Vazquez later took Allen under a freeway underpass and beat him while he was handcuffed, prosecutors have charged. Siapno is also accused of kidnapping another suspect, Matthew Watson, during the course of an arrest. In court, Siapno wore a gray suit and a blue shirt, and the ex-Marine punctuated his answers to Rapoport’s questions with “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” At times, Siapno’s voice seemed to waver with emotion and he wiped his nose with a handkerchief. According to Siapno, rookie whistle-blower Keith Batt misunderstood much of what happened. Earlier in the trial, Batt testified that Siapno asked him, “Are you ready for the dark side?” Batt said he took that to mean whether he was ready to hurt suspects. On the witness stand, Siapno said he meant something entirely different. “What I meant was the dark side of society; the criminal element in Oakland,” he said. Siapno, who was Vazquez’s partner during the time Batt was on the force, spent part of his testimony bolstering Vazquez’s case. Refuting Batt’s testimony, Siapno said he never heard Vazquez say phrases such as “fuck all that shit that you learned in the academy” and “fuck probable cause.” He also said that “Rider” is a term criminals use to refer to cops in unmarked cars. Tuesday morning, Siapno implied that Matthew Watson, who allegedly got a swollen eye after he was brutalized by Vazquez and Siapno, may have gotten hurt when Vazquez jumped out of the car to arrest him. Watson was not injured after he was arrested, Siapno said. Earlier, Watson testified that Siapno and Vazquez took him under a freeway and beat him. Watson, who was then 16, also said he was hit with a large metal flashlight. On Tuesday, Siapno said he and Vazquez were carrying small, lightweight flashlights. While he was on the witness stand, the fired cop described himself as quieter than most officers. Siapno’s testimony covered a long list of accomplishments that included several forms of martial arts, awards for athletic prowess and extensive travel abroad. The former officer said he never socialized with Mabanag and Vazquez outside of work, but once went on a scuba diving trip with Hornung in the Virgin Islands. Siapno said that under a special police project called “SANE,” he and other officers were told to show “zero tolerance” to drug dealers. Superiors ordered them to “make life miserable for dope dealers, to make sure they don’t go back to the corners,” he testified. When one veteran cop said he feared that the stepped-up enforcement would spur criminals to make internal affairs complaints, a supervisor assured him, “Don’t be afraid to put your hands on them. We’ll back up your play,” Siapno said. Siapno’s testimony is expected to continue today. The trial began in September; the prosecution has finished presenting its case.

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