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Many of the players who were involved in an $11 million police misconduct civil settlement in February are quarterbacking Oakland’s latest high-profile legal action. City leaders are bracing for suits over an April police crackdown on protesters, and the city attorney is assembling a panel for an independent investigation. The move comes as a jury continues to deliberate on whether to convict three former cops accused in the “Riders” scandal, which broke in the summer of 2000 and resulted in the current criminal trial and in a civil settlement which was reached earlier this year. During an April 7 anti-war demonstration at the Port of Oakland, police fired “non-lethal” ammunition at protesters. Police said the action took place after the crowd ignored orders to leave and threw bottles and other objects at officers. Injuries to protesters and bystanders ranged from bruises and fractures to a wound that required a skin graft, attorneys say. The Oakland action gained national attention because it was among the most aggressive police responses in the nation to anti-war protests. So far, 22 people who say they were injured by projectiles and excessive force have filed claims with the city. A coalition of plaintiffs attorneys is preparing a suit, and the City Council has ordered an independent probe of the incident. The legal cast of characters will include many figures from the Riders civil case. Berkeley’s James Chanin and Oakland’s John Burris — two of the attorneys who will get nearly $4 million in fees from the Riders settlement — are on the plaintiffs’ legal team. Chanin has filed a claim on behalf of 16 alleged victims, and Burris said he represents about 10 longshoremen who were injured while trying to go to work. On the city’s side are City Attorney John Russo and his chief assistant, Randolph Hall. Some of the faces may be the same, but both sides say that there are key differences between the Riders case and the recent controversy. The Riders case was triggered by a whistle-blower cop and forced prosecutors to re-examine dozens of cases — some which resulted in prison sentences — that relied on accounts from the accused officers. Chanin, Burris and San Francisco attorney John Houston Scott filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 119 plaintiffs who said they were victims of those four officers and others. The Riders civil settlement gave money to victims and instituted reforms to increase accountability and officer oversight, Hall said. The Port of Oakland incident, on the other hand, deals with police crowd control procedures and the First Amendment. “This is very, very different from the Riders case,” Hall said. Issues have been raised in the latest complaints that were not part of the reforms addressed after the Riders case, Chanin said. “We didn’t even address those issues,” Chanin said. “The [settlement] is totally silent on the issue of crowd control.” Burris said the February Riders settlement could not have prevented the April 7 police crackdown at the port, but he still found the incident “disheartening.” “It raised the issue in my mind: Did we miss something, or was there a lack of [police] commitment?” Chanin said that this time around he and Burris will be joined by a broad coalition of attorneys who represent roughly 40 victims. The group includes Northern California ACLU legal director Alan Schlosser, attorneys from the port workers’ union, Berkeley solo Thomas Osha Neumann and San Francisco attorney Rachel Lederman. Neumann and Lederman are with the National Lawyers Guild, which traditionally provides legal support and representation to demonstrators, Lederman said. The group says its suit will address whether firing rubber bullets, dowels, beanbags and other such ammunition was justified and whether police weapons were used properly. The suit will seek damages and an injunction to stop police from repeating such actions. The ACLU is also concerned about Oakland Tribune reports that the state’s Anti-Terrorism Information Center supplied information to Oakland police officials suggesting that port protesters could be violent, Schlosser said. Oakland’s Haddad & Sherwin, which has filed claims on behalf of five protesters and one journalist injured at the demonstration, is pursuing separate legal action, name partner Michael Haddad said. Meanwhile, Russo is assembling the independent panel to probe the incident. Retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell and San Francisco attorney Dale Minami will be among the names sent to the Oakland City Council when it votes on whether to approve the panel. Cordell, a vice provost at Stanford, was appointed to the Santa Clara County Municipal Court bench by Jerry Brown in 1982. When she was elected to the superior court in 1988, she was the first African- American superior court judge in that county’s history. Minami is best known for his role in civil rights cases such as Korematsu v. United States, which sought to overturn the conviction of a Japanese man who resisted internment during World War II. The Minami Lew & Tamaki partner has served on other influential panels: He is a former member of the Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission and Sen. Barbara Boxer’s 1993 committee to vet U.S. attorney candidates. Washington, D.C., Assistant Police Chief Brian Jordan has also been asked to join the panel. Two more lawyers may be added to the list before it goes to a City Council vote, Russo spokeswoman Karen Boyd said. The panel members have agreed to work free of charge. As this latest legal battle heats up, the criminal trial for the three Riders officers, who are charged with 26 felonies, is winding down. Last week, prosecutor David Hollister and defense attorneys made closing arguments before the jury in the case of Charles Mabanag, Jude Siapno and Matthew Hornung, who are accused of assaulting suspects, kidnapping, making false arrests and trying to cover up with falsified police reports. Another accused officer, Francisco Vazquez, is a fugitive. The Riders case, which is the longest-running criminal trial in county history, is just over a year old, and the jury began deliberations last week.

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