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After the 50th day of deliberations Wednesday, the jury in Oakland’s “Riders” police misconduct case is still struggling to resolve the longest criminal trial in Alameda County history, fueling speculation that it may acquit or fail to reach verdicts on many issues. But even if they are acquitted, the three fired officers may not be out of prosecutors’ reach. Once the verdicts in the state case are in, it’s possible federal prosecutors could step in to pursue criminal civil rights charges against the three ex-cops accused of terrorizing suspected drug dealers and doctoring police reports to cover up their actions. “This office has always been interested in pursuing civil rights cases,” said C. Don Clay, the No. 2 in the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco. Clay said the office would weigh its options, but declined to predict how it would proceed. But federal attorneys face numerous hurdles in prosecuting the case, says one legal expert, ranging from the difficulty of proving that the officers intended to violate their alleged victims’ civil rights to getting the green light from Washington, D.C., to spend time and money on the case. “I have to say it’s a very difficult prosecution,” said Rory Little, a Hastings College of the Law professor and a former appellate chief in the San Francisco U.S. attorney’s office. Clay said the U.S. attorney’s office agreed early on to “stand down” from the Riders case so that Alameda County could prosecute it. District Attorney Tom Orloff, who has personally handled the case since Deputy DA David Hollister left to become a Plumas County prosecutor, confirmed there was a meeting. “The agreement was where the case would go initially, and that was here,” Orloff said. He declined to comment on whether the offices discussed what would happen after the trial. William Rapoport, one of the officers’ attorneys, says the defense has discussed the possibility of a federal case, but is focused on the state trial. Last week, jurors told Alameda County Superior Court Judge Leopoldo Dorado that they were deadlocked on many of the 35 charges against ex-officers Charles Mabanag, Jude Siapno and Matthew Hornung. If the jury acquits or fails to reach verdicts on many issues, the feds have a duty to step in, one lawyer said. “The local community needs to know that the federal government will take the case when the local prosecutor can’t get the job done,” said Oakland attorney John Burris. Burris and Berkeley attorney James Chanin represented more than 100 plaintiffs who claimed that the Riders and other cops violated their civil rights. Oakland city leaders agreed to pay $11 million to settle the suit. Following a failed state case with a federal prosecution is, of course, not without precedent. The most famous example is the Rodney King case, where a state court jury acquitted Los Angeles police officers accused in the videotaped beating of King. Within months, federal prosecutors indicted the officers for violating King’s civil rights. Ultimately, two of the officers were sent to prison. Federal prosecutors in the Northern District recently prosecuted a civil rights case against Pelican Bay prison guards accused of setting up fights between prisoners. And 12 years ago, the U.S. attorney’s office won convictions when it pursued similar charges against four Oakland Housing Authority cops who brutalized low-income tenants and suspected drug dealers. In the early days of the Riders trial, there were signs that the U.S. attorney’s office had its eye on the Alameda County trial. According to Rapoport, U.S. attorney staff transcribed some internal affairs interviews that were used for the case. And Melinda Haag, the federal prosecutor who tried the Pelican Bay case and who was then the Northern District’s white-collar crime chief, was a spectator during the early part of the Riders trial. However, initial talks between the Alameda County DA’s office and federal prosecutors occurred during former U.S. Attorney Robert Mueller III’s watch. U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan took the helm last year, after Mueller left to head the FBI, and Haag has since left the office and plans to join Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe in October. Ryan made Clay his assistant, and Clay took over monitoring the Riders case. According to one expert, those staff changes won’t influence whether Ryan decides to pursue criminal civil rights charges. However, several legal and political hurdles will, said Little, the Hastings professor. First, federal prosecutors must prove that the ex-officers intended to violate their alleged victims’ civil rights, said Little. That’s a tough legal burden, and Department of Justice officials in Washington, D.C., won’t give Ryan a green light unless he can meet it. “They turn down a lot of cases,” Little said. “If they don’t think that they can win on intent, they won’t do it.” Also, the office will look at how much time and money it will take to pursue the case. It’s less likely the feds will take the case if it’s a resource drain and will be hard to win, Little said. Part of the reason the Rodney King and the housing authority cases were successful, attorneys say, is that federal prosecutors were armed with videotape of the crimes. In the Riders case, the jury has struggled to sort through months of conflicting testimony. In general, police misconduct is difficult to prove, said Chanin, one of the attorneys who represented plaintiffs in the Riders civil suit. But he’s holding out hope that the feds or the DA will put the Riders behind bars. “There is no resolution to this case until there is a verdict on every count,” Chanin said. “If there is a hung jury� we want a retrial.”

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