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Alameda County, Calif., District Attorney Tom Orloff announced Tuesday that he will retry the historic “Riders” case, which accused three Oakland police officers of using illegal tactics to crack down on West Oakland drug dealers. “I believe that the probability of convictions in this case justifies a retrial,” Orloff said, adding that he “wrestled with the decision.” Immediately following the announcement during a session in Judge Jon Rolefson’s courtroom, attorneys for the three accused officers called the retrial “irresponsible.” The prosecution’s case will be even weaker at the retrial, they said. “They will lose again,” said William Rapoport, a Redwood City, Calif., attorney on the defense team. The longest criminal trial in the county’s history, the yearlong Riders case ended in September, when, after four months of deliberations, a jury found the officers not guilty of eight crimes but hung on 27 other allegations. The scandal began in July 2000 when rookie Oakland police officer Keith Batt quit after working 10 shifts. He told supervisors that the so-called Riders brutalized suspects, planted evidence and lied in police reports. The police department fired Clarence Mabanag, Jude Siapno, Matthew Hornung and Francisco Vazquez. Mabanag, Siapno and Hornung stood trial. Vazquez is believed to have fled the country. Opening statements began in September 2002. While the prosecution argued that the ex-officers crossed the line, the defense argued that their clients were under orders to aggressively cut crime. The second Riders trial won’t resemble the first, the DA and other attorneys say. The DA said his office will streamline the case, but declined to provide details, including which deputy DA would handle it. The original deputy DA assigned to the case, David Hollister, is now a Plumas County prosecutor. After Hollister began his new job, Orloff handled the case personally. The officers’ attorneys may try to convince a judge that the case should be moved out of Alameda County. Judge Leopoldo Dorado denied a defense change-of-venue motion during the first trial. During the next trial, the defense will also be armed with preliminary hearing and trial transcripts that Rapoport said can be used to show how prosecution witnesses “have lied over and over again.” The parties are scheduled to return to court Dec. 9 to plan the next trial. During Tuesday’s hearing, Orloff said he poured over transcripts, consulted with other DAs and talked to the U.S. Attorney’s Office before reaching his decision to retry the case. He said he believes he has enough evidence to convince a jury of the officers’ guilt. The defense speculated that Orloff’s decision was spurred by controversy surrounding the Riders jury. Some observers have questioned why Hollister didn’t bring a Wheeler motion — an argument that one side is trying to skew the jury’s racial composition — to keep African-Americans on the jury. Although there were black alternate jurors, there were no African-Americans on the main panel. Many of the Riders’ alleged victims were black. In anonymous press interviews, some jurors said the complexity of the case and a conservative jury faction caused many of the deadlocks. Another jury won’t change the outcome, said lead defense attorney Michael Rains, of Pleasant Hill’s Rains, Lucia & Wilkinson. “The reality is that we will have the same jury pool that we had last time,” Rains said, noting that most of the jurors were pro-prosecution. “This was not a defense jury,” Rains said. “We were surprised that the jury did what it did.” Political pressure to retry the case began almost immediately after the jury verdicts. John Burris, an Oakland civil rights attorney who represented plaintiffs in the Riders civil case, said he personally lobbied Orloff and U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan’s office to pursue the case. A coalition of local religious leaders as well as a community group called PUEBLO have staged rallies outside city hall and the courthouse over the past few weeks. Burris and James Chanin, a Berkeley lawyer who also represented Riders victims in the civil case, spoke at the rallies. After the Tuesday hearing, a representative from the interfaith group — who said she had concerns about the Wheeler issue — personally thanked the DA. Orloff’s decision was “courageous,” Burris said. “The retrial is a very important statement to the African-American community, to the victims and to the good police officers as well,” Burris said. “If the prosecutor is not prepared to go to the mat, it’s harder for them to come forward.” Regardless of the second trial’s outcome, the case has already had a big impact on Oakland. Prosecutors reviewed and dismissed more than 80 cases that relied heavily on statements from the accused officers. City officials agreed to an $11 million settlement with 119 plaintiffs who said the Riders and other officers violated their civil rights. The city also agreed to implement wide-ranging police reforms.

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