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Ex-cops cleared of 8 counts -- mistrial on 27 others
Oakland Riders acquitted of misconduct charges
END GAME: Corruption trial was longest in city history
DEADLOCKED: Most jurors thought officers were scapegoats

Jim Herron Zamora, Meredith May, Chronicle Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Click to View

The jurors in Dept. 5 gave up a year of their lives to find the real story behind police corruption in Oakland. In four months of heated deliberations, they hurled insults at each other and even discussed "Dirty Harry" -- the rogue cop who believed the ends justify the means.

After all that, the jury deciding the fate of three allegedly abusive officers could agree on little except one thing: They didn't believe the prosecution's star witness.

Rookie cop Keith Batt's pivotal testimony that his supervisors routinely beat and framed poor black drug dealers in West Oakland fell flat before a jury of mainly suburbanites.

"Personally, I didn't believe Batt at all," said the jury foreman, a law student from southern Alameda County.

Nor did jurors believe the testimony of the alleged victims. That was a big mistake, according to two alternate jurors who sat through nine months of testimony and evidence but did not participate in deliberations.

Those two alternates -- who, unlike the 12 members of the voting panel, are African American -- said that the jury had no clue about black communities' poor relations with police and that the three Oakland cops accused in the Riders case were clearly guilty.

"I am shocked, but I shouldn't be," said alternate No. 1 as her fellow alternate nodded agreement. "The victims were all black, and most of the jurors are from bedroom communities where there are not many black people."

One of the voting jurors was an Asian American woman, while the racial and ethnic backgrounds of the 11 others were not known.

In interviews after the mistrial was declared Tuesday, the foreman and four other voting jurors spoke anonymously to The Chronicle about their yearlong ordeal on the Riders trial.

JURORS DISBELIEVED BATT

The case ended in a mistrial because most jurors dismissed Batt's testimony and came to believe the three ex-cops were framed by top brass and overzealous prosecutors.

When the trial began last September, Batt testified that the three officers ran roughshod over young African American men in West Oakland, beating them, planting drugs on them and filing false reports to justify their actions.

Before he became a whistle-blower, Batt admitted he had helped write false reports. A change of heart led him to quit the Police Department and turn in his training officers, he said.

Under cross-examination, Batt admitted that he hadn't lost any sleep over arresting men on bogus charges. But his honesty might have backfired with jurors, who agreed with defense portrayals of Batt as a liar.

"He admitted that it did not bother him to lie," the foreman said. "He had no morals."

One juror said he supported a guilty verdict only in situations where testimony by Batt was corroborated by other witnesses.

Jurors acquitted the three former officers of eight charges, including kidnapping. But jurors deadlocked on the remaining 27 charges, unable to reach a unanimous decision on each.

LEANING TOWARD ACQUITTAL

In 26 of those deadlocked charges, the majority of the panel had leaned toward acquittal. The jury leaned toward conviction on just one deadlocked charge -- that Clarence Mabanag had filed a false overtime slip.

Five of the 12 jurors believed that the three fired officers were "pretty much innocent of all charges," according to the jury foreman and three other members of the panel.

Three jurors voted not guilty on all 35 charges, while the rest cast mixed votes.

Jurors said it was difficult to get through such a "massive amount of evidence." They also got bogged down in a series of long -- and often contentious -- debates over the law and the ethical conflicts of front-line cops in tough neighborhoods.

UGLY DELIBERATIONS

Several times jurors shouted at one another. At one point in July, Judge Leo Dorado ordered them into his court and admonished them to refrain "from personal insults" and "name-calling, rudeness or anti-social behavior." He also urged them to "cooperate in good faith and mutual respect.''

The jury told the judge it was hopelessly deadlocked, and Dorado sent them back to the deliberation room anyway, prompting one juror to weep and another to shake his head in disgust.

Two jurors said some of them came to the trial with preconceived ideas about the integrity of police officers and wouldn't budge from their position.

"Some people had their minds made up before the trial even started," said juror No. 6. "Some people just wouldn't listen."

DIRTY HARRY AS TALKING POINT

At one point, using Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" character, jurors debated the ethics of a cop who violates the law to save a person's life. Jurors also noted that Dirty Harry was a good cop pushed over the line by aggressive, politically motivated bosses.

"Some people have trouble believing these cops can do anything wrong," said juror No. 6, who voted guilty on about 15 charges. "I personally felt that these cops were not all bad but they clearly went too far in some situations. Many fellow jurors had trouble accepting that."

Even jurors who believed the Riders acted illegally had trouble convicting them on many of the felonies, the juror said. "These weren't assaults. These weren't false arrests. But I do think there was excessive force and lying by these officers," he said.

Another juror, an Oakland woman who asked that she not be identified even by juror number, said that it was clear early on that the panel was not going to convict the officers.

"But some people thought they were guilty on a few (charges) and wouldn't budge," said the woman, who fears reprisal if her name becomes public.

"We spent all summer going back and forth, and only one juror ever changed his mind. Then he changed it back."

The female juror, who voted not guilty on all charges, said the case was a "waste of my time and the taxpayers' money." She said several jurors felt the officers were scapegoats.

"It was politically motivated from the very beginning," she said. "There was underlying feeling among many of us that this was all crap."

The foreman agreed. "We looked at all the evidence and it's clear the prosecutors brought us a bogus case. . . . This case was a political effort to blame all the problems in the Oakland Police Department on three officers."

The foreman and two other jurors agreed with defense attorneys that the only victims in the case were the three fired officers, who avoided felony conviction but will probably never work in law enforcement again.

AFRICAN AMERICAN ALTERNATES

The two African American alternate jurors who did not participate in the marathon closed-door deliberations said the acquittals left them stunned.

"This blows me away," said alternate No. 1, an Oakland resident. "I can't believe this. They are so guilty. The evidence was overwhelming."

She said that the jury could not empathize with the alleged victims or believe that police would abuse their authority.

"Most black people know that police can lie to make an arrest," she said, fighting back tears. "But I think the people on this jury don't believe it's possible for police to lie. They just don't get it."

E-mail the writers at jzamora@sfchronicle.com and mmay@sfchronicle.com.

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10/01/2003 - Ex-cops cleared of 8 counts -- mistrial on 27 others / Oakland Riders acquitted of misconduct charges / END GAME.

09/30/2003 - 3 Oakland cops acquitted in 'Riders' case.

09/20/2003 - 'Riders' verdicts not seen as likely.

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