Chief Was Last Word on Riders 

One of the four Oakland cops accused of rampant brutality was demoted by the prior chief but reinstated by his successor.

As a field-training officer for the Oakland Police Department, Clarence "Chuck" Mabanag wanted to make sure his new recruit knew the rules for being a cop -- the real rules, not the written ones. According to 23-year-old rookie Keith Batt, before their first graveyard shift together on the drug-plagued streets of West Oakland his new partner and supervisor told him "What goes on in the car, stays in the car." Mabanag also allegedly warned Batt not to be a snitch.

But Batt became so repulsed by what he saw on the job that he quit after only nine shifts and broke the rules -- he snitched. He told investigators an incredible tale of a rogue band of cops known as the Riders, who allegedly lied in police reports, framed suspected drug dealers, and beat the crap out of them.

On his second week on the job, Batt said he and the Riders tangled with an African-American man named Delphine Allen while he was walking on 32nd Street. The four Riders -- Mabanag, Jude Siapno, Matthew Hornung, and Frank "Choker" Vazquez -- kicked, punched, and beat Allen while he was handcuffed and down on his knees, Batt later testified. Batt himself admitted to kicking Allen twice to impress the other cops, especially the field-training officer who would ultimately write his performance evaluation.

But when it was all over, Batt later said, Mabanag seemed disappointed in his trainee; he wondered why the rookie only kicked Allen twice. "Why did you stop?" Batt recalled his supervisor asking him. Batt added that Mabanag lectured him "that he had never seen a trainee ... hold back as much as I had."

It's a chilling thought that Chuck Mabanag might never have seen a trainee hold back as much as Batt. It's also a chilling thought that a cop now facing such charges spent so many years teaching rookies how to become cops on the mean streets of Oakland. Mabanag served as a field-training officer for five of the eleven years he worked for the Oakland Police Department. A training officer typically supervises about nine recruits a year, which means Mabanag probably trained about 45 junior officers in his day.

Among the recruits on Mabanag's list of past trainees is his codefendant in the upcoming criminal trial, Matthew Hornung. Unlike Keith Batt, Hornung apparently followed "the rules." During his second week as a cop in November 1998, he and Mabanag arrested a man who later accused the two cops in court of planting drugs on him. The city of Oakland agreed to pay the man $195,000 earlier this year to settle the case.

There's a bit of irony in the Riders case that hasn't yet come to light. If Keith Batt had never been teamed up with Chuck Mabanag, there probably would not be a criminal trial pending right now in Alameda County Superior Court. And Chuck Mabanag would never have been paired with Keith Batt if police chief Richard Word hadn't come to Mabanag's rescue the year before.

When the Riders scandal first made headlines two years ago, Chief Word worked admirably to restore public trust in his tarnished department. The Oakland police chief certainly was no Daryl Gates, the former Los Angeles top cop who stubbornly defended the officers who beat Rodney King. Word moved quickly to have the four cops fired. He even stood next to District Attorney Tom Orloff at a press conference supporting the DA's decision to file criminal charges. And he aggressively distanced himself and the rest of the department from the Riders, whom he described as possible "bad apples."

Police critics, however, have never bought into the "bad apples" argument. They contend that the core of the department -- from the shift sergeants who supervised the Riders all the way up to the chief himself -- must be rotten too. At least that's what attorneys Jim Chanin and John Burris argue in a class-action lawsuit filed against Oakland and its police department on behalf of 116 mostly African-American plaintiffs who claim to have been victims of abuses by the Riders and other Oakland cops since 1995.

In making their case against the department's top brass, Chanin and Burris argued that "The abuses in question were the product of a culture of tolerance within the City of Oakland Police Department. This culture is rooted in the deliberate indifference of high-ranking city officials," including the police chief. But when it came to specifics, the trial lawyers offered little proof of "deliberate indifference" by police brass. That is, until last month.

On June 17, with settlement talks going nowhere, Chanin and Burris asked the court to set a trial date. As part of that filing, they noted that Chief Word had personally reinstated Mabanag to his position as a field-training officer, "even though he had been relieved of that position earlier because of his complaint history."

It's uncommon for an Oakland field-training officer to be "decertified" for misconduct. Lieutenant Jeff Loman, who manages the training section, says none of the department's forty field training officers has been decertified for unacceptable conduct or performance in the last year and a half.

According to Michael Rains, Mabanag's attorney, former chief Joseph Samuels ordered Mabanag decertified in the latter part of 1998 because of complaints leveled against the officer the previous year -- two of which accused him of using excessive force. Rains said an internal-affairs investigation of the two force-related accusations neither exonerated Mabanag nor found him guilty. Instead, internal affairs issued a "not sustained" finding in each instance, meaning the allegations could neither be proven nor disproven.

Rains said one complaint stemmed from a December 1997 incident in which Mabanag chased down a fleeing suspect. "Chuck catches him, he turns around and squares away at Chuck to hit him, and Chuck hits him with his baton," Rains said. The suspect had to be taken to the hospital but was not severely injured, Rains said.

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