What Ever Happened To ... 

Another look at stories that appeared in the Express in 2002.

Checking up on Dr. Bob

His surgery didn't go well. Robert Horwitz, known to customers at his Walnut Creek pharmacy as "Doctor Bob," still hobbles around his home more than five months after undergoing a knee operation. "It's not healing very well," the pharmacist complains. "Let's just say I won't be playing racquetball anytime soon."

Last year, Horwitz was stripped of his pharmacist's license after a batch of the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone made at his pharmacy was linked to the death of three East Bay residents. A dozen more patients injected with the drug later came down with meningitis. The California State Board of Pharmacists blamed Horwitz' lackadaisical lab protocol for the contamination. Since the deaths, Horwitz has been besieged with civil suits, and his former business partner, Jamie Sheets, committed suicide. Investigators were unable to determine which employee at Doc's Pharmacy was responsible for contaminating the fatal batch.

In November, when a similar outbreak from a South Carolina pharmacy made national news, Horwitz put in a call to Ray Burns, the pharmacist in charge there. "It was my intent to be supportive," Horwitz says, recalling the whipping he took from the local media, the FDA, and the state board. "But he said his state board was sticking up for him, which, as you know, was very unlike my situation."

With more time on his hands now, Horwitz has been working on a textbook about compounding -- the fading craft of mixing customized drugs, rather than merely pushing prefab pharmaceuticals. Before his downfall, Horwitz was a highly respected compounder known for his creative recipes that helped alleviate pain for cancer victims and recovering opiate addicts. His colleagues named him "Compounder of the Year" in 2000. He says his textbook will be marketed to college students and working pharmacists. "I feel like it's an area where I have some expertise and something to offer," Horwitz says. "My goal is to help other people." -- Justin Berton

Gray skies for Lil' Cloudy

It was May. School was almost out. But unlike most teenagers, eighteen-year-old Trung didn't look forward to the summer. He was to spend one hundred days under house arrest with an ankle monitor keeping tabs on his whereabouts.

When we last left Trung (not his real name), he was on probation until age 21. A member of an Asian street gang in Richmond, he'd been arrested for carrying a .22. His own father had turned him in after the two argued over the young man's late nights out.

Trung is one of a growing number of Asian-American kids who has run afoul of the law. Arrests of young Asians and Pacific Islanders jumped 726 percent from 1977 to 1997, according to FBI figures, an increase that far outstripped Asian-American population growth of 276 percent from 1980 to 2000.

When the Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Violence Prevention Center in Oakland broke local juvenile arrest data into specific Asian subgroups -- Vietnamese, Cambodian, etc. -- it found that some had alarmingly high crime rates, defying the stereotype of Asians as do-gooders and academic overachievers. Soon after "Lost Generation" was published in June, Trung violated his probation. While his parents were vacationing in Vietnam, he invited some friends to his Richmond home, sparking an argument with one of his sisters. He hit her in the face. Another sister called the cops and the young man went back to jail.

Trung was unwilling to talk about his situation, but according to one of his sisters, he was released after several court dates. A bright -- if frequently truant -- student, he enrolled in community college full-time this fall and just completed final exams. But he still stays out late on weekends, his siblings say, and he often doesn't come home for days. When he does, he sometimes sports scratches and bruises. "No one knows what he does," says his sister. "Whenever he's not there and my mom goes to work in the morning, she calls home every half-hour to see if he's home yet; she's really concerned about him." -- Melissa Hung The criminal misconduct trial against a trio of ex-Oakland cops known as the Riders is quietly entering its fourth month now. In contrast to the prolonged public outrage in Los Angeles over the so-called Rampart scandal, the Riders' case hasn't generated the same level of media interest or even resulted in any political casualties. We have yet to read a 13,000-word New Yorker piece on the Riders, as was written earlier about Rampart. And in the LA district attorney's race a couple of years ago, incumbent Gil Garcetti's handling (or mishandling) of the scandal became a major campaign issue. Garcetti lost. Here in Alameda County, District Attorney Tom Orloff glided unopposed to re-election this year.

What's the difference? A good deal of credit must be given to Orloff and Oakland Police Chief Richard Word. Soon after the Riders scandal broke, Orloff cut a deal with the public defender to dismiss suspicious cases against people busted by one of the allegedly rogue cops going back to January 1999. The result? No ugly court fights between the public defender and prosecutors over embarrassing old cases reminding the public over and over of the cops' purported transgressions: Falsifying police reports or planting crack rocks to justify bogus arrests, or beating the shit out of handcuffed suspects (typically young black men). Word, meanwhile, has gradually been instituting reforms of his troubled department, mostly in the form of increased supervision.

The upcoming phase of the Riders trial, the cops' rebuttal, will put the chief and his department under the interrogation -- and media -- spotlight. Mike Rains, defense attorney for Chuck Mabanag, has said he will call Word to the stand. He hopes Word's testimony will show that the cops were acting with the blessing and encouragement of department brass to be aggressive in fighting street crime in West Oakland. Word will also have to admit that he himself reinstated Mabanag as a field training officer after the officer was decertified by the previous chief for having too many misconduct complaints ("Chief Was Last Word on Riders," July 31, 2002).

Rains and the other lawyers at the defense side of the table, Edward Fishman and William Rapoport, must repair the damage done during the prosecution's three-month opening. Fishman, who represents Officer Matthew Hornung and is the youngest of the three defense attorneys, made two crucial mistakes.

In one instance, a misstep by Fishman resulted in the court playing all six hours of star witness Keith Batt's taped interview with Internal Affairs. That gave the jury a second opportunity to hear the earnest-sounding Batt, this time without cross-examination. Then last month, Fishman badgered witness Steve Hewison, an Oakland cop who graduated from the same police academy as Batt, about a locker-room conversation he claimed to have had with Hornung after Batt had snitched. When Fishman pressed Hewison about the reliability of his version of the conversation, Hewison remembered that he might have made notes of what was said shortly after the heated exchange. Unlike Batt, Hewison had only reluctantly cooperated with prosecutors in the case, and Deputy District Attorney Dave Hollister says the young cop never told him about the note. Judge Leo Dorado halted testimony until Hewison could produce the note, which he did. Only a videotape would have been worse. Hewison's written recollection said that Hornung warned him to stick with his version of events. Hornung also allegedly instructed Hewison not to talk to anyone but him or Mabanag. "We never had this conversation," the note said Hornung warned.

Chief Word won't be the only attention-getting witness. Mabanag, the most senior and articulate of the three officers, is expected to take the stand. And for the first time since the scandal broke in September 2000, the public will finally get to hear what one of the Riders has to say in his own words. -- Will Harper

Corn's a-poppin'

Late last year, microbial biologists Ignacio Chapela and David Quist of UC Berkeley published a paper in the scientific journal Nature claiming they had found evidence of genetically modified DNA turning up in supposedly pristine Mexican corn crops. Their study unleashed an international fury. Their findings were criticized as technically flawed and politically motivated; both researchers had actively opposed a $25 million research agreement between UC Berkeley's Department of Plant and Microbial Biology and the bioengineering giant Syngenta. Some of their toughest critics came from their own campus, and Nature eventually withdrew support for the study without retracting it, a first in the journal's history. But Quist and Chapela also had powerful defenders who alleged that the criticism was simply a sneaky smear campaign waged by people with vested interests in selling transgenic seeds to developing nations. Most important, the Mexican government itself kept hinting that it was producing its own study that would validate the Cal researchers' claims.

In August, the Mexican National Ecology Institute finally released a study that reaffirmed the Cal scientists' findings that transgenic corn was appearing throughout the Mexican countryside. Then in October, another furor erupted when a Mexican newspaper revealed that Nature had declined to publish the government study, after its two peer reviewers turned the study down for contradictory reasons. (One claimed the conclusion was too obvious to merit publication; the other claimed the institute's methodology was flawed.) Critics of genetic engineering say the tainting of native maize is still being hushed up, and that the Mexican committee set up to investigate the issue is so stacked with biotech proponents that reforms will never be made.

Associate Professor Chapela says that while it was gratifying to have his study's conclusions affirmed by other scientists, he is frustrated that very little has changed to prevent corn with engineered genes from mingling with farm crops. "People are continuing to plant these things, the Mexican government continues to import transgenic nonlabeled corn, and, in terms of the [Syngenta] deal, we continue to think it's the best thing since sliced bread without thinking 'Yes, the operation of the university has suffered really badly,'" he says.

The five-year deal between Syngenta and Cal will expire in November 2003, although the renewal deadline passed last month without word from the financially ailing biotech company. University administrators say no decision has yet been made about extending the alliance. Meanwhile, Chapela is up for tenure, and he and Quist, a graduate student, continue to work together on related projects, although they're steering clear of the controversial corn. "I feel I cannot work on this very specific narrow field anymore because anything we say is tainted by the discreditation campaign," he says. -- Kara Platoni


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