OPD officer charged with perjury, threatening witness; 125 homicide cases under review: DA

Bay City News
Wednesday, April 26, 2023
Oakland police officer charged with perjury, bribery, DA says
An Oakland police officer has been charged with perjury and bribery over his alleged interactions with witnesses in a 2016 murder trial, the DA said.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price on Tuesday announced perjury and bribery charges against an Oakland police homicide detective over his alleged interactions with witnesses in a 2016 murder trial.

Price said Officer Phong Tran is facing two counts of felony perjury for allegedly lying under oath during the 2016 trial and a 2014 preliminary hearing in the killing of Charles Butler.

Tran is also charged with subordination of perjury under oath, bribery of a witness and attempted bribery of a witness, all felonies, according to Price.

"Lying and manipulating a witness are serious violations of the public trust, and Officer Tran will be held accountable," Price said.

In addition to the charges, Price said her office will work with the Northern California Innocence Project to review at least 125 cases that Tran was involved with as a homicide investigator "to assess the impact of Officer Tran's misconduct on the justice system," according to a news release Price sent out Tuesday.

"When the integrity of a conviction is at issue in one case, it raises questions in every other case that officer has investigated," Price said. "The people of Alameda County need to have confidence in the criminal justice system, and these charges are a step forward toward regaining that trust."

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Price accuses Tran of falsely claiming he didn't know a key witness in Butler's 2011 North Oakland shooting death and of sometimes giving her cash payments from his own money.

She also claims that after two men were convicted of Butler's murder, Tran allegedly admitted he had known the witness and had given her money.

"It turned out that this key witness was not a witness at all and was asked by Officer Tran to testify against the two men," according to Price.

Tran is also charged with attempted bribery of another witness in the same case, allegedly in exchange for help with her son's criminal case, according to Price.

In 2022, after 10 years behind bars, both men's convictions were overturned "as a direct result of Officer Tran's misconduct," Price said.

Oakland police officials directed all questions to the District Attorney's Office but released a statement saying they are aware of his charges.

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"The Oakland Police Department was made aware that an arrest warrant was issued for one of our officers," police said. "The department is fully cooperating with the Alameda County District Attorney's Office."

Tran's lawyer said the charges against his client are baseless and worrisome.

"The DA treats murderers like heroes, looking for every possible excuse to keep them out of jail. Yet, real heroes such as Oakland Homicide Detective Tran -- who has dedicated and risked his life to try to keep the city safe -- are treated like criminals," attorney Andrew Ganz said in a statement.

"He is being prosecuted for having the audacity to investigate, arrest and bring to justice the killers who terrorize Oakland. These charges are baseless and should gravely concern every Alameda County resident that desires a truly equitable criminal justice system," Ganz said.

Tran's union, the Oakland Police Officers' Association, said previous investigations by police and the District Attorney's Office have already cleared the veteran detective.

"We are confident that this officer will be vindicated once a competent court reviews these unfounded charges," said OPOA president Barry Donelan.

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"This case is not about seeking justice or ensuring public safety; rather, it appears to be an attempt by District Attorney Pamela Price to undermine the credibility of dedicated public servants and facilitate the release of convicted murderers," Donelan said. "Such actions will undoubtedly jeopardize the safety of Oakland and Alameda County residents."

Butler was shot and killed in his car on Dec. 22, 2011 near 46th and West streets but it wasn't until a woman came forward in 2013 saying she was a witness that Cartier Hunter of Oakland and Giovante Douglas of Richmond were arrested for his murder.

Security camera footage played at trial showed the three men interacting, possibly arguing over a fender bender, a short distance from the crime scene but there was no footage of the killing itself.

Both men were eventually convicted with the help of witness testimony, with Hunter getting 50 years to life in prison and Douglas sentenced to 26 years to life.

During the trial, defense attorneys said there were problems with the way the police investigated the case and that the prosecution witnesses who identified Hunter and Douglas as the suspects weren't credible or accurate.

After their convictions were overturned, Hunter and Douglas were released from prison in 2022.

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