Did cops drag their feet on bakery probe?
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By Cecily Burt, Harry Harris and Josh Richman, Chauncey Bailey Project
The young woman sits on a chair in a vacant East Oakland house, a plastic bag covering her face, hands shackled in front of her. Men she can’t see tell her they’ve been watching her, they know she has a lot of cash.
They hit her in the knee with a board, or maybe it’s a bat. They slam her over the head again and again. Bleeding, the young woman thinks she is going to die. Her mother, abducted with her at gunpoint after leaving a bingo parlor at Foothill Square, sits shackled and terrified in one of two cars that brought them to the house.
“Where do you keep your money?” they demand of the daughter.
She tells them she doesn’t have a lot of money.
One man asks if she can “smell that gasoline, that’s the next thing that’s gonna happen.” They threaten to shove a hot curling iron in her vagina.
Then, suddenly, they are gone. A real police cruiser has driven up, and the officer hears the daughter screaming for help. The suspects scatter, leaving behind clues, a proverbial trail of bread crumbs – two cars, a cell phone, the vacant house itself – which police trace back to members of Your Black Muslim Bakery.
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But it will be nearly three months before more than 200 heavily armed police officers storm the bakery and other Bey-owned properties Aug. 3, eventually arresting bakery CEO Yusuf Bey IV, 21; Joshua Bey, 20; Yusuf Bey V, 20; and associate Tamon Halfin, 21, in connection with this violent May 17 kidnapping.The raid came too late to save Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey, gunned down in broad daylight on a downtown street a day earlier.Oakland police defend time spent investigating the kidnapping, and some criminal experts agree that 11 weeks is not unreasonable.But others question how dangerous suspects were allowed to remain at large for so long given the evidence at the scene and nature of the crime.They also think the chronology of the investigation suggests there may have been unnecessary delays or missteps.The May 17 kidnapping was “a pretty serious incident that, if it happened here in Boston, would be investigated expeditiously to say the least,” said Tom Nolan, a 27-year Boston Police Department veteran who now is a criminal justice professor at Boston University.Nolan said it seemed odd that Oakland police didn’t return to the house to collect evidence until May 26 or search the vehicles until May 31, when it was done by FBI personnel.“Nine days is troubling – they should’ve been out there the next day,” Nolan said. “Any defense counsel worth his salt is going to say that evidence was contaminated by then… The passage of time poses a problem for a prosecutor trying to tie this evidence to these people and this crime.”
Too late for Bailey, the shotgun police believe was used to pump three blasts into Bailey – a weapon reported stolen in a 2005 liquor-store vandalism spree in which Bey IV, Halfin and seven other bakery members were charged – was recovered in the Aug. 3 raid.
Later that day, bakery handyman Devaughndre Broussard confessed to the murder, telling police he and Bey IV had driven past Bailey’s house the night before the slaying. Later Broussard would recant his confession, and his attorney would say Bey IV had ordered Broussard to take the fall.
Although investigators say they believe Bey IV was involved in Bailey’s murder, he has not been charged in that case. Deputy chief Howard Jordan declined to give a reason.
Following the May kidnapping, Oakland police said they had to overcome several investigatory hurdles to make a case that would hold up in court. The women – whose names police have refused to disclose for their protection – couldn’t identify their assailants. Police said the suspects had tried to throw off investigators by falsely reporting stolen the two bakery-linked cars used in the kidnapping and the cell phone left at the kidnap scene. Also, there were long waits for information sought in search warrants, particularly cell phone records, police said.“There was no way to scoop up the suspects right away,” said Felony Assault Unit Officer Jesse Grant, the lead investigator. “We had to methodically build the case using physical evidence and statements of suspects to get them charged. If we rushed to get them they would have been in jail only 48 hours .¤.¤. there was a massive amount of evidence that had to be culled through.”The cell phone wasn’t spotted the night of the kidnapping because of darkness, and investigators’ heavy caseloads delayed them from returning to the crime scene any sooner than May 26, police said.By May 17, the city’s eight felony-assault detectives already had been assigned a total of more than 1,200 cases for 2007. Grant was still being assigned new cases as they came in.“There was a lot of forensic and biological evidence that we were trying to recover, processing cars and the house, and that takes a long time to get the right equipment and the right probable cause (for the warrants),” Jordan said.
As part of kidnapping investigation, the crime lab received more than 40 requests ranging from fingerprint comparisons to DNA matches. More than 20 search warrants were prepared and served to obtain cell phone records, DNA samples and access to the cars and house.
Jordan said police were concerned about witnesses’ safety if the suspects were arrested and then set free without being charged.
“When we figured out that this involved the bakery, we decided to take extra precautions to make sure that our investigative process and techniques were (solid) enough so that when we presented a case to the District Attorney (it was a) case that would be charged,” Jordan said.
But police had some key evidence within hours.
The vacant Avenal Avenue house in East Oakland in which the younger woman was beaten is owned by Faris Hadir, Bey IV’s brother-in-law, police said.
Two vehicles used by the kidnappers were abandoned at the house. A Ford Crown Victoria outfitted with police lights, which police said were used to fool the women into pulling their car over on Interstate 580, is registered to Bey IV’s older half-brother, Yusuf Bey III of Pittsburg. A Chrysler 300 is registered to Ameena Bey, Bey IV’s sister-in-law, widow of the late Antar Bey, former CEO of the bakery.
Oakland police asked the FBI to do the lab work on the two cars, which had been towed to a secure police lot May 18. The FBI was scheduled to do the work May 25, but the technicians were called away to an explosion in San Francisco, so the vehicles weren’t processed until May 31, police said.
Inside the Ford they recovered a booklet of receipts, some of which were marked “Black Muslim Bakery” on the “from” line. One receipt for $1,500 dated March 5 was titled “Avenal rent property” and was from “Jessie” to “Bey.”
Both cars’ owners reported them stolen nearly 24 hours after the kidnapping. Joshua Bey, in one of the stolen-car reports, said he had borrowed Bey III’s car that Thursday evening and parked it at the bakery’s San Pablo Avenue headquarters about 10:15 p.m. He told police he “possibly dropped the keys since he was holding bags of food in his arms,” and he said he might have left his cell phone in the car.
In the report for the Chrysler, Dhakir Raif Zaki told police he had used Ameena Bey’s car that Thursday to visit relatives on Avenal Avenue. He said he parked the car at 9 p.m. and discovered it missing the next morning at 11 a.m.
“They were already trying to establish alibis,” Grant said.
Nine days after the kidnapping, police served a search warrant on the Avenal Avenue house. They found a Samsung cell phone on the ground outside a broken window through which two of the men had escaped. The phone screen’s “desktop” was a picture of someone who appeared to be Joshua Bey, under the title “Beyboy16.”
That cell phone, a knife and other evidence inside the house have been fingerprinted, but investigators refuse to disclose the results.
Jordan wouldn’t comment on the importance of the cell phone, or whether he was surprised it was still there nine days after the crime.
On June 5 – nearly three weeks after the kidnapping – investigators took the cell phone to a Sprint store, presented an employee with a search warrant, and downloaded the phone’s contacts and logs.
The search resulted in the first direct links to Bey IV. Two text messages recovered from the phone were from Bey IV to Joshua Bey before and after the kidnapping. Investigators also were starting to look at Halfin, who they said they knew was close to both Beys.
That same day, investigators asked only Joshua Bey to come in for questioning about the stolen-car report he’d filed “to see what he would tell us,” Grant said. Joshua Bey talked to police a week later, June 12. Police said Bey IV wasn’t brought in because they didn’t want him to know he was a suspect.
On June 11, police faxed search warrants for the logs associated with five different cell phone numbers to several carriers. Information was filtering in as early as June 14, but it took two weeks to get everything – a stack of phone records six inches tall. It took time to sort through, police said.
By July 27, investigators said they had received cell phone tower site information that put the three suspects’ cell phones in the areas of Foothill Square, Interstate 580 and Avenal Avenue at times that lined up with the women’s account of their kidnapping.
Grant stressed that while this could appear to be a clincher, the information alone still was not exact enough to pin down the case.
The May 17 kidnapping wasn’t the only case Oakland police were trying to build against Bey family members and their associates.
Since taking over the leadership role at the bakery Bey IV had racked up a long series of Bay Area arrests, including a misdemeanor dust-up with a police officer in a movie-theater lobby in June 2005 and in the nationally reported liquor-store vandalism spree police say he initiated and participated in on Thanksgiving weekend, 2005. He also faced in assault with a deadly weapon charges in April 2006 after he allegedly tried to run down strip-club bouncers with his car in San Francisco.
Police also suspected Bey IV might have been involved in a December incident in which car windows were blown out with a rifle and shotgun. The car belonged to the former boyfriend and father to children of Bey IV’s girlfriend. Police said this man had been warned by bakery associates not to come near the business because Bey IV didn’t like it.
Then, as police methodically gathered evidence in the May kidnapping, there were two slayings in North Oakland on July 8 and 12 that police suspected were linked to bakery members. Shell casings left at those crime scenes matched casings recovered from the December car shooting, and the case grew even more complex.
Police began watching certain members of the bakery to find out where they lived, and on July 30, they got search warrants for the bakery headquarters and two nearby homes, as well as a probable-cause arrest warrant for Joshua Bey.
In getting the search warrants, police explained they were seeking guns and other evidence used in the December case, the May kidnapping, the two slayings in North Oakland in July, and the attempted killing of John Bey, a former bakery associate, in June 2005.
By the time Oakland police, aided by reinforcements from neighboring departments, staged their pre-dawn raid on Aug. 3, investigators had mentally added another weapon to their search list: the shotgun they said was used to kill Bailey a day earlier.
Police said they developed information early in their investigation of Bailey’s killing that tied the bakery to the slaying, but wouldn’t say when they got it or what that information was.
The raid netted the three arrests, a sawed-off rifle, face masks and two shotguns. One of the shotguns produced a firing-pin signature matching both spent shells found at the scene of Bailey’s slaying and spent shells from the December case. Police said they saw Broussard throwing that shotgun from a window as they rushed in.
Yusuf Bey IV and Tamon Halfin were initially arrested on other warrants during the bakery raid. Joshua Bey was the first to be interviewed that day. Police said besides admitting his role in the abduction and torture, Joshua Bey implicated Bey IV, Bey V and Halfin as participants. Not long afterward, both Bey IV and Halfin admitted their involvement. Bey V, who was already in custody on a gun case, was charged Tuesday.
DNA samples were taken from Bey V and from the men arrested in the bakery raids. Samples from Bey IV and Bey V are consistent with blood on a knife recovered at the house. Police won’t say whether DNA obtained from the suspects was linked to any other recovered evidence.
Thomas Cadwallader, an assistant professor of criminal justice administration at California State University, East Bay, who worked for 20 years as an investigator for prosecutors or public defenders, didn’t see many red flags in the investigation timeline, except for the nine-day lag before investigators returned to the scene to search for evidence.
With the victims or anybody else unable to pick the suspects out of a lineup, “that puts a real cramp in their (investigators’) style,” he said, adding that given the violent crimes of which these and others affiliated with the bakery were suspected, “it doesn’t surprise me that they wanted to get help from other jurisdictions” before executing the raid.
“They’ve got a lot of good evidence here – the phone calls and so on – but you need something direct, and the cell phone being at the crime scene is handy,” he said.
But Nolan, the police veteran at Boston University, noted unexplained lags, such as that between finding the cell phone at the scene May 26 and taking it to a Sprint store June 5 to download the contacts list, and not getting search warrants for other cell phones’ records – apparently identified from the contacts list – until June 11.
“I won’t criticize what they’re doing, but I think it’s fair to question what was going on in the intervals here,” he said, acknowledging that police have the “tedious and thankless task of being expected to gather .¤.¤. airtight homicide cases, and they have to do it methodically and ploddingly.”
“But … particularly when you’ve got ongoing incidents of violence, why wouldn’t you ramp up this investigation, why wouldn’t it be on the front burner?” Nolan said.
Jordan insists it was.
“Any crime where people are kidnapped, robbed, held against their will is very serious,” he said. “We take all those crimes seriously.”
San Francisco State University Criminal Justice Studies professor Jeff Snipes wondered whether any fingerprints recovered from the cell phone or other objects at the kidnapping scene, combined with the car registrations, might have been enough to obtain arrest warrants right away.
He also questioned whether police moved quickly enough to obtain other cell phone warrants after they discovered Joshua Bey’s cell phone communications with Bey IV at the time of the kidnapping.
“It’s not a dead bang, but I think there’s sufficient evidence to suggest that a (larger) warrant probably could have been obtained prior to the final matching of cell phone (tower location data),” he said.
Jordan said much of the evidence was circumstantial, and they did not have enough to get an arrest warrant to charge the suspects. He said they were worried about the victims and wanted to make sure that once the suspects were in custody, they stayed in custody.
Tucker said he knows some people have questioned whether earlier arrests or an earlier raid might have prevented Bailey’s death. But there were so many details – even the raid had to be meticulously planned to allow for differences in police practices between departments, the possibility of children being in the homes during the raid and protection of neighbors, he said.
Tom Rogers, the assistant District Attorney for the northern region of Alameda County who filed the charges against Bey IV, Joshua Bey and Halfin, staunchly defended the investigation. It might seem as if there are gaps – and even people in his own office have asked why it took so long – but every piece of evidence was crucial and not quickly or easily obtained, he said.
“In terms of the kidnapping, they went with all deliberate speed. . . They did an excellent job, they were methodical, thorough, they acted as quickly as they could and any inference otherwise would be unfortunate,” he said.
“Unfortunately, with the homicide (of Chauncey), I wish they would have gotten there earlier,” the prosecutor said.
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