Former Oakland police officer testifies department backed off Your Black Muslim Bakery confrontations
By Thomas Peele, The Chauncey Bailey Project
OAKLAND — Oakland Police had an unwritten policy of avoiding confrontation with members of Your Black Muslim Bakery, a retired officer testified Thursday, including once retreating from its San Pablo Avenue complex despite reports of a woman being held there against her will.
The officer, Frank Gyson, said he did not recall when the incident took place. Gyson retired this year. The bakery closed in August 2007 following the arrest of its leader, Yusuf Bey IV, and several of his followers on numerous felony charges including kidnapping, torture and murder.
It wasn’t a written policy,” Gyson said, describing a pattern of not confronting bakery followers. “It was a de-facto thing.”
Officers approached the bakery only in groups and were loathe to take action because of potential violence and bloodshed.
Gyson, testifying for the prosecution in the kidnapping and torture trial of bakery member Richard Lewis, said he was on patrol in North Oakland when it was reported a woman was being held at the bakery against her will, apparently by her son, against whom she had a restraining order.
A dozen officers led by two sergeants met blocks away from the bakery, then drove there and approached the front door, he testified. But before they could get inside two men came outside and chained the door shut. As many as 25 men from the bakery came from around the back and buildings across the street and encircled the officers, he said.
“They were organized. They came running,” Gyson said under questioning from Prosecutor Christopher Lamiero. “They knew what to do.” More men positioned themselves in the building standing at attention like soldiers, he said.
After a brief standoff, the police retreated. Bakery members said they would bring the person against whom the restraining order was issued to the officers. It was unclear what happened to the woman.
“We were sent back to taking calls for service,” Gyson said.
Lamiero told jurors in his opening statement that police treaded lightly around the bakery because the quasi-militaristic nature of the organization created “concerns for officer safety.” He has painted a picture of the bakery as a militaristic force whose members were intensely loyal to Bey IV and willing to commit violence at his orders.
Gyson said he also once tried to take Bey IV into custody after learning of warrants for his arrest, but had to back off after Bey IV went into the bakery and a dozen of his followers confronted him. That happened, he said, when he responded to a complaint of barking dogs at the bakery and was confronted by a dozen men who called him a “white devil” and demanded he leave the property.
He said he held his ground as the bakery members moved behind him. “Was it difficult to back down?” Lamiero asked.
“Yes,” Gyson replied. “We don’t usually get told what to do. We are sworn to investigate.” Trial in the kidnapping and torture case continues Monday. Bey IV is also charged in the case involving a plot to extort information about where a drug dealer stashed his money. Two of Bey IV’s half brothers have pleaded guilty in the case and are scheduled to testify against Lewis next week. Bey IV is scheduled to be tried separately after he faces triple murder charges for allegedly ordering the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey and two other men in the summer of 2007.