OPD admin building at 7th and Broadway
OPD admin building at 7th and Broadway Credit: Pete Rosos

A warrant was issued for the arrest of a veteran Oakland police officer Monday, according to court records. Officer Phong Tran, a longtime homicide investigator who has worked hundreds of cases over the past decade, faces charges of perjury and threatening a witness.

The arrest warrant, signed by a state judge, was first reported by KTVU. The warrant orders Tran’s arrest by any state police officer and requires him to be held in jail without bail until his first hearing.

Tran became an Oakland police officer in 2006 and has worked in the department’s criminal investigation division for over a decade, handling homicides, felony assaults, robberies, burglaries, and other crimes.

The Oakland Police Department acknowledged the warrant and charges against Tran Monday night in an email to media, saying OPD is “fully cooperating with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.”

“Lying and manipulating a witness are serious violations of the public trust, and Officer Tran will be held accountable,” Price said in a statement to media.

The DA’s office said Tuesday they plan on reviewing at least 125 different cases that Tran worked on as an investigator, checking each for any sign of misconduct that might have led to an unjust outcome. The Northern California Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic affiliated with the Santa Clara University School of Law has agreed to assist the DA’s office with the job, according to Price.

A check of jail records Tuesday morning showed that he does not yet appear to be in custody. Tran’s attorney, Andrew Ganz of the Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver law firm, pushed back hard against the allegations against his client in an emailed statement Tuesday.

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

Charges filed against Tran in superior court Monday by Kwixuan Maloof, the director of District Attorney Pamela Price’s new Public Accountability Bureau, allege that Tran committed perjury during a 2016 murder trial and 2014 preliminary hearings against two men accused of killing another man in North Oakland in 2011.

Price established the Public Accountability Bureau in the DA’s office earlier this year as part of a pledge to investigate police misconduct.

Tran faces five felony counts of perjury and witness intimidation, which could carry a sentence of years in prison and fines.

After a 2011 murder, a key witness came forward to help Tran convict two men

Charles Butler was shot and killed in his car on West Street near 46th Street on the morning of Dec. 22, 2011. Tran was OPD’s lead investigator in the case, and he suspected North Oakland residents Giovonte Douglas and Cartier Hunter of carrying out the fatal shooting. 

Surveillance video put Douglas and Hunter in the same area earlier in the day, even showing a brief argument between Hunter and Butler in a convenience store before the shooting. But there were no witnesses, and there wasn’t enough evidence to arrest and charge Hunter and Douglas—at least not until a key witness stepped forward in 2013.

Aisha Weber came into the Oakland Police Department and gave a statement to Tran and another officer that she witnessed Hunter shoot Butler multiple times and then get into a car driven by Douglas to flee the scene. Weber said she knew both Hunter and Douglas from around the neighborhood. She was the only witness to the killing.

Weber’s testimony was enough to convince a jury to convict Douglas and Hunter of murder and send them to prison for life.

But in 2021, Weber recanted her testimony and told Matthew Dalton, an attorney for Douglas, that she had been pressured by Tran to lie and, furthermore, that Tran had made secret cash payments to her before the trial. In 2022, Dalton filed a motion in Alameda County Superior Court to have Douglas’ conviction overturned.

Tran denied wrongdoing in a statement to the DA’s office—part of a response to Dalton’s motion—but he acknowledged making payments to Weber, and he said he knew Weber from before 2013 when she came into OPD and told her story. Tran had first met Weber in early 2011—before Butler’s murder—and the two spoke on occasion about events in the neighborhood. Although both Tran and Weber denied it, she appears to have served as a confidential informant for him.

This timeline appears to conflict with testimony Tran gave at Douglas and Hunter’s preliminary hearings and trials, where he stated he had never met Weber until 2013.

Last September, a superior court judge overturned the murder conviction against Douglas based on Tran’s conduct. Hunter later filed a similar motion and also had his conviction overturned.

Arrest follows Price’s plans for police accountability

District Attorney Price campaigned last year on a platform that included holding police accountable for misconduct. Her historic election marked the first time in decades that an outsider was able to successfully win election to the DA’s office, where power has traditionally been passed down by the DA to a handpicked successor. Price is also the first Black district attorney for Alameda County. 

Price’s decisions to shake up the DA’s office by bringing in her own leadership team, rewriting policies such as how juveniles are prosecuted, and tossing out the use of most enhancements that impose more prison time on defendants sentenced for certain crimes, have been met with opposition from some who want to preserve a more punitive criminal justice system. 

Last Sunday, Price’s supporters rallied outside the Rene Davidson Courthouse in downtown Oakland, expressing support for her reforms, including the prosecution of police accused of crimes.

Darwin BondGraham

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham worked with The Appeal, where he was an investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian, and was an enterprise reporter for the East Bay Express. BondGraham's work has also appeared with KQED, ProPublica and other leading national and local outlets. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017.