Prosecutors charged a veteran Oakland homicide detective on Tuesday for paying off a fake witness for a murder trial that ended in life prison sentences.
According to prosecutors, during a 2016 jury trial, Aisha Weber lied about witnessing the murder of Charles Butler Jr., 23, after he was shot on December 22, 2011.
Weber testified against two murder defendants, Cartier Hunter, and Giovante Douglas, and both were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office said Weber lied under oath because she has been forced and paid off by Oakland Police Department homicide detective Phong Tran.
District Attorney Pamela Price announced that her office charges Tran with perjury and bribing a witness.
The DA’s Office states that Weber, a homeless mother of two, told investigators she was desperate at the time for money. Weber later admitted that Tran paid her off in exchange for false testimony.
“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. The officer and the woman had met in 2011, approximately six months prior to the murder of Mr. Butler,” the DA’s Office wrote.
Price’s office chose to charge Tran with perjury, not Weber. According to prosecutors, Tran also testified at the murder trial and lied that he never met Weber before the homicide.
Price said, “Lying and manipulating a witness are serious violations of the public trust, and Officer Tran will be held accountable. When the integrity of a conviction is at issue in one case, it raises questions in every other case that officer has investigated. The people of Alameda County need to have confidence in the criminal justice system.”
Tran’s attorney and the Oakland police officers’ union described the charges as outrageous and baseless.
Tran’s attorney, Andrew Ganz, told the press that Price “treats murderers like heroes” and hard-working police officers like “criminals.”
Ganz wrote, “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. These charges are baseless and should gravely concern every Alameda County resident that desires a truly equitable criminal justice system.”
The District Attorney’s Office needs to review at least 125 cases that Tran investigated to measure his capacity as a homicide investigator.
The Oakland Police Officers’ Association expressed anger over “baseless perjury charges against a seasoned Oakland Police homicide detective.” The union wrote, “These charges come despite a previous investigation by the District Attorney’s Office and the police department, which had cleared the officer of any wrongdoing.”
OPOA President Barry Donelan said, “We are confident that this officer will be vindicated once a competent court reviews these unfounded charges. 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. Such actions will undoubtedly jeopardize the safety of Oakland and Alameda County residents.”
Union officials wrote, “The OPOA, along with every Oakland police officer, stands in solidarity with our fellow officer and his family during this challenging and unjust ordeal.”
Cartier Hunter and Giovante Douglas served 10 years in prison until their convictions were overturned in September 2022.
Initially, Weber came forward to the OPD when she saw the news reporting that police needed more witnesses to solve the murder case of Butler. Weber identified Hunter and Douglas as the killers and claimed she saw the shooting happen.
Then in 2021, Weber submitted a declaration to the court admitting she lied under oath for the 2016 murder trial.
The District Attorney’s Office is accusing the detective of:
- Perjury under oath
- Threatening witnesses
- Defendant induced participation in crime
- Bribery of witness
- Attempted bribery of witness
Tran is now wanted on a no-bail arrest warrant.