OAKLAND, Calif. (KRON) — A veteran Oakland homicide detective was charged by prosecutors Tuesday with a slew of crimes for allegedly paying off a fake “star witness” for a murder trial that resulted in life prison sentences.
Aisha Weber lied about witnessing the murder of Charles Butler Jr., 23, after he was fatally shot on Dec. 22, 2011, prosecutors said. Weber testified against two murder defendants, Cartier Hunter and Giovante Douglas, during a 2016 jury trial. The two men were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
Weber lied under oath because she had been coerced and paid off by Oakland Police Department homicide detective Phong Tran, according to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.
District Attorney Pamela Price announced Tuesday that her office is charging Tran with committing perjury and bribing a witness.
Weber, a homeless mother of two, told investigators that she was “desperate at the time” for money, the DA’s Office wrote. Weber later admitted that she was paid with cash by Tran in exchange for her false testimony, according to the DA’s Office.
“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.
This week, Price’s office chose to charge Tran with perjury, not Weber. Tran also testified at the murder trial. The detective lied when he testified that he had never met Weber before the homicide, according to prosecutors.
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 decried the charges as outrageous and baseless.
Tran’s attorney, Andrew Ganz, told KRON4 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 said it will need to review at least 125 cases that Tran investigated in his capacity as a homicide investigator. The Northern California Innocence Project agreed to assist with reviewing each case.
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 of 2022.
Weber initially came forward to the Oakland Police Department because she saw a TV news story reporting that police needed more witnesses to crack the case and find justice for Butler. Weber identified Hunter and Douglas as the killers and claimed she saw the deadly shooting happen.
In 2021, Weber submitted a declaration to the court admitting that the lied when she was first interviewed by Tran in 2013, and 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.