OAKLAND, Calif. - Donning a red jail jumpsuit, Oakland homicide investigator Phong Tran pleaded not guilty on Wednesday in Alameda County Superior Court to felony charges of perjury, bribery, threatening a witness and other allegations.
Judge James Cramer reduced Tran's no-bail warrant to $95,000, and he posted bail later Wednesday. Tran, who is on administrative leave from the police department, must surrender his passport, is prohibited from leaving the state and must not contact civilian witnesses in the case.
Oakland homicide investigator Phong Tran, middle leaves the scene where a headless, armless and legless decomposed torso was found on the rocks along Burma Road in West Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, May 25, 2016.
Tran responded, "Yes sir" several times when the judge asked if he understood a number of procedural steps. The red jail garb means he had been held in protective custody, likely because of his position as a law-enforcement officer.
The deputy district attorney prosecuting the case said he is committed to holding Tran accountable, calling the officer's actions "an egregious violation of the public trust."
"The allegations in this case are very serious. I think that defense counsel portrayed them in a rather flippant, casual way," said Deputy District Attorney Zachary Linowitz. "But Officer Tran perjured himself at least twice that we know about... in a case that ended up sending two men to prison for life."
In court, defense attorney Andrew Ganz asked that Tran be released on his own recognizance, saying the charges amounted to "lower-level felonies," but the judge denied that request.
Ganz also asked if Tran could travel to Indiana for a pre-planned trip.
"I'm going to deny the request," Cramer responded. "This is serious."
A preliminary hearing was set for June 12. Ganz declined to comment outside court Wednesday.
The charges come after a key witness in the 2012 murder trial of Charles Butler, Jr. recanted her testimony and claimed that Tran coached and paid her for her testimony, court document show.
During the trial, Tran testified that he did not know the supposed witness, although the witness later claimed she had been a casual informant for Tran for some time prior to the 2012 murder trial. Tran also testified that the witness, identified as Aisha Weber, came forward after KTVU broadcasted an interview with the father of the murder victim.
Butler was shot and killed on Dec. 22, 2011 in Oakland. No suspects were immediately identified, but witness statements pointed to two suspects: Cartier Hunter and Giovante Douglas. Both men had their convictions overturned and have been released from prison.
However, Butler's family told KTVU that the overturned convictions has "reopened old wounds."
Charles Butler Jr. was killed in 2011.
"I can't understand how my mom feels, I will never understand the pain she feels, losing her son," Ann Butler, sister of Charles Butler, Jr. said. "It makes me angry that those men are just out living their lives. They shouldn't be able to do that."
Ann Butler also said that she distrusted Tran since the start of the investigation.
"The way he would constantly come over to my parent's house, saying he just happened to be in the neighborhood," she said, "I didn't feel like that was genuine."
Ganz, a former San Francisco prosecutor, is an attorney with Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver, a law firm that has defended an overwhelming majority of Oakland police officers who have gone to court over the years. In a previous statement, Ganz called the charges against Tran "baseless."
"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," Ganz said.
Linowitz, formerly of the Contra Costa County public defender's office, is part of the Public Accountability Unit that will be reviewing the 125 other cases Tran investigated.
"Lying and manipulating a witness are serious violations of the public trust and a threat to the integrity of the judicial system," DA Pamela Price said on Tuesday. "When the integrity of a conviction is at issue in one case, it raises questions in every other case that the detective has investigated."
KTVU broke the news of Tran's arrest warrant on Monday.
And on Tuesday night, Tran surrendered himself to Alameda County Sheriff's officials at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.
Henry Lee is a KTVU crime reporter. E-mail him at Henry.Lee@fox.com and follow him on Twitter @henrykleeKTVU and Facebook.com/henrykleefan
Freddy Brewster is a reporter for KTVU. Email Freddy at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 513-379-7522. Follow him on Twitter @freddy_brewster