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March 09, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Character a big issue in police brutality case Character a big issue in police brutality case (March 09, 2005)

Lawyers on both sides paint damning portraits of suspect, victim

by Bill D'Agostino

Is Albert Hopkins, the alleged victim at the center of a police brutality trial, a stalker with a history of sexual misconduct?

Did Palo Alto police officer Michael Kan beat Hopkins to impress his superiors?

Hoping to discredit two of the court drama's major figures, lawyers representing both sides of the highly-publicized case are jockeying to present what they consider damning evidence before a jury.

Starting Wednesday morning, Superior Court Judge Andrea Bryan is expected to rule on numerous motions, including ones allowing jurors to hear about Hopkins' and Kan's past.

On July 13, 2003, Hopkins was parked on a residential street when he was approached by Kan and fellow officer Craig Lee. The situation escalated until the officers shot pepper spray at him and beat him with batons. He suffered knee damage from the attack, was never charged with a crime and accused the officers of targeting him because he's black.

The officers argue the force was justified since Hopkins was belligerent, did not produce his identification and acted threateningly.

Since many of the basic facts of the case are not disputed, the trial could hinge on the trustworthiness of the victim and his alleged assailants, making these early motions important to both sides.

The judge will also rule on whether the jury can hear testimony about an internal affairs investigation that cleared the officers, read a report comparing two differing police accounts or hear from experts arguing other officers would have acted similarly.

In records released after a brief court appearance Monday, defense attorney Harry Stern argued he should be allowed to show the jury evidence that Hopkins -- who is now the supervisor of the academic center at Gunn High School -- has a history of sexually harassing women.

In 2000, Hopkins was arrested for hugging and kissing a female bus driver he had never met, according to documents. He was reportedly arrested for battery, allegedly telling officers he "knew" the woman wanted this attention from him. He eventually pled guilty to disturbing the peace.

The defense attorney also stated Hopkins was fired from his job as a financial aid officer at De Anza College in 1994 for other incidents of sexual misconduct. This information came from personnel files that Stern sequestered.

Hopkins engaged in three separate acts of harassment, which included stalking a woman and grabbing a 19-year-old student's "behind" and offering her money to go out with him, according to the defense attorney's trial brief.

Hopkins also allegedly said he slept with "numerous students and had sex with them in a van that he kept for that purpose" and kept a "black book" with the names of women with whom he paid to have sex, according to court documents.

Stern wrote that he wants to present such past behavior to jurors to show Hopkins's "true purpose" for sitting in his parked car around 10 p.m. -- "stalking and possibly preying on women." The attorney also argued Hopkins abused his authority as a school counselor, revealing his "moral turpitude."

The defense attorney also argued the events show Hopkins "exhibited a pattern of lying about his misdeeds and, in effect, blaming the victims" since after the termination he filed three lawsuits against the women, claiming they made racist allegations.

In other court records, Hopkins' brother and attorney, Joe Hopkins, argued that Albert was in the car because he was living there following an estrangement from his wife.

Criminal charges were dropped against Hopkins regarding the incidents at the junior college, Joe Hopkins added.

"We don't know the truth," prosecuting attorney Peter Waite said.

In his own trial brief, Waite argued Hopkins' alleged past behavior is irrelevant unless he was demonstrating criminal behavior at the time the officers' beat him. Also, the deputy district attorney argued, allowing such evidence would "invite a trial within a trial" about those past actions, since the prosecution would get to call numerous witnesses to refute the allegations.

Meanwhile, in court records, Waite argues Kan was motivated to beat Hopkins to overcompensate for two embarrassing incidents where his superiors chastised him.

In May 2003, Kan reportedly watched a fellow officer fight to arrest a suspect, but failed to help. He was ordered to take additional "redman" training -- where he would hold exercises with officers wearing padded red protective suits -- to make him "more aggressive and effective in controlling suspects."

Before beginning his patrol on the July night he beat Hopkins, Kan was reportedly ordered to tell other officers about an incident the day before, when he missed a gun as he patted down a suspect. That mistake endangered the life of every officer in the station, Waite wrote.

When asked how he was doing after beating Hopkins, Kan reportedly told a lieutenant: "I guess I won't need that redman training anymore." Then told a sergeant: "Hey, I took control out there."

"These comments reveal his motive and intent in attacking the victim: He needed to prove himself to his superiors by taking charge and being aggressive," Waite wrote. "He also needed to rebut his superiors' impression of him as weak and incompetent."

Kan's attorney argued that history is irrelevant because the argument the officer had something to prove "is based on improper speculation and inference."

Staff Writer Bill D'Agostino can be e-mailed at

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