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Reluctant Witnesses in the Chauncey Bailey Trial

May 2, 2011

A man who managed an Oakland liquor store vandalized by members of Your Black Muslim Bakery in 2005 told the prosecutor today that he could not remember any details of the incident, not even the city in which it occurred.

He also could not recall that a shotgun kept in the store for protection was stolen.

Ehab Taha was testifying in the triple murder trial of Yusuf Bey IV, the former bakery’s CEO, and Antoine Mackey, both accused of being involved in the murder of Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey and two other men in 2007.

Bey IV took the reins of the bakery in November 2005, shortly after his older brother was killed in a failed carjacking. A few weeks later, on November 23rd, he and other members of the bakery vandalized two liquor stores for selling alcohol in the Black community.

Bey IV eventually pleaded no contest to eight felony counts related to the vandalism.

Taha managed New York Market and said more than 50 times on the witness stand that he could not remember anything related to the incident. When pressed by deputy district attorney Melissa Krum why his memory was so bad, he responded, “I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning.”

Krum: “Didn’t you tell my investigator that you were no longer going to risk your life anymore?”

Taha: “I don’t remember.”

Krum: “Didn’t you say you were being harassed?”

Taha: “I don’t remember.”

Krum: Didn’t you say your car was vandalized?”

Taha: “I don’t remember.”

After Taha’s testimony, Krum called the police officer who took Taha’s statement shortly after the vandalism.

Sgt. Domininique Arotzarena recorded Taha’s statement on November 27th. On the recording Taha says that nearly a dozen men wearing suits and bow ties came into his market on November 23rd, 2005.

“Five of them came behind the counter and pushed me down,” he said. “I tried to reach for our licensed gun but I couldn’t reach it.”

He said after breaking bottles, windows and display cases the leader of the group said, “you guys are selling poison to our Black community and we want you to stop or we’ll be back.”

The men then left, taking the gun with them. He described it as a Black Mossberg shotgun. Arotzarena wrote in a subsequent police report that he had developed information that the shotgun was being kept at Your Black Muslim Bakery.

The same gun was used on August 2, 2007 to murder Bailey. The next day police raided the bakery in connection with the Odell Roberson and Michael Wills killings and an unrelated kidnapping case. Devaughndre Broussard was seen throwing the Mossberg out of his bedroom window. He changed his story several times but pleaded guilty in April 2009 to killing Bailey with the shotgun. He also admitted killing Roberson on July 8, 2007. He agreed to testify for the prosecution in exchange for a 25-year prison sentence.

He testified that defendant Antoine Mackey killed Michael Wills on July 12 and Bey IV ordered the deaths of all three men.

Taha is not the first witness to suffer memory loss on the stand. In the last two weeks at least two others said they could not remember details of crimes involving bakery members, despite giving detailed statements to police at the time of the incidents.

Sheavon Williams, 26, once dated Bey IV. She was arrested the same day the bakery was raided. She told police that she had spent the night of August 1st with Bey IV and he awoke her to watch news of Bailey’s death.

Sgt. Jim Rullamas: “What was his demeanor when you were watching the news?”

Wlliams: “He was happy, it was like he was proud about it and he said something like, ‘that’ll teach them to (f–k) with me’ or something like that.”

On the stand Williams said she could not remember details of what had transpired in August 2007.

When Krum asked Williams why she couldn’t remember she responded, “This is not a good event to remember. I’ve tried to forget it.”

Krum: “Didn’t he say that’ll teach them to (f–k) with me?”

Williams: I don’t remember what he said but he didn’t say that!”

Krum: If you don’t remember what he said how do you know he didn’t say that?”

Williams did not answer.

Under further questioning by Krum, Williams admitted she had been harassed by members of Bey IV’s family about her testimony.

On April 28th, the prosecution called Hooman Khalili to the stand. He worked for a car dealership and had sold several cars to Yusuf Bey IV and others. According to Khalili’s statement to police in December 2005, Bey IV presented a driver’s license under the name of Yasir Human. On the stand Khalili said he could not remember details of the incident and could not remember how he identified the men who drove the cars off the lot.

When Krum asked why he could not remember he replied, “this is not day to day business. I did not want to testify until I was subpoened. Look I know what this is.”

At that point one of the defense attorney’s objected and Khalili was not allowed to explain what he meant.

It is not unusual for witnesses to forget events that happened three, four or five years earlier. But it seems strange that their memories don’t improve when given copies of their previous statements.

It may be that they really can’t remember but it could also be that they know that others who’ve had disputes with members of the bakery over the years have been killed.

Bakery delivery driver Ronald “Rashid” Allen was found shot to death in Berkeley in 1982. Peter August “Brother Usman” Kaufman was killed in 1986 and Waajid Aljawwaad Bey, the spiritual son Dr. Yusuf Bey put in charge of the bakery upon his death in 1993, disappeared in February 2004. His body was found four months later in the Oakland hills.

Each killing remains unsolved.

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