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Wolf Tracker: 'The Wolf Pack is a gang of criminal thugs,' says Gary Wood, a San Jose activist who has been watching local police departments for the past 11 years, of the alleged clique of rogue officers in the East Palo Alto department.

Crying Wolf

Critics of the East Palo Alto Police Department say a group of rogue cops called the Wolf Pack is hunting whistle-blowers

By Vrinda Normand

EAST PALO ALTO police Sgt. Tracy Frey has been labeled a bad cop. According to police watchdogs and sources close to the investigation, Frey is now going through an administrative hearing after he received notice of termination for nine charges of misconduct in May of 2004.

But what he really did, critics of the department say, is tangle with the Wolf Pack. Anonymous sources inside the department say the eight members of this alleged clique of "rogue cops" have obtained positions of power within the small police force and are responsible for corruption that reaches to the highest levels of management.

"The Wolf Pack is a gang of criminal thugs. The only fly in their ointment is Tracy Frey," says Gary Wood, a San Jose activist who has been watching local police departments for the past 11 years.

Critics consider Frey yet another whistle-blower in the East Palo Alto department who has taken the heat for doing his job honestly. Robert Cole was fired from the department in 1999 for insubordination charges. He sued the city for wrongful termination and won a half-million-dollar settlement in 2002. Now Cole is training the Iraqi police force. "Sgt. Frey, just like me, has a good work ethic and will not tolerate gross police misconduct and criminal activity committed by cops," Cole writes in an email from the Middle East. "I also know that he has disciplined some of the Wolf Pack gang members who have now set out to force him from the East Palo Alto Police Department."

At presstime, interim Police Chief Steve Belcher had not returned Metro's phone calls. City Manager Alvin James said he could not comment for legal reasons.

Fateful Chase

On a rainy night in December 2003, East Palo Alto police officer David Carson was speeding down Highway 84 after a man on a stolen motorcycle. When the driver crashed his bike and ran out into the marshland bordering San Francisco Bay, Carson and his K-9 continued their pursuit on foot.

He had no idea of the chain of events his risky persistence would set off. John Norden had been paralleling the pursuit along with three other East Palo Alto officers. They hung back on the road just a few hundred yards ahead of Frey, who was managing over the radio. When he heard that Carson was on the levee, he had to consider the danger and liability involved.

Frey canceled the pursuit. Knowing that several Menlo Park officers were on the way as backup, he told Norden and the others to return to the city. But Norden disagreed with Frey's orders and on the air told Carson, "It looks like you're on your own."

The implication was embarrassingly obvious those listening: Frey had abandoned Carson and left him in a vulnerable position. Later, Frey verbally reprimanded Norden for insubordination. That, department critics say, is really where his troubles began.

The first charge levied at Frey details his role in the pursuit. The rest stem from complaints that Norden solicited with the backing of Lt. Tom Alipio. Alipio has been disciplined at least twice in East Palo Alto for using excessive force, and was dismissed from the Oakland Police Department in 1988 on four counts of brutality.

He was also the leader of a special enforcement unit in the early 1990s from which he is said to have formed the six-member core of the wolf pack. The clique came under scrutiny in 1996 when two of the founders were charged with using excessive force, and it was discovered they had wolf head tattoos on their arms.

Trail of the Wolf

For over a year now, Frey has been on administrative leave while the department hung termination, then suspension, then retirement in front of him. He has rejected all their offers, Wood says, insisting they drop the charges and clear his name.

"What some supervisors have done here is 100 times worse than anything Frey could even think of," says one East Palo Alto officer, adding that he has heard them use racial epithets "as freely as they breathe" and seen them view pornography on department computers.

Former Police Chief Wesley Bowling retired in July of 2004 shortly after the release of a hard-hitting audit. The report revealed, among other things, a lack of skilled management staff and inconsistent discipline. It also followed in the wake of several criminal cases in which East Palo Alto officers were convicted of domestic violence, sexual harassment and conspiracy.

What's more, a recent grand jury investigation may result in two East Palo Alto officers being convicted of felony assault for brutally beating a man connected with drug dealing. Last fall, Carson secretly taped a conversation with a young police volunteer who recounted the day he and two officers chased down a man, beat him and left him lying on the ground.

Carson's conscience demanded he betray the officers' trust, investigation transcripts say, and now he has become an outcast, much like Frey.

Now that Carson has severed his allegiance with the Wolf Pack, however, a different story is unfolding about his complaint against Frey. Anonymous sources say he testified on April 27 that Norden pressured him into signing the complaint, and he did so without reading it.

Rami Khoury, an Arab American officer, also testified that he had been bullied into saying that Frey had stared at him while reading a Homeland Security bulletin on terrorism to a group of officers. Now he admits that Frey was actually making eye contact with more people in the room and has never make any discriminatory remarks toward him.

Khoury added during his testimony that officers aligned with the cop gang have made racist comments, one referring to him as "Taliban."

"That department is the most ridiculous thing I've ever been subjected to in my whole life," one officer says about the Wolf Pack. "They think their job is all about power. They hold a public office, but they don't see it that way."

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From the May 4-10, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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