Four men charged in death of Oakland police Officer Tuan Le plead not guilty

Four men charged in death of Oakland police Officer Tuan Le plead not guilty

OAKLAND — Four men arrested in the killing of Oakland police Officer Tuan Le pleaded not guilty Thursday to a raft of felony charges stemming from the Dec. 29 fatal shooting of Le, which happened after a reported burglary at a marijuana grow house.

Mark Demetrious Sanders, Allen Starr Brown, Marquise Cooper and Sebron Russell stood silently while denying all of the allegations against them at a hearing inside Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland.

None of the men showed any emotion Thursday, only speaking to answer “yes” when asked whether they understood their rights. Cooper was the only defendant not to face the courtroom — opting instead to walk in with a hand covering his face, before turning away to face the room’s back wall.

The pleas came nearly three weeks after Le was fatally shot while responding to a burglary call around 4:30 a.m. on the 400 block of Embarcadero, near 5th Avenue. Le, a four-year veteran with the Oakland Police Department, was working as a plainclothes officer when he responded to the marijuana business that morning.

The shooting happened within minutes of Le and his partner arriving in an unmarked pickup truck. Shortly after pulling up, Le’s partner spotted one of the suspected burglars pointing a gun at them, authorities say. That burglar then hopped into a car and fled.

Authorities say Le drove after the car, but moments later, another officer radioed in that Le and his partner were themselves being followed by a different vehicle, a black Infiniti sedan. After several blocks, someone appeared to open fire from the passenger side of the black Infinity car, authorities say. At least one of the bullets hit Le in the head, killing him.

Prosecutors claim Sanders fired the fatal bullet, while Brown drove the getaway car. Cooper’s alleged involvement remained unclear Thursday. His attorney said earlier this week that he may have been no more than a lookout who was blocks away from the marijuana business when the shooting began. Sanders, Brown and Cooper are all charged with murder.

Russell faces multiple burglary counts tied to three break-ins that happened earlier that morning at the cannabis facility.

Authorities say the business was burglarized at 1 a.m. that morning — prompting at least one Oakland police officer to respond to the building and clear it. The building was broken into a second time at about 3:40 a.m., when burglars again took items from the grow-house. That break-in was never reported to police.

Le was shot after he, his partner and other Oakland officers responded to the third burglary reported less than an hour later. The break-ins came amid an unprecedented spike in burglaries last year across the city, with reports topping 17,000 in 2023. Of those, roughly 1,600 happened at commercial buildings like the marijuana business.

Russell appeared in court Thursday out of custody, after having posted $200,000 bail. A judge ordered him to not possess any guns or ammunition and to submit to searches while out on bail.

Several friends and family members of the four men appeared in court Thursday, as did at least a couple officers who had worked with Le.

All four men were ordered to return for an evidentiary hearing on March 4. In the meantime, each of their attorneys voiced plans to file a motion compelling prosecutors to turn over evidence in the case, which they say has yet to happen to any sizable degree.