OAKLAND — Days before a well-known transgender activist and teacher is to go on trial facing charges of murdering three family members in 2016, Alameda County prosecutors have signaled their intent to portray her as the enforcer of an all-female outlaw biker club who’d followed one of the victims around after she left the group.
Dana Rivers, 67, of San Jose, has been in police custody since 2016 when she was arrested and charged with murdering Charlotte Reed, 56, her wife Patricia Wright, 57, and Wright’s 19-year-old son, Benny Toto Diambu-Wright, inside their Dunbar Avenue home in Oakland. Rivers is also charged with dousing the garage with gasoline and setting it on fire, an apparent cover-up attempt that was thwarted when a policeman came to the scene just three minutes after a neighbor called 911.
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Now, court filings by both defense and prosecuting attorneys are laying out both sides’ views of the case, including details of the killings never before released to the public. The defense filings are not as detailed because, unlike prosecutors, they’re not required to put their cards on the table before a trial begins.
Rivers’ attorney, Melissa Adams, has indicated she will be making a self-defense or “in defense of others” argument before the jury, which is expected to be convened by early next week. In court papers, she has described Wright and Reed’s relationship as “quite volatile” and that Reed initiated a fistfight within a month of the triple-homicide. Adams has also filed a motion to exclude reference to Rivers’ motorcycle club as a “gang,” writing that she’s unaware of the group ever having been classified as such “in this county or any other.”
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But a recent prosecution court filing describes Rivers as an “enforcer” for an all-female “outlaw” biker club known as the Deviants MC. Authorities say she went by the nickname “Edge” and proudly wore tattoos indicating she was a “1 Percenter” — a term referencing the relatively minuscule number of motorcycle clubs that turn criminal — and a “supporter” of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club.
Prosecutors allege that in the months leading up to the killings, Reed had joined and dropped out of the club, and that members, including Rivers, began threatening her. Reed became so fearful she began leaving a pistol by her nightstand, they say. Still, the prosecution memo says that when police asked Rivers in the immediate aftermath of the killings if they were in any way related to the Deviants, she denied it.
“This has nothing to do with that,” Rivers said, according to court records. “This was personal.”
Before her arrest, Rivers was best known as a schoolteacher who became an international news story when she came out as transgender to her students in a high school in Antelope, California. She was subsequently fired for sharing details of her transition, then sued the district and received $150,000 in a settlement. In the aftermath, she became an activist for transgender rights, and ultimately moved to the Bay Area to restart her life as an educator.
Rivers is also a U.S. Navy veteran who sought mental healthcare at the Menlo Park Veterans Affairs Center in Palo Alto. That is where she met Reed, a fellow veteran who was struggling with PTSD. The two struck up a friendship, and in February 2016, Reed joined the Deviants Motorcycle club, according to court records. It was a short-lived stint. By that summer, she decided the club was “too political” for her and left, prosecutors say.
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But according to authorities, the club wasn’t quite done with Reed. She allegedly told a friend that the club had asked her repeatedly to return patches containing the Deviants emblem, a blue tribal sword with wings along with top and bottom “rockers” stating the name and location of the club. She also reportedly began receiving threats, and Reed’s friend said she had spotted Rivers outside the veteran’s affairs center, staring intently at Reed, according to court records.
One of Reed’s children also told police she overheard a phone call where a person talking to Reed said something along the lines of, “Oh my god, are you okay? Have they sent Dana after you?” Around the same time, Reed started keeping a pistol by her bed at night and downstairs during the day, prosecutors allege.
But in the weeks leading up to the killings, things changed. Reed and Rivers reportedly rekindled their friendship, although to prosecutors, “it appeared that the defendant was attempting to regain Ms. Reed’s trust.” Rivers began hanging out at the Dunbar Avenue home, helping Reed with her Harley Davidson or other mechanical projects. At around 6:45 p.m. Oct. 10, 2016, Rivers reportedly texted her wife that she was staying over at Reed and Wright’s home.
Then, shortly after midnight on Oct. 11, a neighbor called 911 to report hearing gunfire, then looked outside and saw Diambu-Wright stagger and fall in the middle of the street. The 19-year-old and recent graduate of Berkeley High School’s Academy of Medicine and Public Service was dead from gunshot wounds.
Oakland police Officer Yusey Ghazi arrived within three minutes of the 911 call, and within about 30 seconds of his arrival, Rivers allegedly exited the home. She was wearing a black motorcycle helmet with the visor up, a black shirt, a black leather vest, blue jeans, black boots, and was covered in “wet blood” and gasoline, prosecutors said in court records. She allegedly told Ghazi nothing was going on and that she had been helping a friend fix a motorcycle, but then admitted there were two dead people in the home and the garage was on fire.
Inside her vest, police found brass knuckles, pepper spray, and several .38 caliber bullets. Inside the home were two guns, including a .45 caliber Colt 1911 handgun equipped with a silencer. The gun appeared identical to one tattooed on Rivers, next to text that reads “do not lie to me, f—-r.” Prosecutors say the tattoo had “after-market” markings consistent with the pistol in the home. Adams wrote there was nothing incriminating about Rivers having a tattoo of an “iconic” firearm.
Wright and Reed’s bodies were found in an upstairs bedroom, and so was a .38 caliber revolver. Both had been shot and stabbed, but Reed suffered roughly 40 stab wounds, authorities said. In a brief statement to police, Rivers allegedly said she was a veteran and needed mental health care.
“I’m not exactly sure what’s going on here, but I know I’m in trouble,” she allegedly said.
The next development in the investigation came three months later, when the executor for Reed and Wright’s estate was cleaning out their home. He reportedly found a letter, addressed to Reed and sent by Rivers, and dated July 25, 2016. It said that Rivers recently shopped at Pier One and smelled a lavender candle, which triggered a memory of Reed. Rivers interpreted as proof that Reed was still close to her heart, prosecutors wrote.
“(Rivers) wrote that forsaking Charlotte Reed was one of the greatest mistakes she has done in her life,” Deputy District Attorney Abigail Mulvihill wrote in court records. “The defendant continued to write that she imagines how her life would be if she would have accepted her destiny and committed herself to serving Charlotte Reed.”
The trial will take place in the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland, before Judge Scott Patton.
Source: Mercury News
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