Garcia: Baker’s Dozen case loses steam 

It seems somehow fitting that the overblown Yale assault case involved a group called the Baker’s Dozen, because in the end, it turned out to be something of a cream puff.

No conspiracies, no trumped-up allegations involving high school rivalries, no whitewashed investigation, no hate crime. Just a New Year’s Eve party allegedly filled with drunken young men — some of whom picked the wrong fight — that set off a misplaced media frenzy and made a fairly routine case seem like a hunt for a serial killer.

All that’s left now after two months of legal gyrations are felony assault charges against two college kids from San Francisco and a subsequent trial to determine the one thing that has generally been missing in this case — the truth.

Of course, that won’t stop parties with a vested and political interest from trying to suggest that District Attorney Kamala Harris hasn’t gone far enough based on the evidence. And it appears quite clear that the family of the Yale student who was at the center of the fracas and ended up getting his jaw broken, Sharyar Aziz Jr., won’t be happy that his attackers will not be charged.

But don’t blame Harris for that. Sources close to the investigation say Aziz could not positively identify his attackers, nor could any of his buddies, and no amount of pressure coming from the families of the Yale students can change that. So rather than go ahead with three weaker cases against alleged assailants in the case, Harris opted for two that she felt could result in a successful prosecution.

And I commend her for that, since it would be hard to imagine how much pressure has been applied on her office from the well-connected Yale families and their lawyers. People connected to the case told me that inquiries about the probe were being made from several U.S. senators, among others, and the Mayor’s Office was initially inundated with calls demanding more activity — a message echoed by some of the politically motivated lawyers representing the Yale students.

Harris has been much-criticized for her penchant to only charge cases she thinks will result in a conviction, which is one of the reasons she and the police investigative division have had a relationship that could kindly be called chilly. Police were so frustrated by her efforts in dealing with some high-profile homicide cases that they started taking them to former U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan, who used federal gun and racketeering statutes to put an impressive number of career criminals and gang leaders in prison.

At one point there was talk that Harris might let a grand jury decide on the charges in the Yale case, the prosecutorial equivalent of punting, but after two weeks she made the decision, something that surprised a lot of people at the Hall of Justice.

In this case, Harris is probably right to be cautious — a direct counterpoint to her predecessor, Terence Hallinan, who would have probably charged everybody in sight, evidence notwithstanding. That’s certainly what happened in the Fajitagate case, when Hallinan saw headlines in his decision to charge the entire police command staff with conspiracy over a brawl involving off-duty cops only to end up looking like a buffoon when everyone charged in that incident was acquitted.

It’s somewhat ironic that one of the difficulties prosecutors will face in this case is finding a jury that hasn’t been bombarded with news and misinformation about the street fight that took place in the Richmond district that night. There have been more leaks in this tale than on a rusty boat. And it’s not going to help that the two young men charged in the case were identified by a few of the more irresponsible members of the press months before being charged.

Lawyers for the two alleged assailants, Richard Aicardi and Brian Dwyer, are probably going to have a field day asking questions of witnesses from Yale about why they immediately hired attorneys to represent them — not exactly the normal act of a bunch of innocent Boy Scouts. And the defense will no doubt be making much of the accounts that suggest the Yale singers were just as aggressive in triggering the fight — at least until the fists started flying.

But it promises to be a circus once it gets to court — remember, this is the case where it was first portrayed that the a cappella singing group was attacked by vicious thugs right after performing the "Star Spangled Banner." And once that myth was debunked, several others were offered up in its place.

Now at least we’ll get to see if justice in the Baker’s Dozen case is another dish best served cold.

Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at or call him at (415) 359-2663.

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