Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


My Photo
Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dying While Black: Eight years ago...

Shawntay Mayo said, "The first star we saw was Tyisha. She was just a young girl trying to live her life." Rara Mayo said Tyisha told her Christmas Day, "Rara, I love my life."

---Excerpt from the Revolutionary Worker

Tomorrow morning at 2 A.M. an anniversary will pass quietly. Much more quietly than another early morning had passed eight years ago, when shots were fired that would soon be heard around the world.

Around this time on Dec. 28, 1998, four White Riverside Police Department officers shot and killed Tyisha Shenee Miller, 19, as she lay in medical distress inside her aunt's car with a handgun resting in her lap. Two of her cousins had called 911 for medical assistance for Miller after they arrived at the scene of her broken down car and found her unconscious. The officers at first said that she had fired her gun at them, but the gun proved to be broken and thus unable to be discharged. So the official story then stated that Miller had reached for the gun.

Earlier, Miller had arrived at the 76 gas station on the corner of Central and Brockton in Riverside, California with a flat tire. She was to wait in the car until her friends and a good samaritan returned with help. While at the 7-11 store one block away, Miller had been hassled by a strange man, which is why she had kept the gun with her, as she sat, a lone Black woman inside a locked car in what was often referred to by police officers as a "bad" neighborhood. If she had been a White woman inside a locked car in what was often referred to by police officers as a "bad" neighborhood, the incident likely would have been handled differently. But Miller was Black, and even after the shooting, excuses were made that the type of man's shirt she wore and her belt buckle labeled her guilty of her own death. In response, her family members would appear at candle light vigils and protests wearing the same green and black checkered long-sleeved shirt she wore when she died.

At the same time Miller's friends left her at the gas station, then RPD officers Wayne Stewart and Michael Alagna were at a local McDonalds with then Sgt. Gregory Preece eating dinner. It was the same restaurant on University Avenue where former officers, Phillip Graham and Jason McQueen had been heading off to on July 5, 1997 when instead they saw Jose Martinez walking home from a local bar and decided to pick him up, take him to Fairmount Park where they and another officer, Tommie Sykes would beat him and toss him into Lake Evans. Graham, Sykes, McQueen, Alagna and Stewart shared one thing in common. All of these officers were supervised by the same sergeant, Preece.

Apparently, that particular McDonalds was a popular spot for Riverside's officers who would soon meet up with destiny in the form of controversial police incidents. The early morning hours of Dec. 28 would be no different.

Former officers, Paul Bugar and Daniel Hotard, who were both probational officers at the time, were already on their way to the gas station. Because a gun was involved, medical personnel could not be sent to help Miller, without police officers being dispatched as well. Hotard had originally been dispatched to take photographs of a murder/suicide incident but instead responded to the 911 calls made by Miller's cousins. Neither officer had even a single year's experience as a police officer yet both worked the graveyard shift. It was not uncommon that newer officers would wind up on this shift with other new officers, in fact apparently it happened all the time. The four officers who shot Miller were all in their early to mid-twenties. In fact, the day of the shooting was also Bugar's 24th birthday.

Hotard testified in a deposition in relation to a law suit that he and Bugar had filed against the city that fired them, that he had also applied to Corona Police Department and Riverside County Sheriff's Department and it wasn't clear through his testimony how instead he wound up at Riverside. Before applying to these law enforcement agencies, Hotard had served in the United States Marine Corps as a truck driver.

He didn't remember if the Riverside County Sheriff's Department had accepted him and he said that Corona Police Department had known that he was going to work in Riverside so he didn't work there. Bugar had joined the Riverside Police Department originally as a dispatcher after he checked out of the United States Air Force several months before his time was up. He eventually attended the San Bernardino Peace Officer Academy where he apparently graduated at the top of his class before coming into the Riverside Police Department as a sworn officer.

Bugar's deposition would prove to be even more interesting. Questions were asked about whether or not allegations of racism were raised including by a Black supervisor at one of the bases he had been stationed at but it was not mentioned where the attorneys deposing him had gotten their information. Bugar had worked in the Air Force as a military police officer specializing in canine detail in both Laredo, Texas and at March Air Force Base in Moreno Valley. In 2001, when Bugar had given his deposition, he was on his way overseas to serve out a stint in the Air Force Reserves.

All four police officers arrived at the gas station in various states of fear according to statements they gave as part of the police department's criminal investigation and administrative review. Bugar had said that even when he first arrived and hid his handgun which he had removed from his holster from the two young Black women who had met him, his body had been shaking. Two more years when he gave his deposition, Bugar said that he had not felt fear and was just doing his job and what needed to be done in that situation.

Two senior officers arrived soon after the four inexperienced ones had.

Preece pulled onto the scene about 50 seconds before the shooting and he would stand by his squad car the entire duration of the incident watching his charges unload their guns into a woman inside a car and nearly at each other. Preece was what the department called a "91 lateral" who was hired away from Huntington Beach Police Department where he worked with his brother, Art Preece. Both of those officers had been sued along with the department in relation to an incident both had been involved in. That law suit was resolved after Preece's hiring by the city of Riverside. Soon after, Preece was promoted to sergeant where he distinguished himself by allegedly failing to report to his supervisors a complaint made by Martinez against the three officers who had beaten him and tossed him in the lake.

Next to him, stood Corporal Ray Soto, one of the department's canine officers who also had about 18 years experience including time spent on the SWAT team. Soto would be the only officer present at the gas station when the shooting took place who would not be disciplined by then Chief Jerry Carroll. Preece would later blame Soto in his book for failure to act during the shooting because Preece had believed that because Soto was more experienced than he was, he should have assumed the leadership role of a sergeant.

The inexperienced police officers who together had less than 10 years between them formulated what was later called a reckless plan to remove the gun from the car where Miller lay unresponsive inside. The most senior officer on the scene directly involved in the shooting was Alagna who had spent short stints at three other law enforcement agencies before coming to Riverside. With 3 1/2 years experience, he was also the department's youngest and least experienced field training officer, as if that was anything to brag about.

Their plan if you could call it that, soon went horribly awry.

If you combine their various statements to investigators and depositions taken when they were sworn under oath, the picture that presents itself is that of one officer, Hotard, breaking a window and sticking the upper half of his body inside Miller's car. At some point, the first officer fired his gun, and that officer was Bugar who would claim to have seen Miller sit up, even though his view would have been largely blocked by Hotard's body. After that, Hotard said he had felt a bullet pass him and in response, pulled his body out of the car and tumbled on the ground, convinced that Miller had shot him with a gun he never saw. That bullet which narrowly missed Hotard's head actually came from Bugar's own gun.

In fact, none of the four officers ever saw Miller's face.

After Hotard hit the ground ripping his uniform, the other officers fired their weapons multiple times. At least one of them even reloaded his gun and kept shooting. After Hotard realized that he had not been shot, he pulled out his gun and started shooting too.

At least 24 bullets had been fired, with 12 of them striking Miller. Each one of those bullets hit her in the back of her head or body.

Orange County Register columnist Steven Greenhut wrote a column last September about the fatal shooting of a young White woman, Ashley McDonald by Huntington Beach Police Department officers. At the time, officers shot McDonald who allegedly welded a knife and was unaware of what was going on around her, other officers were desperately trying to locate one of the city's few pepperball launchers. In his article, Greenhut makes a reference to the Miller shooting and how it unfolded.


Even in egregious police shootings, there rarely is any punishment against officers. One of the worst incidents I remember was in Riverside in 1998. Friends of a young black woman, Tyisha Miller, made a 911 call when she was found unconscious in her car at a gas station in Rubidoux, with a gun in her lap. Police smashed the car window, which caused Miller to move. Police claim she was reaching for her weapon when they shot her to death, using 12 bullets to do so.

A fellow officer, upon arriving at the scene, said that the four officers who shot Miller were standing around "animatedly reenacting the shooting," according to a Los Angeles Times report. "[Officer Rene]Rodriquez said his colleagues were laughing, making 'whooping' sounds, slapping each other on the back and embracing." As relatives cried about the death of their loved one, one officer admitted saying: "This is going to ruin their Kwanzaa." The officers in that awful incident were cleared of wrongdoing and offered settlements from the city for their firing. So much for justice.

The Miller shooting elicited a strong response beginning first at its epicenter in Riverside but it soon spread nationwide and even internationally. Video footage of the protests that took place was aired in different countries including Russia, France and South Africa and many others. The first march took place in Riverside in early January. More would follow. Many more. At the time people were protesting the racism that had emerged from the police department through the comments made after the shooting of Miller, at least one sergeant, Al Brown, was referring to Miller as Ty-i-shit during roll call sessions that he led.

Salon magazine published an article in February 1999 titled The mysterious death of Tyisha Miller . A reporter interviewed people during a walkathon which was originally intended to raise money for the creation of a monument honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. that would stand outside City Hall. However, in 1999, this walkathon soon turned into the second large march and rally in protest of the killing of Miller that took place in the month of January.

It offers an interesting contrast in how city residents responded to the death of Miller, a Black woman compared to how they had responded to the death of David Bruner who was White and had been killed by Riverside Police Department officers also in December 1998.

The Revolutionary Worker also wrote articles about the tragic incident including one titled The police execution of Tyisha Miller. Its reporter also interviewed individuals, most of those who lived in neighboring Rubidoux, the predominantly Black and Latino town where Miller had grown up. Those individuals especially young Black men spoke of how they were treated by the Riverside Police Department's officers when they crossed the border into Riverside.

Some of Miller's friends were also interviewed.

Shawntay Mayo said, "The first star we saw was Tyisha. She was just a young girl trying to live her life." Rara Mayo said Tyisha told her Christmas Day, "Rara, I love my life."

Up in Sacramento, Attorney General Bill Lockyer was also paying attention to what was going on in Riverside.

First, he would be following the Riverside County District Attorney's office's investigation of the shooting. The D.A.'s office would decide not to file criminal charges, claiming that it was a "close" decision even before a Latino police officer would come forward with allegations of racism exhibited by police officers including Preece after the shooting. Even with this new information, that "close" gap wasn't narrowed one bit.

State Attorney General Bill Lockyer on Miller shooting

Soon after that, his office would initiate its own pattern and practice investigation of the police department, after then D.A. Grover Trask expressed concerns about whether or not racial animus had been a factor in the shooting. On a trip down to Riverside in June 1999, Lockyer allegedly scolded two RPD officers who along with several hundred others had shaved their heads in protest of the firings of the officers involved in the Miller shooting. They would tell him to go on back to Sacramento because his words didn't mean anything in Riverside. But as it turned out, Lockyer had the last word.


"The investigation, however, has revealed a number of allegations of derogatory racial comments and other evidence suggesting there may be an atmosphere of racial insensitivity and even racial hostility within the Riverside Police Department. I take these kinds of allegations very seriously. Racial bias and intolerance are unacceptable anywhere, but especially in a professional police organization. Our law enforcement officers must demonstrate the highest standards of integrity, fairness and justice by serving all the people in our communities. That is why I have initiated an investigation into these allegations to determine whether there have been any violations of California law, including civil rights violations."

The United States Attorney's office and the FBI also investigated the shooting but the federal agencies declined to file criminal charges against the officers and closed out their investigation four years after the shooting took place. I and other individuals sat in a two hour meeting with U.S. Attorney Debra Yang who drove up from her office in Los Angeles to meet with people in Riverside in December 2002. Miller's family met with them first and they told us the outcome of that meeting as they left it in tears.

Actually, there was no need to be told anything by anyone. After hearing that the Justice Department was planning to fly in Vermont McKinney all the way from Philadelphia to attend both meetings, it was pretty clear what the news would be. McKinney worked for the DOJ's Community Relations Division and while stationed at the Los Angeles branch office, he had made many trips to Riverside to attend meetings and demonstrations.

The DOJ closes book on Miller shooting was a press release in relation to its decision not to file federal charges in this case which included the rationale behind the decision.

To prove a federal criminal civil rights violation of the applicable statute, Title 18, United States Code, Section 242, the government must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers used more force than was reasonable under the circumstances, and that they acted "willfully," that is, with the specific bad purpose of depriving Ms. Miller of her constitutional right to be free from unreasonable force. Mistake, misperception, or even negligence or poor judgment by a police officer is not enough to establish a violation of this statute.

Given these standards, the evidence developed by the investigation is not sufficient to meet the rigorous requirements for a federal criminal civil rights prosecution. In this case, the four officers who responded to the scene were confronted with an unresponsive woman with a gun on her lap, locked in a car with its engine running, and who then appeared to suffer a medical emergency.

Our investigation did not reveal evidence disproving the officers' claim that they subsequently shot out of fear for their own safety. All eyewitnesses confirm that Ms. Miller had a gun in her lap and the forensic evidence corroborates the claim that she sat up - a perceived movement toward the gun - when one of the officers shattered the window of the locked car to gain entrance and render aid to Ms. Miller. The investigation revealed that the first shots were fired while the officer who had shattered the window was leaning inside the car attempting to reach for the gun on Ms. Miller’s lap. The fact that the officers admit firing even while one of their colleagues was leaning into the car is strong evidence that the officers were afraid, rather than acting with an intended bad purpose, when they opened fire. Fear does not amount to willful intent to interfere with the constitutionally protected right not to be subjected to unreasonable force.

Different Black columnists whose articles were published across the country had different attitudes on the controversial shooting. Earl Ofari Hutchinson criticized the actions of the police, while Larry Elder defended them.

(excerpt, Hutchinson, Riverside vs Brooklyn)

The breakdown of discipline seemed especially apparent when a police supervisor and another officer at the scene of the Miller shooting reportedly made racially-offensive cracks that the "wails" of her friends and relatives sounded like a Kwanza celebration. Police officials, however, immediately declared confidence in the officers and only then promised to investigate the remarks. They gave no timetable for completion of the investigation or said what if any punishment would be taken if racial slurs were made.

Despite the disturbing pattern of police misconduct in Riverside, city officials circled the wagons and hired a PR firm to spruce up the city's tarnished image, sharply attacked a local newspaper for exposing police misconduct, appointed a citizen's committee that made only the most cosmetic recommendations for changes in police training, and allowed the police department to take nearly five months to investigate itself.

(Excerpt, Elder, Make a crook's day)

See, the race-card leaders and lawyers condition prospective jurors to doubt police testimony, however compelling. Can you say, "the O. J. Simpson case"? Nationwide, the criminal trial acquittal rate is approximately 17 percent. But in predominantly black areas, like the Bronx and Wayne County (Detroit), the acquittal rates are nearly three times higher. What do you suppose these, uh, gentlemen do when they hit the streets? Take a computer software correspondence course and apply for a job at Microsoft? Or do they commit more crimes, and against the very jurors who cut them loose?

The anti-cop "victicrat" mentality has another effect. It makes cops less "proactive," less likely to investigate something suspicious, less willing to stick their necks out. After all, what's the upside?

The Skeptic Tank covered one of the more embarassing episodes which was when Riverside sued the gun manufactor who manufactured the inoperative gun that sat in Miller's lap.


Follow up: Incredibly, the city of Riverside claims in a lawsuit filed 4/06/00 that the police murder of Tyisha Miller is the fault of the manufacturer of the handgun! The city's attorney said that "This whole thing would not have occurred but for the presence of this loaded Lorcin L380." The lawsuit claims that by failing to educate users, "Lorcin proximately caused any and all harm sustained by Miller and her parents resulting from her tragic death" in spite of the fact that Tyisha Miller was not the owner of the handgun. also criticized that decision by then city attorney, Stan Yamamoto here.


The city, however, maintains the shooting was preventable.

"This whole thing would not have occurred but for the presence of this loaded Lorcin L380," Skip Miller said. "That gun should never have been there."

"The city is not trying to pass the buck," he added. "The city has stepped up and taken full responsibility . . . This whole thing was not entirely caused by the city."

But then the city's favorite practice during this entire episode was to pass the buck, including its own culpability which was unearthed later by the investigation conducted by the state attorney general's office. That was, when the city government wasn't off hiring high-priced public relations firms like Sitrick and Company to advise elected officials and city staff members on how to interact with the media and the public. Lesson number one should have come cheaply: Take responsibility and tell the truth. Instead, the city spent thousands of dollars from the general fund and faced a lot of embarassment when its decision to hire Sitrick came to light.

Sitrick's mission statement is this:

Welcome to Sitrick And Company. Sitrick And Company is one of the nation's leading public relations firms. While best known for its communications work in sensitive situations, Sitrick has extensive and successful practices in the more traditional areas of corporate, financial, and transactional communications.

Clients include public and private companies as well as government agencies and high-profile individuals. Although many of the firm's cases dominate the headlines, perhaps even more telling are those that never make the newspapers or the evening news — where Sitrick And Company was asked to achieve the much more difficult task of keeping clients out of the press.

Unlike most firms that break out their media practice separately, Sitrick And Company regards media placement as an integral part of everything it does. With a staff that includes former senior executives of many of the nation's most significant news organizations — as well as a role as "gatekeeper" to some of the biggest news stories of the day — the firm enjoys unsurpassed access to the media.

It's probably a good bet that there is no mention of Riverside's "sensitive" issue on this firm's Web site. That's just as well because it's not clear whether or not the city's government even though it has reinvented itself has learned anything from this painful episode in the city's history.

One woman wrote a song which serves as a reminder that at least today, what happened eight years ago seems just like yesterday. What is past is prologue.

Words & Music by Dawn Norfleet© 2004 Uptown West Music (ASCAP). All Rights Reserved.

19 Gone: Requiem for Tyisha Miller

a young life stamped out much too fast
19 gone in 16 blasts
one more brown child in the past
19 gone in 16 blasts…

west coast winter night began
festive time toward century's end.
some friends took a drive down a lonely road
left sick girl in the car as they phoned.

gun in her lap police were warned
as flashlights shined on slumbering form.
then deep sleep changed to loud nightmare
as lead and fire ripped through the air.

a young life struck down much too fast
19 gone in 16 blasts
one more brown child in the past
19 gone in 16 blasts

now row row your boat through broken dreams
shattered in the windshield
'cause none heard your plea
shots rained like hail, the judgment complete
guilty as sin for the crime of being…

12 in the back, 4 in the head"
'cause she aimed first" the first lie said.
steel wombs don't shed a mother's tears
your antibirth: smoke blood and fear.

a young life struck down much too fast.
19 gone in 16 blasts.
a precious brown child laid to rest
19 gone in 16 blasts.19 gone in 16 blasts
19 gone…


Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older