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


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Dying While Black: The police officers

The four Riverside Police Department officers who shot Tyisha Miller, and the sergeant who was supposed to supervise them were fired in June 1999. Three of the five would remain off of the force until their terminations were overturned in arbitration several years later.

First to be reinstated was former sergeant, Gregory Preece who was fired for his failure to supervise the other four officers that night and for making racist remarks after the shooting to other officers. Preece took his case to arbitration and was reinstated by an arbitrator albeit with a demotion and a 30 day suspension attached for calling Miller a "Black bitch" and for saying that her shooting would ruin the Kwanzaa celebration for her family. The suspension matched that given to former officer, David Hackman who had made several racist comments about the shooting both at the scene with Preece and later, in the locker room at the police station when he carcicatured the weeping by Miller's grandmother at the scene of the shooting and referred to it as "Watts death wails". Hackman would leave the department in 2000 and then head off to work a short stint at another law enforcement agency before being charged in 2004 with felonies for an off-duty assault and battery incident in Orange County.

About a year after Preece's reinstatement, both Michael Alagna and Wayne Stewart also won their jobs back, in what both the city and the former officers’ attorney called a bizarre decision. Although the officers had been reinstated with back pay, the city still had the option to fire them after April 30, 2002. No one involved in the process understood what that meant. But at least one city council member had something to say about it.

(photos, Alagna, Stewart)

Arbitrator reinstates two officers who killed Tyisha Miller

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

City Councilman Ameal Moore, who has opposed any possibility that the officers might return to duty, said he remains confident in the decision to fire them, and the reasons Carroll gave in doing so.

"My position certainly has not changed and will not change," Moore said. "I am not for them coming back to the force, at all, period, under any circumstances. I do not believe in rewarding people for bad behavior."

Moore's words made it quite clear that the officers who killed Miller weren't coming back to work but where would they be going?

The officers' attorney, Bill Hadden, wasn't pleased either, calling the decision "political". He added that it appeared the arbitrator based his decision on how people of color would feel about these two officers returning to work in their community after they had shot a Black woman in medical distress inside a vehicle 12 times, after being dispatched to help her.


"He seems to be saying they can't go back because black or other minority members might not like it. It's incredible how insulting that comment is," to members of those communities, he said.

Apparently Hadden has a short memory. He's not the only one but his argument that not reinstating the officers would be insulting to the Black or "other minority" community is ignorant just as much as it is self-serving. These comments were made after both officers' attorneys had argued that Alagna and Stewart had been fired by then Chief, Jerry Carroll in large part because of political pressure from members of these communities.

With three of the five officers reinstated, the city made the decision to appeal the rehirings in Riverside County Superior Court. However, all the judges who examined the arbitration rulings affirmed them, so the city was left with the task of appeasing the three former officers and their attorneys while keeping them from returning to active duty in the department. So the city retired them with various physical disabilities incurred on the job before the shooting, disabilities which had not prevented any of them from working on Dec. 28, 1998 and disabilities that had apparently not improved during three to five years away from law enforcement.

The city also offered cash payments to two of the officers. Alagna received $50,000 and Stewart was awarded, $100,000, an action that many people felt was akin to paying them bounties for killing a Black woman. The city council had initially decided to appeal Stewart's case at the court of appeals after dozens of outraged city residents came to several meetings to protest the reinstatements. However, the city government waited these community members out and quietly voted 6-1 to award Stewart with his retirement package just after Labor Day, 2003. Moore cast the lone dissenting vote.

City hands out retirements to officers who killed Miller

Alagna and Stewart had initially applied for psychological injury or stress retirements but according to the clinical psychologists who examined them, they appeared to be more traumatized by their terminations than the shooting itself. At any rate, they were not diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by their psychologists during their evaluations.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Soon after the shooting, the officers described to doctors symptoms of anxiety, nightmares and stress. Alagna recalled the devastation of shooting and killing someone. As they got further from the incident, they became less traumatized, according to the records.

"I was forced to do the most awful thing that I've ever had to do in my life," he told a clinical psychologist. Alagna also spoke of feeling betrayed by a department in which he had earned his "dream job."

"The city of Riverside completely abandoned me," Alagna told a psychiatrist. "They are ruining my reputation and my credibility. They sold me out to save their asses. They scapegoated us in this situation."

When Stewart was examined by a police psychologist shortly after the shooting, he denied having any emotional problems, wrote Jay Cohen, a Laguna Beach psychiatrist who evaluated Stewart in September 1999. Cohen said during his evaluation, Stewart did not seem particularly anxious when recounting the shooting and appeared more upset when talking about getting fired, something he felt was undeserved.

Stewart qualified on the pistol range after the Miller shooting, Cohen wrote, and went bowhunting for deer after the Miller shooting, a curious activity for someone allegedly traumatized by death. This suggests that Stewart was traumatized by the disciplinary actions, not the shooting incident. Cohen noted that Stewart waited six months after the Miller shooting before seeking treatment.

"His actions are most consistent with someone that is traumatized due to his fears of disciplinary action, not terror symptoms due to the shooting incident," Cohen wrote

When both officers discovered that these retirements would prevent them from carrying guns(which Alagna needed for a job he held in the security field), they changed their minds and decided to apply for physical disability retirements instead, which of course the city promptly approved. The city also approved a similar retirement for Preece who had said that he had injured his knees at some point in time between 1994-1998.

Stewart claimed that he had injured a shoulder four months before he shot Miller, yet it is not clear how much time off work he needed to recover if any. Alagna had also injured a nerve in his shoulder four days before the shooting, yet he was still able to pull a trigger on his gun at least five times into Miller's car. These officers would go to work with these alleged injuries, perform their job functions, shoot and kill a woman in a car and then not subject these injured body parts to the physical challenges of their jobs for up to five years after they had last gone to work. One of them would later return to work as a law enforcement officer even while still collecting on his physical disability retirement.

Andrew Roth, who was the lawyer for Miller's family wasn't at all surprised at what transpired involving the handing out of retirements.


"The conclusion a reasonable person would come to is it is an accommodation, a compromise, a way for the city to settle this thing out," Miller family attorney Andrew Roth said.

"I would have been surprised several years ago, but seeing how much momentum there is to heal the city's wounds, which also translates to sweeping it under the rug, I'm not surprised anymore."

When it came to "sweeping it under the rug", perhaps that was a lesson the city had picked up from its former relationship with public relations firm, Sitrick and Company.

Bugar and Hotard tried to appeal their terminations but because they were probational officers, they were not afforded the right to the arbitration process. So instead, they took their case to the United States District Court.

(photos, Bugar, Hotard)

After they filed their law suit alleging wrongful termination, the two officers were deposed. In their depositions both alleged that they had suffered psychological injuries from the shooting, but just like in the cases of Alagna and Stewart, the symptoms seemed to begin at the time they learned they were going to be fired. Last year, a judge finally threw their case out and these two officers remain fired for good.

Today, all of the officers involved in the Miller case have moved on to other jobs including several who still work in law enforcement.

Bugar was the first to be employed back in law enforcement when the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department hired him in late 1999 as a dispatcher. After many public demonstrations of protest against the hiring, the department moved him to another division. Currently, he works there as a crime analyst.

Also working in the field of crime analysis is Preece who currently works for the FBI in one of its out of state offices. Ironic, since the FBI had investigated the shooting involving the officers Preece had supervised. Is this really a profession where those whose actions are investigated by another agency can wind up employed by that agency? One reason why the FBI's decision to investigate the fatal officer-involved shooting of Lee Deante Brown in April 2006 has raised only a few eyebrows.

After being fired by the RPD, Preece still held a job at the Ben Clark Training Center training police cadets. When that news came out in the local newspaper, Preece resigned in 2001, not long after he received several awards at a ceremony at City Hall. When he walked up to receive his awards, Preece received the loudest applause of any other award recipient including those who won the Medal of Valor, from the several hundred police officers in attendance.

Preece would not be the only award recipient that day who had been investigated for making racist comments in relation to the Miller shooting as he was joined by former officer, Bill Rhetts who was investigated by the department for a racist comment he made to other officers. Rewarding officers who engage in this conduct appeared to be a time-honored tradition that survived even the five-year stipulated judgement with the state of California. If it wasn't, the city and department would not be able to do so without creating so much as a ripple in their social structure.

Preece also wrote a book about the shooting called, Justice for None with Bill Burnett, who had headed the county grand jury which had investigated the department for problems including those with racism. Now that's interesting, a book being published about the Miller shooting which was a joint effort between an independent investigator and one of the invidiuals that was involved in the incident that precipitated the investigation.

Burnett would also play an important role in the trial involving Officer Roger Sutton's racism law suit when it came down to trying to solve the mystery of how Sutton's personnel file ended up in the hands of that grand jury with an admonition attached that Sutton was a "trouble maker" without Sutton's knowlege. The city of Riverside was able to prevent the full disclosure of this incident in front of the jury, which may have prevented the jury's verdict from being doubled.

Alagna's injuries which led to his retirement in Riverside would not prevent him from working again as a law enforcement officer. Alagna was hired by San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department in 2004 as a deputy. Representatives of the region's NAACP branch went to the county board of supervisors to complain once they got wind of it.

County of San Joaquin Board of Supervisors meeting minutes


Reverend Bob Haley, President of NAACP, Bobby Bivens, Candice R. Hodge, President of the NAACP Youth Council, Okura Anderson, Treasurer of the NAACP Youth Council, Latrice Bivens, Secretary of the NAACP Youth Council, George Austin, Vice President of the NAACP, Lajuana Bivens, Vic Harris and Joe Warren addressed the Board regarding the hiring of Deputy Sheriff Michael Alagna.

Chairman Ornellas asked if County Counsel would review what the Board’s limitations are with respect to the Sheriff’s Department and hiring practices.

County Counsel Terry Dermody stated that during Public Comment members of the public can comment within the jurisdiction of the Board. However, if the matter is not on the agenda state law does not permit the Board to engage in a conversation about the subject matter that would lead the Board to take any action or form a consensus or to go in a particular direction. The Board would have to put the matter on the agenda of a future Board Meeting. Mr. Dermody explained that in General Law Counties, such as San Joaquin County, and given our civil service system that exists in our county, the final decision on hiring individual employees in a department lies with the department head. The Sheriff is a department head. This does not mean that the Board does not have oversight authority in terms of the processes that are used in the department. The ordinances allow that through the County Administrator. There are a number of steps this Board of Supervisors or any Board of Supervisors in this state can take with respect to oversight of even elected officials decisions so as long as the Board does not interfere with their constitutional and statutory final authority to exercise their discretion. These cases come up continuously with respect to the District Attorney and the Sheriff in particular. That does not mean the Board cannot make inquiry, ask for reports, review processes or procedures. There is clearly accountability to the people.

Supervisor Gutierrez requested that the portion of the public comment be made available to the Sheriff so that he can listen and respond to the comments. Chairman Ornellas asked County Counsel if this could be done and County Counsel confirmed that these are public comments that are recorded and are available on the internet.

The supervisors had asked then-Sheriff Baxter Dunn to report to them on the hiring, and perhaps he would have but it turned out that Dunn had a few big problems of his own.

The United States Attorney's Office up in Sacramento had this to say about a corruption case in San Joaquin County that involved Dunn. Dunn eventually plead guilty and was given probation, which ended not too long ago. The NAACP did say that it would pay close attention to how Alagna and other officers protected and served their communities.

So would it be in Riverside as well.


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