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

Sunday, December 31, 2006

One year ends and another begins

The Los Angeles Police Department and one of its former deputy chiefs, Michael Berkow are back in the news again, according to an article published in the Los Angeles Times.

Four LAPD officers claim race-based discrimination

Two African-Americans and two Latinos filed a law suit against the department and Berkow for failing to take seriously complaints by them that they were denied positions in the department's Force Investigation Division because of their race and disabilities.

Lt. Otis Dobine, who is African-American said that no one ever told him why he would not be returned to the division, which underwent restructuring after the LAPD entered into a consent decree with the federal government and the federal monitor assigned to oversee the reform process felt that changes were needed.


"If you're white, you're right, if you're black, step back," Dobine said

Chief William Bratton called the allegations "outrageous". He's been saying that a lot in the media lately about a lot of things.


"I have based my whole career on ensuring equal opportunity to all people," Bratton said. "And I stand on my record at LAPD of appointing qualified minorities and women."

Bratton had more to say on the issue in his blog including a list of all the men of color and women he has promoted recently. Just one more indignity that these police officers have to face which is to be rattled off as a laundry list to prove that a police chief is not practicing racial and/or gender discrimination.

Berkow, who is now chief of police in Savannah, Georgia was also the subject of an internal investigation stemming from civil litigation filed against him by a female sergeant who alleged that he had given promotions to female officers who had sexual relationships with him. Here is an interesting history of the LAPD provided by author Joe Domanick, who wrote an excellent book on the LAPD.

Another history of the LAPD is found here in Wikipedia, the online resource which provides information on a lot of things.

One of the events listed in the chronology of the LAPD was the incident known as "Bloody Christmas" which took place inside the Lincoln Heights' station on Dec. 25, 1951. During this incident, at least 50 police officers assaulted seven Mexican-American men who had been arrested.

A research study of that incident and its impact on the LAPD is found here. A depiction of "Bloody Christmas" opened the acclaimed 1997 film, L.A. Confidential. In real life, eight police officers were eventually indicted on criminal charges and the rest were disciplined.

(excerpt, abstract by Edward J. Escobar)

On December 25, 1951, approximately fifty Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers brutally beat seven young men in their custody, including five Mexican Americans. The ensuing controversy became known as Bloody Christmas. Mexican American activists demanded investigations into allegations of police brutality and LAPD accountability to civilian control.

The LAPD's new chief, William Parker, however, had just launched a reform campaign based on the police professionalism model, which stressed police autonomy, particularly about internal discipline. Parker and his allies in city government stifled external investigations into department matters, vilified LAPD critics, and even ignored perjury by officers. They thus helped create an organizational culture that valued LAPD independence above the rule of law and led to the LAPD's estrangement from Mexican American and other minority communities.

In the film, the incident served to position the major characters including those played by Guy Pierce, Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey into the plot which deals with surprise, corruption and racism in the LAPD. The police chief who appears modeled after Parker is barely visible in this film. He only plays a cameo role at the beginning of the film when he has to clean up the "Bloody Christmas" scandal, and at its end, when he has to clean up the scandal of corruption, greed and murder uncovered by who else, the characters played by Pierce, Crowe and Spacey. That's before the police department gains a new headquarters and enters into a new shiny era which of course led to further scandals and racism in the years to follow including the Rodney King beating in 1991 and the Rampart scandal 10 years after that.

It's hard to believe that Parker had much of a reform process going on during the 1950s, if his officers were beating people in the stations with impunity. In Riverside, three police officers thought they could get away with beating a Latino man and throwing him in a lake, but then perhaps there were other incidents which never were reported.

But then it's hard to believe the federal consent decree is having much of an impact on the LAPD given the number of incidents that have hit the newspaper just in the past several months. It remains to be seen if Riverside's own court-mandated reform process will have lasting effect here given that the rate of fatal shootings per 1000 police officers in Riverside is 40 times higher than that of the officers in the New York City Police Department.

There's no entry in Wikipedia for Riverside's police department. I guess someone is just going to have to write and submit one.

Across the country in New York City, an NYPD officer was suspended for 30 days for undisclosed reasons. In 2004, Richard Neri, jr. had shot and killed Timothy Stansbury, an unarmed teenager. That shooting became the subject of an award-winning documentary that was shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005.

NYPD officer suspended

A grand jury refused to indict Neri on criminal charges.

Another NYPD officer, Sgt. Greg Abrahams is being charged for assaulting a man off-duty who was suspected of stealing his car. Other off-duty officers, Mark Zajac and Chris Kirch who were with Abrahams were charged with misdemeanor assault. Another sergeant in the department had made allegations that the three men had beaten Gaspar Alcalde after onduty officers had arrested him.

New York Daily News: Officers charged for off-duty beating

So the NYPD's year hasn't wound down quietly either.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Dying While Black: In their own words

After the shooting of Tyisha Miller, Sgt. Gregory Preece finally stepped forward away from where he had taken cover next to a squad car and told the officers to help him set up the crime scene. Preece assigned Officer Daniel Hotard to take photographs and told the others to cordon off the area from onlookers including members of Miller’s family who were beginning to arrive at the 76 gas station on the corner of Brockton and Central.

Soon after, Officer Paul Bugar was transported to the Special Investigations Bureau on the north side of the city. Driving him was then officer, Rene Rodriguez.

(excerpts from depositions)

Attorney Andrew Roth:

“Did you have any conversation with Officer Rodrigeuz as you were driving back to the station?”

Officer Paul Bugar:

“I don’t remember any specific conversation with Officer Rodriguez.”


“Did you have any conversation with him?”


“It’s possible but I don’t recall specifically having a conversation with him. I think I was still in a state of shock”

Several months after the shooting, Rodriguez would come forward with allegations of racist comments that he had overheard being made at the scene of the shooting and afterwards. Some of those comments had allegedly been made by Bugar including one where he had said that he had “capped the bitch twice in the head” and another where he had admonished Rodriguez not to repeat anything that he had said to anyone else in the department. Rodriguez documented these and other comments in a discrimination complaint he filed with the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Commission. Later that same year Rodriguez would take his allegations to 60 Minutes and the entire country would hear them.

At the station, Bugar waited a long time to be interviewed by detectives. During that time, Rodriguez stated in his complaint, several police officers were watching video tapes which depicted other officer-involved shootings in other law enforcement agencies until a lieutenant came in the room and asked them to stop doing so. After his interview, Bugar along with the other officers involved in the shooting were placed on administrative leave.

Bugar and Officer Daniel Hotard provided accounts of what took place before, during and after they shot and killed Miller in court documents.

Bugar had arrived at the gas station and met with two young Black women, who were Miller’s cousins, by the payphone. He walked towards them carrying his gun, but concealing it behind his leg. In his statement to investigators, Bugar had said that his body including one of his legs was shaking so hard at this point he couldn’t stop it.


“What was your emotional state at this point?”


“I was cautious.”


“Were you frightened?


“Frightened, well, there’s a little bit of anxiety, but I don’t—frightened on a scale of one to ten, probably two or three maybe.”

Bugar approached Miller’s car with his gun drawn and his flashlight on. Hotard followed him. Miller was lying in her seat which was reclined completely back, with the firearm on her lap. Officers Mike Alagna and Wayne Stewart would arrive shortly.


“Did she have any appearances to you which at that time suggested to you that she had a medical problem?”


“I thought so, yes.”


“What did you see that was consistent or at least at that time suggested that she might have a medical problem?”


“At that time, as I think back to it, I remember slightly twitching. Just—she appeared totally out of it. Of course, later on it was confirmed by our attempts to try to get her attention, she was totally unresponsive.’

All four police officers began banging on the windows and shouting commands, but Miller couldn’t respond, so they decided to try to get into the car to remove the gun that was resting on her lap. Stewart would strike the window on the driver's side with his baton and after the glass was broken, Alagna would try to remove the gun. All four officers agreed to that plan.


“Do you recall being excited?”


“No, not really.”


“Do you recall being frightened?”


“I don’t have any independent recollection of what my—what I was feeling.”

At one point, Bugar said he had seen grab her pager and look at it, before dropping her arm down again to her side. Her hands would remain in her lap. She remained unresponsive, even when Alagna began shaking the car by pushing down on its front end.

Stewart hit the window with his baton a couple times but it didn’t break. At the time Stewart had struck the window, was the time that Miller had grabbed her pager to look at it, Bugar said.

Hotard then grabbed a baton and tried to hit the window, and this time it broke. Bugar saw Hotard put his body inside and then according to him, Miller reached for the gun. At the time, Bugar had been standing and looking through the left rear passenger side window when this took place.


“How far did she move the hand before you pulled the trigger?”


“It was a very quick movement and at the same time as she was reaching for this firearm that’s in her lap area, she’s also sitting up which seemed like, as I think back, it seemed like she was bolting upright and also reaching for the firearm at the same time.”

Bugar said that his view of Miller’s lap became blocked by her upper body. He fired his gun for the first time, before losing visual sight of the firearm in the car. That bullet narrowly missed Hotard’s head. The second time he shot, Miller’s back was to him and he couldn’t see her hands. He never saw her face, or her eyes.

More shots would follow from Bugar's gun, a total of seven shots would be traced back to him. By that time, the other three police officers had also began shooting too. About 24 shots in all.

Bugar later told police department investigators that at the time Hotard had shattered the window with his baton, he had felt intense fear like he had never felt before, to the point where his leg had been shaking, but when he did the actual shooting he had felt calm.

After the shooting, Bugar and the other involved officers were placed on administrative leave after being interviewed by investigators. They would be interviewed again by the Internal Affairs Division in April 2009, shortly before the Riverside County District Attorney's office announced at a press conference in an undisclosed location that it would not be filing any criminal charges against the four officers.

Bugar said in his deposition that both the department’s use of force expert, Bob Smitson and then Sgt. Mark Boyer had called their tactics sound.

(excerpt, deposition)


“Going back to the exhibit before you, Number 8, on that same page the next sentence indicates, ‘Sergeant Boyer who conducted the criminal investigation also indicated that in his opinion the plan and methods used were sound and that the officers involved had nothing to worry about.’ That was in the declaration when you signed it, wasn’t it?”


“That’s correct.”


“As far as you knew at the time you signed it that was a true statement?”




“What basis did you believe that that statement was true at the time you signed the declaration?”


“Well, I was present when it was said.”

Former officer, Daniel Hotard also provided an account of the shooting, in November 2001.

Hotard had been driving his squad car around Magnoia and Madison heading towards the area of the Tyler Galleria on another call before he was dispatched to the 76 gas station. When he arrived, he saw Bugar talking to two Black women. Hotard and Bugar had a brief conversation before walking towards Miller’s car with their guns drawn. Hotard looked in the rear passenger window and saw Miller.


“What did you notice about the person at that time, the person that was in the car?”


“I noticed that the person in the car was reclined in the seat all the way backwards.”


“Anything else?”


“The person appeared to have a jittery movement, sore of like an unorthodox, nonrhythmic movement.”


“Didn’t look normal?”


“It didn’t appear normal to me.”

After seeing the gun in Miller’s lap, Hotard said that he and Bugar considered calling for backup and waiting which is what both decided to do. Bugar said that he had believed that Miller was suffering a seizure.

Backup came in the form of Officers Michael Alagna and Wayne Stewart in a “matter of seconds”. Stewart and Alagna began formulating a plan.

Hotard said he remembered the car being shaken by another officer. The plan had been to yell commands including “Riverside Police” and “Do not touch the gun” and shake the car. Miller never responded and like Bugar, Hotard never saw her face.

At some point, Stewart and Alagna had discussed breaking a window with the baton and getting the gun. Hotard was instructed to stand by the rear left side of the car by Alagna.

Stewart struck the window several times with the baton and Hotard said that Miller leaned forward at that time and pick up her pager.


“She brought the pager up to her face in a really slow motion up to her face.”


“In a position where she could look at it?”


“It was very close to her face. I can’t recall seeing from the front, but I just remember her bringing the pager up to her face.”


“Was this kind of a low movement or quick movement?


“Really slow, lethargic as if she were in a trance.”

Hotard raised his gun a little and put his finger on the trigger. All of the officers stepped back from the car. Alagna yelled something out.


“I do remember during the time she was reaching for the pager, I remember Officer Alagna—I believe it was Alagna—yelling, ‘Wait to see what she brings up,’ I believe at some point during this time.”

After she held the pager to her face, her hand flopped down and she felt back against her seat. Stewart tried again to break the window, so that Alagna could enter into the car to get the gun. The glass didn’t break and Alagna went to get another baton. Before he could do that, Hotard motioned to him and said that he would try to break the window and go in to get the gun. The other officers agreed.

This plan would seal Miller's fate. There was only one way it could end.

At that time, Bugar, Hotard and Stewart were on the left side of Miller’s vehicle in various positions. Alagna was standing to the rear of the car on the right side. Hotard put his gun back in his holster and picked up Stewart’s asp baton. He said in the deposition that even though Stewart had failed to break the window, he would succeed. He was right.

After he swung it once, the glass shattered, and Hotard tossed the baton on the ground and put his body inside the vehicle.


“Tell us what happened after the glass broke?”


“I dropped the baton on the ground. I went to tuck my body in to reach for the weapon, and as soon as I broke the plane, the window pane, I heard a loud shot off towards the right side of my ear.”

Although Hotard did not know it, Bugar had just fired his gun.

Hotard had never seen Miller move from the time he broke the window with the baton and he heard the gunshot that passed closely by his head. Hotard said that had not felt any fear, just a heightened sense of awareness after he had broken the glass with the baton.


“How would you describe your state of mind as you were reaching into the car to try to get the gun?”


“I believe it was clear and concise. I knew what I had to do.”


“You were focused on that one task?”


“That’s correct.”


“Did you feel that the—that that procedure with the officers covering you was safe for you?”


“Yes, I did. If I hadn’t felt it was safe, I would have never entered the vehicle.”

After he heard or felt the gunshot, Hotard pulled himself out of the car. He fell on the ground and hearing gunshots around him. At first he believed he had been shot, so he started patting his chest which was covered by his department issued bullet-proof vest. He said he had seen Miller rise up and so he pulled his gun out and started shooting at the lower left portion of the car door, which was in the line of fire not only with Miller but Alaga as well.


“How many shots did you fire?”


“At the time I thought I fired between seven and eight shots, around there.”


“Why did you stop firing?”


“Because she had stopped moving and I perceived that the threat was possibly over.”

Sgt. Gregory Preece who had witnessed the shooting while taking cover near a squad car yelled at Hotard to crawl away from the vehicle. Hotard did this towards where Preece was standing. The officers retreated back to where Preece was standing before Stewart and Alagna walked back to Miller’s car to see if she was still alive. Hotard put his gun back in his holster when he heard that she was no longer moving and probably dead.

Hotard and the other officers were then instructed by Preece to set up a crime scene. Hotard also took photographs including of Miller. At the time, the gun had fallen to the right side of her seat near the console. Other officers began to arrive including Rodriguez and David Hackman. Hackman would make the first of several racist comments he would make that day to Preece. Rodriguez would overhear them and several months later, report them.

After that, Hotard was driven to the investigations bureau by Hackman with at least one of the officers involved in the shooting sitting in the same vehicle. He also waited at least 10 hours to be interviewed by detectives before being placed on administrative leave with the others.

Preece had been assigned to supervise the four officers who shot Miller on that graveyard shift and was eating at McDonalds with Alagna and Stewart on University Avenue in the Eastside when the call came in about Miler. All three of them headed to the 76 gas station and it took Preece about 5-10 minutes before he arrived there. When Preece arrived, he saw all four officers standing around Miller’s car. Also present was Corporal Ray Soto, one of the department’s canine officers. He was standing by a police car with his dog. Both of Miller’s cousins walked up to Preece, crying and asking him to help Miller. When Preece began to walk to Miller’s car, he heard the window break and saw that Hotard had broken it with a baton.

Attorney Brian Dunn:

“Was it surprising to you that the window had all of a sudden been broken by Hotard?”

Sgt. Gregory Preece:



“Based on what you saw in your approach to the subject incident, would you have instructed Hotard to break the window?”




“What happened after the window was broken by Hotard?”


“I heard one shot immediately followed by a number of shots.”

Preece watched the shooting from about 30 to 40 feet away while standing near a squad car. Two separate volleys followed the first fired shot, each volley lasting 2-3 seconds in duration. Whereas Hotard had said he only had gotten his hands inside Miller’s car, Preece said that Hotard’s head, shoulders and chest were inside the vehicle before the first shot was fired.


“As you sit here today, do you know who fired the first shot?”




“Who was it?”


“I believe it was Bugar.”

Preece said that from his vantage point, he could see Miller sit up after the window had broken. After the first shot, Preece immediately took cover by the car which was behind Miller’s. When the officers were firing their guns, the glass in the rear windshield spider webbed so Preece was unable to see Miller inside the car.

After the second volley, Preece moved forward and yelled at the officers to watch their crossfire. That was all he would tell them.

After the shooting, the four officers, Preece and Soto stood by one of the cars and Preece sent Stewart and Alagna up to check on Miller. Preece walked up to join them and shone his flashlight in Miller’s car and said he saw the gun but could not be specific in terms of where it was and in what position. After the shooting, Preece said he was confused and surprised.


“What did the sight of Tyisha Miller’s person, what did that do to you?”




“Did you think anything that she had been shot quite a few times?”


“Yeah, it’s a tragedy but I had other things on my mind.”

Preece assigned the officers to tasks to secure the crime scene. He said that Miller’s family members began to arrive at the gas station and screamed at the officers, calling them murderers.

Preece admitted making a statement to Hackman about Kwanzaa.


“Why did you tell Officer Hackman this is going to ruin their Kwanzaa?”


“A couple reasons. I knew this was going to be a racially charged incident, and it was more of a light-hearted gallows humor statement I made.”

Like the officers, Preece was interviewed by detectives on the officer-involved shooting team and later by Internal Affairs Division personnel. In the deposition, he provided some light on how false information about Miller having shot her inoperable gun had been published in a Press Enterprise article.


“During the criminal investigation there was actually—for lack of a better term not dispute, but there was—the criminal—the detectives were trying to establish whether she had fired a round or not. And they were looking through the car and they were looking at the scene and they were trying to establish whether they could find a .32 casing. In the midst of all that, the chief’s office was—their intent was to get the information out as quick as you possibly could.

You have a chief desirous of this and a criminal investigation team saying they are not going to release anything until they are sure. Obviously the chief’s office went and jumped the gun and stated that, in fact, yeah, she did basing it on all the conversation that the officers that were directly involved with it. They felt pretty confident that she had fired a round. They were going to go ahead and release the information because of the pressure, the public outcry and pressure.

In June, 1999 then Chief Jerry Carroll fired the four officers who shot and killed Miller In September, Preece would join them.

Friday, December 29, 2006

No drought in sight

It might not be raining in Riverside yet, but drops of a different form have fallen on different parts of the country this past week.

Not too long after Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle fired Assistant Sheriff Stan Sniff, some allege because Sniff planned to run for the top spot in 2010, a sheriff of another law enforcement agency demotes an employee who had already ran for election against him and transfers him to what is akin to Siberia in that agency.

Letters were written to the Press Enterprise forum protesting Sniff's firing.

Los Angeles Times columnist Dana Parsons shares an opinion on this latest development in Southern California politics involving Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona.

Carona demotes his political rival


Carona and his backers (you see what happens when you don't back him) have said he has every right to demote a subordinate who said such mean things during the campaign.

I've read the legal arguments that support post-election demotions or terminations for public officials, and Carona's legal advisors say they apply here.At best, it's debatable. But that's not even the point.

The issue isn't whether Carona has the right to treat Hunt like a 15th century heretic.

It's whether he should.

Hasn't anyone who holds these elected positions in law enforcement ever heard the adage, keep your friends close and your enemies closer? On second hand, at least one police chief closer to home practiced that adage and suffice it to say, it didn't work out very well. He lasted what, three years? Lesson learned, make sure everyone is your friend.

Are sheriffs who fire or demote their political rivals just cleaning house or are they protecting political dynasties where elections will instead be coronations as one "retiring" sheriff hands his sceptor off to the next in line?

Parsons rips Carona apart, calling the preemptive strike made by him against underling Bill Hunt a lesson taken from the Bible.


You remember Mike Carona, right? The nice guy who ran for reelection without opposition in 2002?

The guy who made no secret of his religious faith before and after asking for our votes?

Well, this year he gave Bill Hunt a Christmas gift and an Old Testament reminder:

Vengeance is mine(italics, Parsons')


All the way in Malaysia, people are reading about the latest news out of the beleagured New Orleans Police Department which is that seven of its police officers have been indicted by a criminal grand jury on murder and attempted murder charges in connection with shooting incidents that happened after Hurricane Katrina shut down the city in 2005.

Accounts of the shootings which took place on a bridge on Sept. 4, 2005 conflict. Police officers called it a shootout, while civilians trapped in the city called it a "police ambush". Apparently, the grand jury and district attorney in New Orleans agreed with them.

Seven New Orleans Police Department officers indicted by grand jury

As it turns out, one of the police officers now under indictment had faced similar criminal charges before in relation to a fatal incident in 2001. At that time, Kenneth Bowen who is currently a sergeant was charged with murder but the case was dismissed. The city paid out $12,500 to the family of the man in connection with a law suit that was filed.

Now, 5 years later Bowen, along with Sgt. Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villaviso and former officer Robert Faulcon have been charged with first degree murder. Facing attempted murder charges are officers, Robert Barrios, Mike Hunter and Ignatius Hills.

One of those killed by the police officers was a 40-year-old Black mentally disabled man, Ronald Madison. Officers said he was shot and killed after he allegedly reached for a gun, but the autopsy report showed that he was shot seven times, including five times in the back.

District Attorney Eddie Jordan's words were unusually harsh for a county prosecutor when it comes to describing the alleged conduct or rather misconduct of police officers that are usually their bread and butter on other cases prosecuted.


"We cannot allow our police officers to shoot and kill our citizens without justification like rabid dogs," New Orleans District Attorney Eddie Jordan said in a statement.

"The rules governing lethal force are not suspended in an emergency. Everyone, including police, must abide by the law of the land."

The use of "rabid dogs" was an interesting choice of words given that more locally, when the Press Enterprise ran a poll on the officer-involved shooting of Douglas Steven Cloud, one visitor there compared Cloud to a "rabid dog" that had to be put down by the side of the road for his own good in his or her comments.

The New Orleans Police Department was heavily criticized for its handling of the hurricane, after over 15% of the officers did not show up for work and others were caught on video tape engaging in looting. Many officers did work very hard during the hurricane and afterwards even when their supervisors had left the city high but not dry, but this case was not the first one taken before the criminal grand jury and it probably won't be the last.

This police department also has a long history of corruption in its ranks, what with police officers being indicted by federal prosecutors for killing other police officers and having been placed under a federal consent decree by the Justice Department. If it's experiencing serious problems with its operations, then a natural disaster will exacerbate those problems and any others not uncovered in pattern and practices investigations.

NOLA View, a blog, has written about other arrests of New Orleans Police Department officers including Kelvin Jackson who was caught on surveillance video putting stolen merchandise in his vehicle. Human Rights Watch also did an analysis of this police department's Internal Affairs Division here. Not a very pretty read indeed.

More information:

Yahoo: Cop in Katrina shooting had prior charges

San Diego Tribune: Seven officers indicted

CNN: Ronald Madison shot in the back as he fled officers

CNN: Autopsy shows that police shot mentally disabled man in the back

NPR: What happened on Danziger bridge?

Back in Riverside,

(Excerpt from deposition in relation to the Dec. 28, 1998 shooting of Tyisha Miller)

Attorney Brian Dunn:

"Based on your training and experience as a police officer, is it not customary for the highest ranking officer to lead the other officers that are present in his presence in connection to a response to a subject incident?"

Gregory Preece:



"Why not?"


"Well, we're supervisors but just because you are a supervisor doesn't mean you have all the answers and all the tactical skills. There were a lot of officers that I had superised that had much more tactical experience than I had and I was never one--I was never a supervisor that believed because I held a rank that I was going to impose what I felt was right because there are different ways to handle the situation. If I felt that, didn't mean I always agreed with the way the situation was handled, but it doesn't mean it was a violation of policy, procedure or law. I didn't always intervene. "


"Did you agree with the way the situation was handled when you arrived?"


"For the short period of time, yes, that I was there."

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.

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…

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Policing while Black:

The Baltimore Police Department is implementing a ban on certain hairstyles that are worn by its Black male and female police officers, some of whom have protested the restrictions as racist. The order which goes into effect on Jan. 1 was the following.

General Order C-12, Professional Appearance Standards, effective from 1 January 2007.

“Extreme or fad hairstyles are PROHIBITED, including but not limited to: cornrows, mohawks, dreadlocks, and twists, as well as designs or sculptures using the hair and/or cut into the hair.”

The Baltimore Police Department will impose its hair policy because one of its representatives claimed that officers wearing these hair styles did not look professional enough. Three out of the four hairstyles targeted by the ban are worn almost exclusively by African-Americans.

Others from the city have said that these hairstyles are going to be banned, because they make the police officers appear too similar to criminals. Because of course, criminals are the only people who wear these hairstyles. And if so many Black men and women do wear these styles as well, then of course they must all be criminals. At the very least, these men and women are wearing "extreme" or "fad" hairstyles and could not possibly be professional and responsible police officers! By the way, what do they call making such generalizations based on race again? What do they call it when law enforcement officers do it?

Way to put your prejudices and stereotypes about a racial group on display for all to see, Baltimore Police Department. Let's hope you don't put them into practice in the field as well but if this is how your administration thinks and acts, that is probably wishful thinking.

(excerpt, WBAL-TV)

"We just felt that over the years, some officers have taken advantage of the old general order and are not presenting themselves, while in uniform to the public, in the most professional manner possible," said Matt Jablow, spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department.

Not surprisingly, others strongly disagreed with the policy.


"I think it's incredibly insensitive," said Taunya Banks, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law. "I'm really kind of concerned about labeling as faddish a practice that's not faddish at all, and what appears to be a targeting of black officers."

Last July, one Black police officer was stripped of his policing powers for wearing his hair in dreadlocks, according to a press release by the American Civil Liberties Union posted here. Others have filed law suits with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Online, there is a petition that can be signed protesting the planned hairstyle bans along with information on how to contact those in Baltimore's government and police department who either make these kinds of decisions or hire those who do. So far, 1871 people have signed the petition.

Petition against hairstyle bans


We have also been advised that afros are now also prohibited because they “do not conform to the head.”

By implementing this policy, you have committed the following offenses:

1. You have effectively said that the natural hair texture of the Black Race (or people of African descent) is NOT ACCEPTABLE unless it is worn straightened, or in a straight style, like the hair of Europeans or Asians. It is acceptable only if it is covered by a hair weave which mimics the hair of Europeans or Asians or is worn in a European style.

2. You are trying to force people to use unhealthy practices like relaxing their hair and using high heat straightening in order to conform to this standard.

3. You are contributing to the belief that African American hair is inferior to European hair.

4. You have caused considerable stress among those affected by this policy by threatening sanctions against people who wish to maintain their hair in its natural state.

We state this policy for what it is. It is a short-sighted, discriminatory policy, formed either out of ignorance or racism, directed at people of African descent in order to force them to conform to European hair standards.

Those standards relate to maintaining what the Baltimore PD considers a superior genetic characteristic of the White race over the Black race.

Bloggers have been discussing this issue since the controversy first emerged including at Jackson Free Press, My Demographic's Agency and also Prometheus6.

An individual identifying himself or herself as a Baltimore Police Department officer protested the new policy here.


"Help!! I am a police officer in Baltimore city. The Baltimore City Police Department has issued a new mandate which prohibits the wearing of Dreadlocks, Cornrows and Twists. There are many sisters in my agency that no longer straighten their hair. We now have no styling options and the many women that have Dreadlocks will be forced to cut off their hair. We have complained but our agency has stated these styles are extreme and faddish and unprofessional.

We have filed EEOC complaints and contacted a lawyer. Our New Mayor and African American woman and our Police Commissioner and African American man support this new rule. If the women do not comply there will be suspensions and perhaps some may even be fired. Some of these women are the bread winners of the family."

Does the Riverside Police Department have a similar policy in place? One will have to check its policy and procedures manual to see if it does or not. However, several years back, I did see a Black male police officer wearing short braids who testified at a criminal trial. His hairstyle did not diminish his professionalism on the witness stand. Another Black male officer appeared at a city council meeting, wearing cornrows.

On the other hand, another police officer from the same police department testified during the civil trial stemming from Officer Roger Sutton's law suit that he had a son who had worn his hair in cornrows. When he was asked by one of the attorneys when he had stopped allowing his son to wear his hair this way, he answered, when his son had entered junior high school. Earlier this same officer, who had worked as a field training officer, testified that quite a few young Black men who wore cornrows that he encountered on the streets had served time in state prison. This hairstyle was one of many different factors that might contribute to young Black men being stopped by a police officer but was not enough to warrant a traffic pretext stop by itself, according to his testimony.

However, it was what he didn't tell the jury that left quite an impression on it in terms of the message he was sending both as a field training officer and as a father of a Black son who may be stopped by police officers including those he trained.

In 1999, former RPD officer, Rene Rodriguez had made allegations that at least one of his field training officers had taught him to stop young Black men who had cornrows. At least four of his field training officers, three White and one Latino, denied ever instructing him or any other new police officer to do so. Rodriguez's allegations were revisited after Sutton, a Black officer, filed his own law suit in 2000. Last year, that law suit culminated in a six-week trial which ended when the jury awarded Sutton with a $1.64 million verdict.

Talk Left magazine discusses a different policy used by Baltimore's police department which many have argued involves racial profiling.

Baltimore Police Department's "stop and frisk" policy


William Elliott Jr., 40, is a frequent target, and he complains that he is often stopped without cause. ..."They think everybody is a drug dealer," he said as he walked through the Park Heights neighborhood. He said he has been stopped and frisked so many times that he has lost count. Elliott said an officer recently stopped and searched him while he was walking one of his children to a school bus stop.

The department's police officers' association has also complained about the policy's implementation through its leadership.

"We get calls all the time from [officers] saying 'I just can't keep this pace up. ... People are tired of me pulling up and harassing them,'" said Roussey, the police union president. "It's all about numbers, and it doesn't matter how you get them."

In that same article, it listed one police officer who had conducted nearly 500 "stop and frisks" in a few months and did not find one gun. That indeed sounds like a numbers game, where quantity, meaning young Black men, means much more than quality, meaning viable suspects. And it turns out that in Baltimore's police department, officers are not required to provide explanations for conducting these stops. Many don't, which creates even more problems involving distrust in the communities they police.

According to the article, about six African-Americans are stopped and searched by police officers for every White person that is treated in a similar fashion. It didn't say how many of those stopped by police officers wore hairstyles on the newly formed banned list.

So will the leadership of Baltimore and its police department rethink this policy and its implementation that has been criticized by both involved parties? Will they consider the relationship between this policy and its implementation and the latest policy admonishing African-Americans in the police department not to wear hairstyles that do not as one person put it, conform with European standards. Probably not.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Holiday gifts and things

Here are some books in honor of the holiday season and to put in people’s stockings or wherever this year in case anyone's doing any last minute shopping.

Breaking Rank by Norm Stamper

A former police chief’s indepth expose of policing which includes many recommendations for improving policing practices in law enforcement agencies including the promotion of community policing philosophies and the diversifying of police departments.

Stamper’s Web site

His site includes an interactive journal.

Brotherhood of Corruption: A Cop Breaks the Silence on Police Abuse, Brutality, and Racial Profiling by Juan Antonio Juarez

An autobiography of a former Chicago Police Department officer, who worked undercover in a narcotics unit before having to what lines he is not willing to cross from police officer to criminal.

More information here.

Gender and Policing: Sex, power and the police culture by Louise Westmarland

This book addresses the integration of women into male-dominated law enforcement agencies and related issues including discrimination, sexual harassment and workplace issues.

Information on the author here

Investigating Sexual Harassment in Law Enforcement by Penny Harrington and Kimberly A. Lonsway

A very useful guide on the issue of sexual harassment in law enforcement and other male-dominated professions and how departments should address this issue. It addresses discrimination, harassment and retaliation as well as discusses how to prevent them in the workplace.

Harrington’s Web site

The New World of Police Accountability by Samuel Walker

Walker’s latest book discussions the role of newer developments including consent decrees, early warning systems and civilian review mechanisms in policing and how they influence the level of accountability in law enforcement agencies. The Riverside Police Department and its complaint investigation process is mentioned briefly in this book.

Press release on book’s release

More info on Walker here.

Police Ethics: A Matter of Character by Douglas W. Perez and J. Alan Moore

A slim book but chock full of information on the issue of ethics in the policing profession

Related Web site

To Protect and To Serve by Joe Domanick

A comprehensive history of the Los Angeles Police Department from its creation through the Rodney King beating controversy.

Triumph of the Spirit by Penny Harrington

Autobiography by the first woman ever to head a major city’s police department and what it’s like to deal with the challenges with the job and also to break the glass ceiling. Harrington testified as an expert witness for RPD officer Roger Sutton during his trial in relation to his racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation law suit.

Harrington’s Web site

Walking with the Devil: The Police Code of Silence by Michael W. Quinn

What bad cops don’t want you to know and good cops won’t tell you, is how this book is described. It details the life of a Minneapolis Police Department officer in his own words.

Quinn’s Web site

Here's something else, not a book but an article.

Steve Lopez, a columnist with the Los Angeles Times did an article on a Los Angeles Police Department officer who drives through skid row in downtown Los Angeles

LAPD officer on skid row

Happy Holidays!

Newer›  ‹Older