For over two years, Bernell Butler had tirelessly fought for justice in the shooting death of his younger cousin, Tyisha Miller by four Riverside Police Department officers in December 1998. Today, he sits in a courtroom, currently on trial for his freedom, being prosecuted by the same agency which failed to file murder charges against those who killed Miller.
Butler is currently being prosecuted over two alleged incidents, one of which was never reported to any law enforcement agency. In September, 1999, his wife, Ramona Butler filed a report with the Riverside Sheriffs Department alleging that five months earlier, he had choked her, slammed her body against the car and threatened to kill her with a gun. Deputy Peterson videotaped her interview on the complaint without her knowlege. He testified under oath, that he had told her, but when cross examined, admitted he could not describe the video camera set up for that conference room. Two other deputies admitted under oath that they had written inflammatory statements in the reports as direct quotes of Ramona Butler, but when these alleged statements were not found anywhere on the audiotapes, finally admitted that they were never said. Ramona Butler recanted her story twice, both times which she was required to testify under oath, upon penalty of perjury. "I was afraid to lose my husband," she said tearfully, when asked why she had concocted her story.
The second alleged incident involves an alteracation that occured between Butler and another minister at a Steering Committee meeting. "I feared for my life," the Reverend Paul Munford said, as he testified that Butler had during an argument slammed him into a wall, choked him then threatened him with a chair, while 15 other people sat and watched. Not so, other witnesses said. Butler had never touched Munford. In fact, several of them testified that Munford was upset at Butler for taking on a leadership position on the committee, and had only gone public with his story after being kicked off the committee by the other members, who testified that they had grown tired of his incessent arguing. The alleged incident was never reported to the police department, but after an article was printed in a local paper, the District Attorney launched an investigation into that incident, and eventually added misdemeanor assault charges which were joined by Webster into the same criminal preceding as the earlier felony charges, despite the objections of defense attorney Mark Blankenship.
The prosecutor, Brian Sussman, who heads the domestic violence division tried to rehabilitate his witnesses, without much success, even with the assistance of presiding Judge Edward D. Webster to whom he looked for assistance during most of the prosecutatory portion of the trial. Webster, who is presiding over his last criminal case before heading to family court has engaged in ranting tirades, alternating with concilatory silences. He has threatened two witnesses with contempt of court, and placed Pastor Ron Gibson in handcuffs for one half hour after Gibson said he refused to participate in the railroading of Butler as revenge for getting the four officers who killed Miller fired. Gibson was released a short time later, after Webster calmed down, but not before admitting that he did not volunteer to do this trial, and wished he was in family court.
Since the shooting death of Tyisha Miller, the District Attorney's office had engaged in selective prosecution against activists who protested this injustice and members of her family.
The trial has attracted a large daily audience consisting mostly of more than a dozen prosecutors who spend the afternoons sitting and snickering in the courtroom at tax payer expense.