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by Mary Shelton
Thursday, May. 03, 2001 at 9:25 AM
Throughout its history, the Riverside County District Attorney's office has never prosecuted a law enforcement officer for an on-duty shooting. Yesterday, prosecutors decided to keep that streak intact by deciding not to file criminal charges against Moreno Valley Police Department officer Robert Marks for killing an unarmed man with his hands up.
Moreno Valley Police Department officer, Robert Marks, will not face criminal charges for shooting an unarmed man inside an abandoned apartment, prosecutors from the Riverside County District Attorney’s office decided, in a meeting last week.
According to statements released by the District Attorney’s office, Marks discharged his weapon once, hitting Dante Meniefield, 23, once in the face, because he was in fear for his life, and believed that a black glove Meniefield was wearing, was a gun. According to the prosecutors assigned to review the shooting, that fear was reasonable under the circumstances, and not consistent with a shooting which involved either recklessness, or disregard for human life. Earlier, the Riverside Sheriff’s Department had recommended after completing its investigation, that criminal charges not be filed against Marks. After the shooting, Marks was placed on paid administration leave, but is now working an assignment outside the city.
Reaction of the DA’s decision not to prosecute, was swift, and angry, but few were surprised, because the District Attorney in Riverside County has never prosecuted a law enforcement officer for killing anyone on the job. However, family members have said that they do not want people to march in the streets, on their behalf, and so many community members have remained angry at home. Several people on the streets, of downtown Riverside said that they felt that the decision not to prosecute gave the police, a chance to declare open season on African-Americans. Many have said, that if a civilian had shot an unarmed man with his hands up, they would be prosecuted and sent on a fast track to death row. Several questioned the prosecutor’s lack of willingness to prosecute officers when they kill black men, but noted how quickly the same office rushed to file charges against a black man, Steven Woodruff, for capital murder, after he allegedly shot Riverside Police Department officer Doug Jacobs to death, on a stairway last January. More than one person wondered if the recent rash of shootings throughout Southern California is related to that incident, a kind of payback.
An employee of the DA’s office asked me why people in Moreno Valley were not out in the streets protesting the death of Meniefield, and I answered that I was the wrong person to ask. He said that he felt the shooting of Meniefield was more “gregarious” than that of Tyisha Miller, because the man had his hands up, but that it was a "done deal" that the D.A.s would not prosecute. When asked just what kind of shooting it would take for the DA to prosecute, he could not answer. A day later, the decision not to prosecute was released, only to the local daily newspaper.
An administrative investigation is being conducted by Sheriffs to determine whether Marks violated any departmental policy or procedure during the shooting. The FBI and U.S. Attorneys office is investigating the shooting as well, according to Michael Gennaco, the head of the Western regional office of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
The city of Moreno Valley contracts its law enforcement services, from the Sheriff’s Department, like other smaller cities in the county. The city council has examined the issue of creating its own police agency, but determined that it was not cost-effective and might result in a shortage of sworn officers, city officials have said. There have been five officer-involved shootings in the past 14 months.
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