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A trip through Riverside Police Department's Internal Affairs: the protest

by Mary Shelton Thursday, May. 10, 2001 at 5:31 PM

In most police departments, there is an adage that internal affairs units allow police to investigate themselves. With the Riverside Police Department, that proved to be through, and as the process continued, things got stranger, and stranger. In part 1, of a series, here is the police crackdown of a peaceful rally, that started the journey, and exposed the lack of accountability and its effect on a law enforcement agency.

errorThe morning, of Nov. 15, 1999 began like every other Monday morning, since the shooting death of Tyisha Miller, with a march. Until the Riverside Police Departments Metro SWAT appeared dressed in riot gear, to ticket a protester, for crossing against a dont walk signal in downtown Riverside.

A group of approximately 50 demonstrators, had appeared at the front door, of City Hall weekly to demand that the four officers who shot Miller to death, be prosecuted by the District Attorneys office, another regular spot for rallies. The protesters, carrying signs and a banner which read, Riverside police officers or assassins would then march down the Main Street pedestrian mall, much to the horror of the mostly white merchants who had businesses along the route. Other business owners reported that they had heard individuals complain about the marches, and what could be done about them. Even though a statue of Martin Luther King jr. stands near City Hall, the presence of black, brown and white marchers agitating for justice, greatly upset these people.

Each week, the marchers tried to cross the streets of Mission Inn avenue, and University avenue as a single unit, and each time, they faced a green light, approximately six seconds long, in duration. Each day, during the busy lunch period, many city and county employees who lunched on the street, crossed these intersections with impunity, yet many of the same people complained that a group of peaceful marchers was not being punished for doing like. For the first few weeks, the police department had provided traffic control, but tired of it, leaving it to several individuals essentially deputized by representatives of the Department of Justices Community Relations Division. Plainclothes detectives still followed the marchers, with their video cameras. SWAT team members congregated on the roofs of the county courthouse, with their binoculars and guns, as if staking out the enemy before a battle.

And on Nov. 15, that battle was to be launched, against a group of peaceful protesters, with a specific target in mind, an activist, named Don Collins Gallegos.

Gallegos agitated for justice through his art. His political fliers which criticized and poked fun at a department in turmoil, upset the rank and file of the department. Their decision to shave their heads enmasse, and adopt the skinhead look, was depicted vividly on his fliers, that were handed out to passerbys, in front of the police officers who could do nothing about it. The more fliers he passed out, the more the police despised him. Gallegos had been attacked by a female officer, Debora Foy a few months previously at a city-sponsored event. He had been threatened with arrest by Sergeant Andrew Weismann while trying to place a man under citizens arrest for defacing a Black-owned newsrack, with racist vandalism. Two officers had frisked him, and asked him probing questions while asking the suspects mother if she wanted to arrest Gallegos for stalking her son. Finally, they took the individual into custody, but charges were never filed against him. Sergeant Weismann was the supervisor of the eight members of the SWAT team who attacked the peaceful group of protesters that November morning. Gallegos expressed concern in recent months, that a convenience store clerk had told him, that five officers had complained about him, and were looking to kick his ass if they crossed paths with him.

That moment of reckoning, came as the protesters prepared to cross University avenue while heading back to City Hall, to disband for the day. The first sign of trouble occurred when several squad cars pulled along side the activists, which included men, women and several small children, including a baby. Then a brown unmarked truck, with several officers hanging off the side, pulled up in front of the cars. Gallegos realized that something was wrong, when his eyes met those of Weismann, who then spoke with another officer. Officers Guy Toussaint, Crutchfield, Moorehouse, then grabbed Gallegos arms from behind, and began pulling him out of the middle of the group, bumping into the protesters who surrounded him. Toussaint, then according to activist James Martin, said I have a ticket for you to Gallegos and Weismann then grabbed hold of Gallegos arm. Toussaint and Weismann forced one of his hands into a wristlock and led him over to the truck. Activists demanded to know what was going on, why Gallegos was being led away, by force even though he had repeatedly said, he was not resisting. The supervising lieutenant at the scene, Ron Orrantia, later said that the wristlock was used to keep Gallegos from getting hurt. That the issuing of the citation was part of a periodic crackdown of traffic violators in the area.

While Gallegos was being ticketed by the truck, still held in a wristlock by Toussaint, officer Kendall Banks attempted to grab other protesters including a woman carrying a baby. V. Morris, stood by holding a teargas guns and with stun grenades covering his torso. Finally, fearing blood shed, the activists knelt and prayed, many in tears over what was happening. Activist Chuck Taylor, walked up to an officer, who stood on the sidelines with a disgruntled look on his face. Angry, Taylor asked the officer, who carried the rank of corporal or sergeant, what Gallegos had done to deserve such treatment. The officer answered, not a damn thing.

The activists had no one to speak on their behalf while this attack was being orchestrated, as the police department had chosen its day carefully, picking a day when they though the DOJ community relations representative would be out of town. He appeared at the moment, the police began their crackdown, surprised because he had been told, he said, that the police were going to ticket everyone.

The police released Gallegos, then left. Several squad cars followed the protesters who marched to the County Courthouse. As the marchers prepared to disperse, Officers Toussaint and Banks reappeared to cite three white male protesters, including Taylor, for crossing against a dont walk signal. I asked officer Banks where my ticket was, because if Gallegos had broken the law, certainly I, who walked alongside him, had as well, and Banks replied that the department only had been able to see several offenders, naturally those who were in the middle of a crowd.

Afterwards, I decided to file a complaint alleging excessive force against the officers involved in this incident including the supervisor. Not that I trusted the Internal Affairs division, because I believe the adage which stated that officers investigate themselves. I was soon to find out just how true that adage really is, as I journeyed through the labyrith of the police departments complaint process.

(to be continued)

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