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

by Mary Shelton Friday, May. 11, 2001 at 12:45 PM
chicalocaside@yahoo.com

After the Riverside Police Department's Metro SWAT team had pulled an activist out of the middle of a crowd of protesters to cite him for crossing against a don't walk signal, the activists vowed to keep marching, while the city applauded the crackdown. I decided to file a complaint with the department's internal affairs division, not knowing that the old adage that police officers investigate themselves was going to turn out to be quite true. Here is more background on the police crackdown and the cast of characters that led the charge, against a peaceful group.

errorDuring the demonstration that became known, as Retaliatory Monday, I had grabbed my disposable camera out of my backpack, and darted, in between officers and activists, taking pictures of the protest that had deteriorated into an exercise of police might. Gallegos was standing between the two officers, who filled out his ticket and fingerprinted him, while keeping him under wristlock. I asked myself, where did they think he was going, if they had let him go. Professional photographers from local newspapers, and a woman with a camcorder captured snapshots, the type that do not fade with the passage of time. The Area One Commander, Lt. Jeffrey Collapy, was talking to Press Enterprise reporter, Ana Lima, his back turned to the melee occurring behind him, as Officer Banks continued to try to reach for a mother carrying a baby. The woman spun around, in defense, and the babys cries filled the air, along with the bag of popcorn in her hands. I snapped pictures of all of it, keeping my hands busy, my anger and fear at bay. An activist placed himself between Banks and the woman, so Banks tried to grab hold of him. I snapped pictures of Banks looking apprehensively at Pastor Annie Johnson as she stood nearby, trying to appeal to the activists to pray on the ground. Of a lone man holding a Bible, staring at three officers standing in front of him, including Weismann, who crossed his arms and glared back, his eyes hidden behind his sunglasses. And of Lt. Orrantia, standing several feet away from Gallegos.

Bored with the protests, the Press Enterprise had sent out a stringer, opting to send its staff photographers to other assignments, along with the usual reporters, that it assigned to cover the rallies. Lisa Oneil Hill in particular, had been criticized by activists for her coverage of the protests, particularly one involving a controversial prayer vigil on the 91 freeway, where she had interviewed and quoted at least three police officers in her article, and waited until the next day to interview activists, for a follow-up article. Ana Lima was a favorite among the activists, simply because when she interviewed people, she seemed so interested in what people had to say, and had an easy going style with people. She had the ease of moving along-side people from different walks of life, due to her having lived in many different places. Hill, in contrast always walked along with the police officers who tailed the activists each week, almost as if she needed their protection and never seemed comfortable with any of the protesters.

We walked back to the courthouse, to hook up with a family from Redlands who was protesting against the death of their patriarch, who was shot to death inside a convent, when Riverside Sheriffs Department deputies mistook a lamp he was holding for a gun, and killed him. Autumn 1999, was a bad time to be Latino, in Riverside County. Four shot, two to death in a couple of months. The man in the convent, was the second Latino shot by one deputy, in the same month, the other being a 15 year old boy, shot in the leg at a party. We met up with the family, and talked to them, when the officers walked up to engage in the second round of citations.

The next day, the Press Enterprise, printed a picture of Gallegos on the front page of its Metro section. He was surrounded by four officers, each with his arm in their grip. On Gallegos tee-shirt was a button, that read cops lie too. And among the white population of this conservative city of 250,000 people, the button created a bigger uproar than the crackdown by the police. Liberal whites, unwilling to stick their necks out too far on an issue that did not directly affect them, criticized the button also, closing their eyes to an act of violence, the first premeditated act of retaliation against an activist, thus far.

That newspaper took it as a matter of course, that the activists deserved to have the SWAT team descend on them, for violating a rarely enforced traffic violation. Orrantia, defended the act as a periodic crackdown on traffic violaters, saying that the police had bended over backwards for the protesters. Bent back so far, they had stood by as 60 people walked onto a highway with children, then in an act of Monday morning quarterbacking wagged their fingers, and said that they had been surprised, by the act. Orrantia that morning, had told the police to let the activists sit down in the middle of the street in the sun all day if necessary, according to audio transcripts.

Lt. Orrantia, then one of the departments highest ranking Latino officers was no stranger to controversy. In June 1999, he had been promoted to his rank alongside a Native American male officer and a white female, and incurred the wrath of nine white male sergeants including police officer association president Jay Theuer, who decried the promotions, as reverse discrimination. That scandal would break in the winter of 2000, so during the fall demonstrations, this ongoing crisis in the department was still under wraps.

Paul Hayward saw the picture of Gallegos on the front page, and it struck a special chord for him. To his horror, one of the faces that stared back, was one of the officers who had killed his son, Derek, in 1994. Guy Toussaint, who had joined the department in the late 1980s, along with his two brothers Gary and Gunnar, had gone to his sons house along with officer Larry Gonzalez, where Derek Hayward had locked himself in a bathroom, in distress. According to reports, Toussaint had broken the door down, and hit Hayward with his flashlight. Gonzalez applied a carotid hold, and had pressed on Hayward with his full body weight of 255 pounds, even after Hayward had been handcuffed. Hayward went into cardiac arrest, and was denied medical assistance for seven minutes even though his girlfriend was a licensed vocational nurse, and later died. After two trials, in the U.S. District Court, in Los Angeles county, the jury found in favor of the Hayward family, and including legal fees, the payout was $1.1 million. It was the one payoff on a wrongful death at the hands of law enforcement, that the taxpayers of Riverside knew about, as the rest had been settled quietly, a familys eternal silence in exchange for a check.

In August 1999, Toussaint had been dispatched to take a criminal report on a hate incident which occurred at an African-American newspaper, in downtown Riverside. A swastika, which was a familiar sight in Riverside that summer, had been painted on a sign, next to the parking space used by the editor of the newspaper. He appeared, his usually red hair, shaved away, in solidarity along with 150 other male officers who had shaved their heads to protest against the firing of the officers who shot Tyisha Miller to death, and took the report, filling out the details on the pad of paper, drawing the swastika, in his notes. Then he started talking about the reasons that the Riverside Police Officers Association had shaved their heads, many removing all of their hair. Yes, they had been aware that people might associate them with skinheads, but decided to do it anyway. He criticized the newspapers handling of the shooting. When the editor tried to express her feelings about how it felt to be targeted by white supremacists(who had been defacing the newsracks for the past month, with hate graffiti), he would always answer back, how do you think the police officers felt to be criticized by the community? He also added that the police department supports those who support them, before leaving. Never rude, yet his words chilled, and etched a permanent place in my memory.

Looking at pictures of Weismann reminded me of a troublesome incident I had experienced with a police officer during the summer. I had encountered derogatory racist fliers posted in downtown Riverside, one early Sunday morning, that advocated supporting the police by killing Blacks on sight. After calling the police, an officer with a shaved head and sunglasses had been dispatched to my apartment complex. On that blistering hot day, the officer stayed in his car, and repeated his mantra, that he would take the flier, but could not take a report on it. He said, it was free speech, words that were in sharp contrast to those said to Gallegos by officers, when he had handed out fliers critical of the police that had nearly resulted in his arrest. Weismann looked similar to this man, though there were quite a few white male officers with stubbly heads, and glasses running around the city during this period. After the harsh criticism and ridicule they had received during their shaving campaign, the hair could not grow back fast enough.

Leaders involved with the Tyisha Miller Steering Committee criticized the act committed by the police, against a group of peaceful protesters. The current Chief, Jerry Carroll had said, that it had to be understood that something had to be done, after the freeway, according to activist Larry Halstead. The U.S. Attorneys were nonplussed, but invisible as always, in a city descending into chaos.

I got my photographs back from development, and scanned them, looking at acts of force by police officers, frozen in time. I walked to the police departments main office, to pick up a complaint form, a process that took about 20 minutes, and I filled it out, against officers Toussaint, Weismann, an unnamed officer(serpendipity helped me there, as the Press Enterprise printed a photograph of Banks doing an arrest a few weeks later) and the man who supervised them, later identified as Lt. Ron Orrantia. A name that would appear on the complaint both as a perpetrator, and also as the individual assigned to investigate the case, as the coverup began.....

(to be continued)