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by Mary Shelton
Sunday, Jul. 08, 2001 at 8:58 AM
Several days after an arbitrator reversed his firing, Preece's lawyer announced that his client will not settle for a demotion and 30 day suspension, but only full exoneration. The ball is now in the court of the City Council, which will meet on Tuesday in closed session to determine what position it will take, as an upset community watches.
Last week, an arbitrator decided that former Riverside Police Department sergeant Gregory Preece should not have been fired for his role in the shooting of Tyisha Miller, on Dec. 28, 1998. Perone, who was selected from a list by both parties in the arbitration stated that the discipline received by Preece was excessive, and should have only been a demotion from the rank of sergeant and a 30 day suspension without pay. He ordered that Preece should receive back pay beginning with his firing on Sept. 1, 1999, minus the suspension.
Preece's lawyer, Goldwasser said that Preece had decided to appeal the arbitrator's ruling in superior court, to fully reverse the discipline. The city council will meet in closed session at 1:00 p.m. this Tuesday to decide whether the city will accept the decision of the arbitrator or appeal it.
Preece was fired for committing nine violations of policy and procedure in relation to his actions before, during and after the shooting of Tyisha Miller. He initially punched his code of "scene arrival" at 2:06 a.m. allegedly while still a mile from the gas station on the corner of Brockton and Central. He changed his version of the events several times from his first interview with the D.A.'s office, to his interview with internal affairs, to his testimony in front of the arbitrator. He stood behind Corporal Ray Soto's squad car while the shooting took place, and ordered the four shooters, Paul Bugar, Michael Alagna, Daniel Hotard and Wayne Stewart to secure the scene and process the evidence.
After David Hackman arrived to assist and commented on a gathering crowd of grieving relatives, Preece said, "yeah, this is going to ruin their Kwanzaa," a comment overheard by former officer Rene Rodriguez who reported it and other slurs by these two officers to Internal Affairs. Hackman was suspended for 40 hours, without pay, appealed his suspension and later resigned from the department to join a law enforcement agency in Orange County. Preece also referred to Miller, as a "black bitch." African-American officer Darryl Hurt testified that Preece was not a bigot and had made the remark under extreme stress as a form of "gallows humor." Preece's counsel argued that since the comments were overheard and not said publically, there were not meant to be offensive or confrontative.
According to the report, Preece was fired, because he was unretrainable, and had taken no responsibility for his actions, as an officer or as a supervisor, the city said. Preece's counsel argued that Preece was fired due to public outcry from the 44 demonstrations that took place in protest of Miller's death, rather than his actions. And the arbitrator agreed, saying that the demotion was appropriate because Preece failed in his duties as a supervisor, but that he had not failed as a patrol officer and thus should not have been fired.
Community sentiment in the neighborhoods Preece used to police is that he should stay fired. People expressed disbelief, anger but also resignation, several saying that the whole thing was a ploy by the city to wait until apathy had set in, and then bring the involved officers back on the force.
The city has been silent on the issue since the news broke.
Alagna and Stewart also are in arbitration and a decision on their fates will be announced in the next several months. Because Hotard and Bugar were rookies at the time of their firings, they have filed lawsuits in court to be rehired.
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