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Arbitrater orders two officers who shot Tyisha Miller back to work

by Mary Shelton Thursday, Feb. 21, 2002 at 1:53 PM

An independent arbitrater ruled that former Riverside Police Department officers Michael Alaga and Wayne Stewart must be allowed to return to work by April 30, to the disgust of many members of the African-American community.

errorAn independent arbitrator ruled that former Riverside Police Department officers Michael Alagna and Wayne Stewart were wrongly terminated by the city, for their role in the 1998 shooting of Tyisha Miller, and should be reinstated.

However, city officials refused to release the arbitration findings to the Black Voice, even after the daily newspaper, the Press-Enterprise had already published an article quoting extensively from independent arbitrator Robert D. Steinburg's decisions..

"We are legally restricted in this matter, and can not provide a copy without the permission of the attorneys involved," a city representative said, referring all requests to the officers' attorney, Bill Hadden, or Press Enterprise reporter Lisa O'Neill Hill.

Not surprisingly, the arbitrator's decisions sparked a strong response from community members and members of Miller's family.

"We're outraged that they would say Tyisha's death was a minor training error," Ron Butler said.

Brian Dunn, one of the attorneys who represented the Miller family in its litigation with the city of Riverside said that the family would be upset and traumatized by the decision.

"We believe that what happened in this case was an act of murder," he said. He added that the behavior during the incident and afterwards, especially the comments made by former sergeant, Gregory Preece, made it clear that it was something other than an act of simple misconduct. His office had been taking sworn depositions from all four officers, who shot Miller, in connection to a law suit filed by the officers, against Miller's parents.

Community activist Tanya Humphrey said she was extremely disappointed with the decision to reinstate the officers, but not at all surprised.

"It reflects poorly on the police department to allow police officers to remain on the force no matter what," she said. "It reflects poorly on Riverside as well."

Humphrey, who addressed the issues of police accountability and misconduct, in the aftermath of the Tyisha Miller shooting in 1998 said that the Miller shooting was not an isolated incident but part of a trend of misconduct by the Riverside Police Department towards people of color.

"Because we have to train our children to look at officers differently, means that they have actually succeeded with their intimidation tactics," she said.

She was critical towards the binding arbitration process, which clearly favors law enforcement officers.

"It really gets down to the strong lobbying of the police association," she said. "Police who really see themselves as beyond the law.,"

Humphrey also criticized a comment made by the officers' attorney, Bill Hadden to the Press Enterprise. He had said that he felt that Steinburg's comment that the officers could not go back to work because people of color might not like it was insulting to people of color.
"They probably should consult the minority communities on how they feel about having these officers back on the force," she said.

Retired Air Force Colonial Ralph Smith called the reinstatements, "an insult to the community," and also said that the reinstatements would traumatize the community. The same community that had made its feelings towards these officers clear, through protesting in the streets of Riverside for over a year.

Smith, who currently serves on Police Chief Russ Leach's Advisory Board, also questioned the judgment of placing the officers in a situation where they could be a danger to the community and where their own safety might be compromised as well.

"I'm not denying them the right to work, but they should not be put out on the street," he said, adding that if they return to the force, they should be given another assignment, "perhaps sweeping the floors at the jails."

Realtor Michael Teer said that he was concerned that the arbitrator's decision sends a message that nothing ever happened.

"It is almost as if they got away with poor behavior, and frankly are being rewarded," he said.

The decisions to reinstate Alagna and Stewart, came on the heels of prior decisions involving former Riverside Police Department sergeant, Gregory Preece and former Riverside County Sheriff's Department deputy, Tracy Watson.

Arbitrator John Perone overturned Preece's firing, but demoted him and gave him a 30 day suspension with out pay. Both the city and Preece are currently appealing the ruling, in superior court. Preece filed a law suit alleging that he suffered racial discrimination and harassment from the city, and former Police Chief Jerry Carroll. The law suit claims that the defendants have caused Preece "physical injury, pain and suffering, extreme and severe mental anguish and emotional distress" as a result of its discriminatory practices.

Watson was reinstated by the State Court of Appeals, after being fired five years ago, for his role in the controversial beating of two undocumented immigrants, outside of El Monte, that was captured on video by a media helicopter flying overhead. He is trying to return to duty, but according to court records, he is unable to own or posses firearms until Nov. 2002, as part of his terms of probation stemming from a 1998 incident, involving his stepchildren.

post script: Last month, I filed a formal Freedom of Information request for the arbitration findings of Alagna and Stewart, but the Riverside Police Department contested the release of those documents, stating that the privacy of the officers superceded the public safety issue involved in this case.

My response? It is silly for the city or any of its entities to assert the privacy rights of two of its employees who had already waived their rights to privacy by handing over the documents in question to the Press Enterprise, a daily newspaper that ciruclates to over 400,000 readers.

I am currently working on my appeal of the city's decision to deny the request. The cases cited in their argument deal specifically with how state law protects PERSONNEL RECORDS of peace officers, but doesn't pertain to arbitrator's findings. --M.S.
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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 11 posted about this article.
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State Sponsored Terror Fellow Freeway Protester Thursday, Feb. 21, 2002 at 7:12 PM
Yeh for them Joe citizen Saturday, Feb. 23, 2002 at 7:41 AM
Joe KKK "Citizen" Anti-Fascist Saturday, Feb. 23, 2002 at 8:52 AM
"Hmm, guess this joe guy is local." Mary Shelton Saturday, Feb. 23, 2002 at 1:27 PM
Whos this mary?? joey Saturday, Feb. 23, 2002 at 4:13 PM
Joey needs to read up on libal laws Mary Shelton Sunday, Feb. 24, 2002 at 1:09 PM
Whats a "Carpet Muncher" joey Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2002 at 8:58 AM
Attack on sexuality only proves weak argument Stacey Friday, Mar. 01, 2002 at 1:52 PM
Ohhh man mik3y Friday, Mar. 01, 2002 at 4:38 PM
No, I don't know what a carpet muncher is... Mary Shelton Friday, Mar. 08, 2002 at 1:55 PM
Joe's identity mary Monday, May. 24, 2004 at 1:45 PM

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