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Riverside Police Department shooting to be investigated

by Mary Shelton Friday, Jun. 13, 2003 at 9:29 AM

The fourth shooting by Riverside Police Department officers will also be the fourth shooting investigated by the city's Police Commission.

The Community Police Review Commission has decided to investigate the shooting of an African-American man by two Riverside Police Department officers, but one commissioner raised concerns that their investigation could be compromised because the most important information might be withheld from them.

"The information that we need administratively is withheld from us," Commissioner James Ward said, adding that often the commission has to wait six months until after the criminal investigation of a shooting is completed before they can really begin receiving the information needed for their own investigation.

He also said that getting information from the officers involved in the shooting was a very difficult process.

" We need more information from the officers but they are protected from this commission," Ward said, "The RPOA lawyer has made it clear they won't grant access to these officers."

In the past, the RPOA has used its legal muscle to accomplish that at least once, according to records.

According to one of the Commission's minute reports, a lawyer representing the RPOA spoke at a closed session meeting last November alleging "procedural concerns." involving some cases which were coming up for review. As a result, the Commission suspended case review for two months until the city attorney informed them they could resume in January. One former commissioner said at that meeting he felt intimidation.

Captain Dave Dominguez, who heads Investigations, spoke to the Commission releasing new details about the shooting of Volne Lamont Stokes, according to statements given by the officers and one civilian witness.

On May 27, at 1:32 p.m. Officers Tina Banfill and Adam Brown were dispatched to Casa Blanca to investigate a report of a "suspicious" man who had been sitting inside a vehicle since earlier that morning. Banfill arrived at 1:41 and Brown, at 1:42. When Banfill arrived, she approached the vehicle and began talking to Stokes. When Brown arrived, he said he saw Banfill engaged in "quick" conversation and that "her demeanor was on alert." Suddenly, Banfill retreated backwards and Stokes exited his vehicle, armed with a knife and a screwdriver held partly extended from his chest, officers said. He initially walked towards Banfill with the blade of the knife pointing upwards, then towards Brown after Brown exited his vehicle. Brown yelled into his radio, "he has a knife" and both officers repeatedly told Stokes to drop the knife and other weapon. When Stokes did not and was standing about 10 feet away, Brown fired 3-4 shots from his service weapon. Banfill then fired her weapon at Stokes. Stokes fell on the ground, then tried to get up. He dropped the knife, but still clenched the screwdriver in his fist and fell on the ground again. The officers handcuffed him, removed the knife from the immediate area, and removed the screwdriver out of his hand. They called for medical personnel which arrived at 1:49 p.m. Stokes died at 2:20p.m.

The estimated time from the officers' arrival to the shooting, was at most, four minutes.

Pictures provided by police, showed a steak knife with a pale handle, and a screwdriver with a yellow handle that were allegedly collected from Stokes.

Dominguez said that Mr. Maldonado, a civilian witness, had been sitting inside a car but had the air conditioner and radio on so he could not hear anything. He told police that he saw Stokes standing with a "shiny object" in his hand and that he had focused on the female officer(Banfill) first and that he was about 5-6 feet from Brown when the officers shot him.

Police said they extracted a projectile from the exterior wall of a nearby residence amidst reports that at least one shot had entered someone's house. They said they discovered three bullet strikes at the residence but decided that only one was linked to the Stokes shooting. They also recovered several .40 caliber casings and a bullet fragment in the street. Both officers had been equipped with less than lethal shotguns, and could have used hem since both of them were present at the scene, according to departmental policy. Information on any audio recordings from the officers' recorders was not provided. Department policy mandates that officers must turn them on anytime they initate contact with a citizen.

Dominguez added that Stokes had stolen the car from some relatives he had lived with after an altercation earlier last month. He had some misdemeanor violations in his past, Dominguez said. Very little information was provided regarding the histories of the two officers involved.

Several people spoke at the meeting, to ask questions about the investigation or express their concerns about the fourth fatal officer involved shooting by the department in six months.

Chani Beeman, who chairs the Community Relations Commission questioned why Officer Banfill approached a vehicle by herself that she probably knew by running a license plate was stolen and that she might have inadvertantly escalated the situation.

Jim Martin said that he wondered why the police department had to write a provision in their use of force policy which stated that they respected human life, adding that respecting life should be a foregone conclusion, but that was missing here.

"At the slightest provocation, the police department is willing to take a life, just like that," he said snapping his fingers.

Commission Chair Michael Gardener said that the police were in the very early stages of the investigation, too soon to have all the facts.

"I think all of us have some questions that are unanswered tonight," he said.

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