Arbitrator: Pay Cops for Shooting Miller

by Mary Shelton Friday, May. 03, 2002 at 6:39 AM

After the arbitrator released his decision to reinstate two of the officers who shot Tyisha Miller to death, the city also decided to offer the two men disability retirements that could guarantee them half of their salary annually for the rest of their lives.

errorArbitrator: Pay Cops for Shooting Miller
City wants to give officers 1/2 salary for life
By Mary Shelton
RIVERSIDE --Riverside city officials have offered disability retirements to two of the Riverside Police Department officers who shot and killed Tyisha Miller, essentially rewriting the history of the controversial shooting that shook the city in 1998.

Michael Alagna and Wayne Stewart would be paid 50 percent of their salary for the rest of their lives, if they accept the retirements, the city said. Their retirements would be applied retroactively to the date they were originally fired on July 13, 1999.

Interim City Manager Larry Paulsen said in a statement that the city approved the retirements requested by both officers who asserted that they were unable to perform their duties for medical reasons. The city reviewed the applications and agreed that the two men were unable to continue as Riverside Police Department officers.

Earlier, an arbitrator had ordered the city to give Stewart and Alagna their jobs back by April 30, and allow them to remain for at least six months before allowing them to either retire or resign.

Community reaction to the news was mixed, but everyone agreed that the officers should not be allowed to return back to work under any circumstances.

Councilman Ameal Moore said that he was not elated about the officers getting retirements, but that the main concern was keeping them from returning back to work.

"The decision not to allow them back on the force will be well received, he said. "I don't know how the decision to give them disability benefits will be received but that's a different story."

However, a criminal investigation initiated by the U.S. Attorney's office is still pending, and even the Riverside County District Attorney's office was asked to take another look at the case.

Ron Butler, Miller's uncle, said that he and community leaders met with District Attorney representatives Randall Tagami and Randall Christianson after contacting District Attorney Grover Trask and asking him to reopen the criminal investigation. Butler said that the family was concerned that new information they received might warrant the case being reexamined.

"There are a lot of conflicting statements," Butler said, in regards to statements taken from the officers during the initial criminal investigation and those they made recently, when deposed for ongoing civil litigation that they filed against Miller's parents.

The U.S. Attorney's office has also decided to take another look at the case it appeared ready to close only weeks ago. Vermont McKinney, a regional director for the Department of Justice's Community Relations Division, had flown out from his Philadelphia office for a meeting, which was later canceled after several family members presented McKinney with new allegations to take back to the attorneys, Butler said.

Thom Muzak, the U.S. Attorney spokesperson, denied that his office planned to make any announcement of its findings.

"The investigation is ongoing, and that is all I'm going to tell you," he said, adding that it was unusual for the attorneys to even announce that an investigation was being conducted, except in certain civil rights cases

Attorney Mark Blankenship, who attended the meeting with Tagami, said that it accomplished nothing in terms of redressing the issue of justice for Miller.

"We know nothing more about what happened to Tyisha Miller today, than we knew the evening that she was murdered," he said. "Mr. Tagami and anyone from the DA office has not been vigilant in obtaining information in this tragedy, from the perpetrators of the tragedy, which were the four police officers who believed it was okay to kill Tyisha Miller."

Tagami and the D.A.'s office did not return numerous phone messages by press time. Blankenship also criticized the city's actions in the aftermath of Miller's death, including the decisions to give the two former officers retirements.

"The city of Riverside has cloaked that information in a veil of secrecy and confidentiality and has not shared any of it, with the public," he said, "In fact, all they have done is pay people off, essentially rewarding them for killing Tyisha Miller."

Bill Howe, a retired police chief, and member of the Community Police Review Commission said that he believed it could cost the city more money to appeal the arbitrator's decisions and they could lose, and the city may have decided it is better to give them their retirements, "though they are not deserving of it."

"Between hiring them back and paying them off, it is the lessor of two evils," he said.

Rose Mayes, who was a member of the Mayor's Use of Force Panel in 1999, said that she was disappointed in the city's decision, and believes that the city should appeal the arbitrator's finding. She worried that the retirements might send a message to law enforcement agencies, both locally and statewide that they could do wrong, and only get a slap on the wrist.

Brian Dunn, the attorney who represented Miller's parents in their civil litigation, said that what happened during the shooting was a "cruel act, a homicide."

"The city needs to take a long hard look at the competency of the officers, whether their actions were justified." he said, before giving them retirements.

Danny Bakewell, founder of the Brotherhood Crusade in Los Angeles, was also outraged by the decision.

"It amounts to them being an accessory to murder," he said. "It's clearly supporting actions of officers who have had blatant disregard for the life of an individual that they were sworn to protect and serve."

Bakewell was one of many national civil rights leaders who came to march in Riverside after the shooting and was arrested with 48 other people at the police station on May 10. 1999.

In the early morning hours of Dec. 28, the four officers responded to a medical distress call, and arrived on the scene to find Miller unconscious inside her car. Within seven minutes, the four officers discharged their weapons at least 24 times into Miller's car, striking her in the back and head 12 times.

Initially, their explanation for the shooting, was that she had fired at them, and they had fired back in self-defense. Upon discovering that the gun was inoperative, the officers then changed their story, to say that she was reaching for a gun on her lap. Miller's family have maintained that she never was conscious.

Afterwards, officers Stewart and Alagna whooped, laughed and reenacted the shooting that had just taken place, according to a complaint filed in 1999 by former officer Rene Rodriguez. Together, they exchanged hi-fives, until Sgt. Gregory Preece warned them to stop so they would not be on the front page of the local paper.

Later at the station, the officers continued to joke about being at home on vacation after the shooting, and Stewart said sarcastically, "I think I'm going to be distraught," according to the complaint.

Bill Hadden, who represents Stewart and Alagna did not respond by press time, but earlier this week, he filed a writ of mandamus in Superior Court on behalf of his clients, effectively ordering the city to reinstate them. At least one resident worried that the truth about what happened on that December morning will never come to light.

"Asking the city attorney and the district attorney for the truth is like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop," Blankenship said.
(c) 2002