YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Council to Fight Ruling on Cop Firing

Riverside will appeal a judge's order to reinstate one of the officers involved in the 1998 killing of teenager Tyisha Miller.

May 21, 2003|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

The Riverside City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to appeal a court ruling that ordered the city to reinstate a police officer fired after Tyisha Miller was shot to death in her car more than four years ago.

The vote came after the council met for hours in closed session, both Tuesday and at a previous meeting, to decide whether to fight a judge's order to reinstate Wayne Stewart, one of four police officers involved in the shooting.

Miller's paternal grandmother, who was unable to attend the meeting, was overjoyed by the council's decision.

"We're elated," said Joan Miller. "It was the right, moral thing to do. It's not fair to reward someone for murdering someone."

Stewart's attorney, William Hadden of Santa Monica, called the vote politically motivated and said he will seek to have his client reinstated while the appeal wends its way through the courts.

"It's the predictable act of gutless politicians who have nothing but contempt for the taxpayers they purport to serve,'' Hadden said. "They have no legal grounds on which to appeal.''

In December 1998, Miller, 19, locked herself in her disabled car at a service station and passed out with a gun in her lap. When police officers broke a window to try to get her medical aid, Miller awoke with a start.

Police said she reached for the gun. The officers fired 24 times, striking her with 12 bullets.

The four officers involved were fired after the shooting but were subsequently cleared of criminal wrongdoing by the Riverside County district attorney's office, the state attorney general's office and the U.S. Department of Justice. The case triggered an uproar in Riverside's African American community and included demands for the four white officers to be tried on murder charges.

Joan Miller said the council's decision will bring no closure to Tyisha's family.

"Holidays and birthdays and things like that come around -- there is no such thing as closure," she said. "It's lasting memories. We try to dwell on the good things."

Stewart's attorney said his client was cleared of wrongdoing, and he accused the council of bending to political pressure instead of following the law.

"There is no law that says you can fire a white police officer for no good reason just because some political entity fears that some members of another ethnic community won't like it," Hadden said.

Mayor Ronald O. Loveridge said the matter was decided only after an "extensive and serious discussion" and that no one took the vote lightly.

"I personally support the vote the council made," Loveridge said.

Several council members declined to comment on the decision after the vote.

At least two members apparently had a change of heart in recent weeks -- both Ed Adkison and Frank Schiavone said in early May that they worried losing another appeal would simply add zeros to an eventual settlement check for Stewart.

Earlier this year the city settled with another of the four fired officers, Michael Alagna, who will receive $50,000 and half his salary, tax-free, for life. Riverside is still facing two federal civil-rights lawsuits filed by former officers Paul Bugar and Dan Hotard.

African American community leaders and other residents were thrilled by the city's move and pledged to support the council.

"I want to tell the city thank you very much, you made the right decision, and what can we do as a community to support you," said Leonard Robinson, vice president of the Riverside branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

The NAACP and other community organizations had decided Monday night to call on their national organization and the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition if the council reinstated Stewart or approved a settlement.

At previous meetings, local black leaders had threatened to oppose the reelection bids of council members who voted against appealing the April 25 ruling by Superior Court Judge Charles E. Stafford Jr.

Before the council met in closed session, several residents told the council that if it decided not to appeal, it might tear down the growing trust between the city and its residents.

"Don't let anyone tell you it's cheaper to settle. Don't let anyone tell you Wayne Stewart has a place at the Riverside Police Department," said Mary Shelton, a reporter for the Black Voice News.

One resident, a retired 34-year Riverside police officer, urged the panel to reinstate Stewart.

"This whole thing has gone through the courts," said David Bulf.

"A lot of people forget that this young lady who got killed had a gun in her lap. Police officers don't get paid enough to get shot."

Los Angeles Times Articles