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Report Backs Police Policies in Fontana

After three in-custody deaths last year, a city-sponsored inquiry clears use-of-force rules.

May 23, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

A city-sponsored review of the Fontana Police Department's use-of-force and deadly-force policies determined there was no misconduct by officers regarding three in-custody deaths in a six-month span last year.

The report's summary said officers involved with the arrests of Ismael Banda, David Michael Tyler and Fermin Rincon, all of whom died in police custody, acted in a manner that met the standard of "what is reasonable" under the circumstances.

However, the report's in-depth analysis of the three deaths was not released with the rest of the study because of pending litigation against the city, Fontana officials said.

The attorney representing the families of the three suspects said he wasn't surprised that a study funded by the city would exonerate the city and its officers.

"I'm not impressed at all by these reviewers who were bought and paid for the purpose of damage control," said Dale Galipo of Woodland Hills, who has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Fontana on behalf of the Tyler family. "Anyone aware of all the facts in these cases would not justify any of these killings."

The review of policies, procedures and training was commissioned by Fontana's City Council in November on the recommendation of Police Chief Frank J. Scialdone.

Scialdone, a 30-year department veteran who helped craft some of the policies that were reviewed, said he was happy with the study and defended the findings as independent and unbiased.

Fontana Mayor Mark Nuaimi agreed. "This is a respected police agency, one of the best in Southern California and the state," he said.

The 240-page review suggested 31 improvements, including a one to arm officers with knives.

The study was conducted by former Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department SWAT members John A. Kolman and Ronald M. McCarthy.

The report included 83 unreleased pages devoted to the three deaths. Kolman and McCarthy also declined to discuss the in-custody deaths at a news conference Thursday. The San Bernardino County district attorney's office has announced it will not pursue charges against any of the officers.

Police declined to provide details about the three incidents. According their families and the attorney representing them, these were the circumstances:

* Banda, 41, was stopped in his car Feb. 5, 2002, by Fontana officers after allegedly failing to stop at stop sign.

After struggling with police, he was handcuffed and taken into custody.

At the police station he collapsed and later died of a ruptured spleen.

* Tyler, 37, died March 14, 2002, after police were summoned to a Fontana home to move a sleeping Tyler from a truck. Tyler resisted and fought with police and may have been under the influence of drugs. Officers were forced to subdue him, and Tyler later died of asphyxiation.

* Rincon, 24, became the third in-custody death, on June 27, 2002. Rincon ran when police tried to question him.

When caught, an officer allegedly subdued him by striking him a baton and using a Taser gun.

Galipo said he is troubled by the potential impact of the positive review.

"Police are supposed to de-escalate situations, but they've taken a traffic stop and turned it into a beating death, and they took a sleeping guy out of his car [Tyler] and beat the hell out of him," Galipo said. "They've used excessive force, and now they have no deterrent."

The police chief disputed Galipo's allegations, and said the officers involved acted appropriately. There was "absolutely nothing" the officers could have done to save the lives of the three men, he said.

"I'm not going to tell my officers to back off. I don't ever want them to hesitate or hang back," Scialdone said. "I judge my officers by their actions, and I saw nothing in these cases where I could have told them, 'You should have done this instead of that.' "

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