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Council Meets in Private on Tyisha Miller Lawsuits

Members are informed of the status of legal actions by fired police officers. Meetings on case typically draw crowds.

September 03, 2003|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

The Riverside City Council met in private Tuesday to discuss lawsuits filed against the city by three police officers who were fired for their involvement in the shooting death of Tyisha Miller nearly five years ago.

City Atty. Greg Priamos said before the meeting that the council would receive an update about the lawsuits filed by Wayne Stewart, Paul Bugar and Dan Hotard. Priamos later said the council took no action.

Mayor Ron Loveridge declined to comment. Attorneys representing the city and Stewart said they have discussed a settlement. In May, the council voted unanimously to appeal a state court ruling that ordered the city to reinstate Stewart with back pay. The city's opening brief is due at the end of this month.

"There have been settlement negotiations and discussions in all of these cases for quite some time," said Richard Roth, a Riverside attorney who represents the city in the Stewart case. Roth declined to say whether a settlement will be taken to the council soon.

William Hadden, a Santa Monica attorney who represents Stewart, confirmed the discussions. Attempts to reach the attorney representing Bugar and Hotard were unsuccessful.

When these lawsuits have been on previous council agendas, scores of community activists and others have attended council meetings.

There was only one speaker at the noon meeting Tuesday, which was held earlier than most meetings and in a different location. Mary Shelton, a reporter for the Black Voice News, urged the council not to take any action.

She also noted that few community members knew about the meeting.

In December 1998, Miller, a 19-year-old African American woman, locked herself in her disabled car at a service station and fell asleep with a gun in her lap. When police officers broke a window to try to give 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 but 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 caused an uproar in Riverside's African American community and included demands that the four white officers to be tried on murder charges.

The city still faces a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Bugar and Hotard.

The judge in that case is expected to rule by Sept. 12 on a number of motions, including one by the city seeking dismissal of the case, and one by the officer seeking a summary judgment in his favor.

The city settled with a fourth officer, Michael Alagna, who received $50,000 and half his salary, tax-free, for life.

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