By Cheryl Brown
Officer Michael Alagna picked up a check for a cool $50,000, Rev. Bernell Butler is in jail, and at least one person is discussing plans for a march and rally to protest both.
Many community members are speaking out against the gift for one of the four shooters.
On December 28, 1998, Tyisha Miller lay in her aunts car foaming at the mouth, unconscious and in need of medical help.
She had an inoperable gun in her lap to protect her from a transient who had earlier bothered her. Four officers answered the 911 call and less than five minutes later she was dead, with twelve bullets in her back and officers seen giving each other high fives and overheard making racial comments that were later confirmed by Officer Rene Rodriguez.
Larry Halstead, one of the "Freeway Twenty," called Alagnas payoff a sin and Butlers arrest unacceptable. He said he is discussing with others a plan to hold a march and a rally to protest the reward of "blood money" to Algana and the injustice of Butlers arrest.
Two weeks ago Butler was arrested after his brother was shot in the leg in a disagreement with someone in the community who was known to the family.
Butler called the police to report that his wifes gun had been stolen. When Butler tried to get the gun from the young man who shot his brother someone reported to the police he kidnapped the alleged shooter.
Last year Butler was convicted on a lesser charge after his wife said he physically abused her. She immediately recanted her report to the District Attorney but they moved ahead. She had said she was upset with his involvement in the fight for justice for his niece Tyisha.
"If four police officers could kill Tyisha Miller and the DAs office could ignore the information of one of their own officers in their investigation in order to find no grounds to prosecute them, then we know they are holding Bernell a political prisoner," said Halsead. "Its like there is no justice.
The government fed us false hopeif we could keep the peace they would deliver justice. Then the government and the daily press attacked us and made us the enemy. The lies they told on the shut down of the 91 Freeway was the turning point.
They (the press) tried to turn the community against us by saying the gasoline tanker almost jackknifed, a statement that is not supported by the driver. The driver wasnt quoted but spokesman Jay Theur was, he said.
Recently Theur was one of the five officers filing a "reverse discrimination" suit and also receiving a $40,000 gift from the city. He claimed his civil rights were violated when an Indian, Hispanic and White woman were promoted to Lieutenant after they were passed over and discriminated against for years.
The city signed an agreement with Alagna on January 27, 2003 four years and 30 days after he and Bugar, Stewart and Hotard killed Miller.
Dr. Lula Mae Clemons, activist and retired educator, said what she would say about the city paying the money to Alagna, "my comments are not fit to print. I am at a loss for words of how that decision was made."
" The $50,000 was agreed upon to resolve all outstanding issues," said Laurie Payne. When asked what issues, Payne explained that it was because the city didnt want him to return to work there.
"He has no claim now to get his job back, it is done," she said. Alagna won an arbitrator's decision to return him to his job, a scenario that the city council didnt want. In the agreement the city also paid his attorney fee of $7,500. In addition to the $50,000 award Alagna can still go to work somewhere else.
But the PERS retirement will pay him half of his $814 per week salary for the rest of his life. Alagna fought the psychiatric settlement that would not allow him to go to work anywhere else and claims his shoulder was hurt.
"The employee (Alagna) alleges that as a result of a shooting incident on December 28, 1998, during his employment as a police officer with defendant he sustained psychiatric injuries.
The subject had previously filed for an industrial disability retirement, which was granted, on a psychiatric basis. [He] has now presented evidence that he has fully recovered from his alleged psychiatric injury and desires to change the basis of this retirement to one based on a physical injury," wrote the Compromise and Release agreement.
"I dont fully understand. If he is as sick as he alleges he should be in a rehabilitation hospital. It is a shame he was paid off for a mistake that he made. There was another way to handle that situation," said Bill Howe, former UCR Police Chief.
Chief Lee Wagner, Riverside City College, said he is not surprised. The reality is that with the right amount of support, you can sway the system to do the unthinkable. Although I care very deeply for all the officers at RPD, the decision to award a monetary settlement for a tragic and terribly flawed shooting defies logic.
Rev. Paul Munford, Pastor of New Joy Missionary Baptist Church and former member of the Tyisha Miller Steering Committee was very concerned about the money.
"It is unfortunate for a person involved in the shooting to profit for that unjust act. It is shameful, he has never publicly apologized to the family and the community for his actions," said Munford.
Munford said the group dropped the ball on the arbitration and they stopped too soon. "We should have delved into the process (arbitration) to see if there was anything that could have been done. We went to sleep at the switch!" said Munford.
The notoriety has not helped the City of Riverside. And one community leader, although not pleased with the payment, said that it was better to pay it than to have the officers back. Michael Teer, local realtor said, our city has gathered attention for all the wrong reasons.
As realtors we are sensitive to the image of our community. It is unfortunate that these officers killed Tyisha Miller. It has had a negative image but with the checks and balances in place it will reduce the chances of this ever happening to anyone else and take us back to a position of prominence that we deserve," said Teer.
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