By Mary Shelton
A Riverside Police Department officer assaulted a woman at the downtown terminal during a pedestrian stop, according to the woman and her fianceé.
On Feb. 20, Terri Williams and Cedric May, both African-Americans, were sitting on a luggage dolly behind the Greyhound bus terminal when a squad car parked nearby. Officer Camillo Bonome exited his vehicle and approached them, pointing to the no loitering sign above the dolly.
Williams said that Bonome then asked May if he was on probation or parole and he answered no. Bonome then asked Williams the same question and she told him she was on probation. He asked her why and she answered, how come. He then grabbed her by the jacket with one hand and her hair with his other, then pulled her off the dolly. He slammed her on the ground and then put his weight on top of her, causing her to have problems breathing. She then felt the other officer, Scott Borngrebe, grab one of her legs and forcibly twist it, she told the Black Voice News.
He never once told me I was under arrest, Williams said about Bonome.
The two officers then handcuffed her and drove her to the station where Sgt. Dave Reeves interviewed her for the criminal investigation. After she told him what happened, he said that the officers were just doing their jobs and doing what they were supposed to do because she had kicked one of the officers. Reeves also advised her that if a business manager said she had permission to be on his property, to not listen to him. Williams had her ankle examined at the hospital before she spent three days in county jail.
May said that he had been sitting with Williams when Bonome approached. When Bonome told them they were loitering, May expected to be asked to leave or a citation to be issued, but not what followed, he said.
He said Bonome grabbed Williams by the jacket and her hair and slammed her on her stomach before placing his knee in her back, May said. He said that there were bus passengers watching and Bonome said to them, What, do you have a problem with this? May felt helpless and tempted to intervene, but knew if he did, he might get hurt.
Stay out of it, or get shot, May said.
Neither May or Williams were ever cited or charged for loitering. Williams was booked for resisting arrest, according to court records. After Williams arrest, officers told May to leave the terminal and go about his business.
The officers involved painted a different picture in their reports where they allege Bonome, not Williams, was the victim.
Bonome stated that he approached May and Williams to ask them questions. When Williams did not tell him what she was on probation for, he said he grabbed her right wrist because he had become scared and extremely concerned for his safety because she was on probation and wearing a heavy jacket which she placed her hands underneath.
He stated that Williams then leaned back on the dolly and kicked him in the groin leaving him in excruciating pain, he claimed. Somehow despite the pain, he wrote, he managed to grab Williams right arm and Borngrebe grabbed her left arm and both officers pulled her off the dolly and on her stomach to be handcuffed.
May said that he noticed during the incident that Bonome wore a digital audio recorder, as required of all RPD officers under the consent decree and hoped it would help his fiancees case. However, whether the incident was taped remains unknown due to statements in the police reports regarding the status of both officers recorders.
Bonome stated that he had exited the car and approached Williams and May while Borngrebe was downloading both recorders.
Borngrebe concurred in his report.
Officer Bonome and I had just finished a call and I was downloading our audio recording devices onto the computer when he observed two subjects sitting on luggage dollies directly underneath a no loitering sign at the bus station. Officer Bonome stopped the patrol car and contacted the two subjects while I was finishing the downloading of the recorders. As I finished the downloadings, I looked up and saw Williams kick Ofcr. Bonome in the groin, he stated.
Lt. John Wallace, who heads the Attorney Generals Task Force, said that the recorders are downloaded by being attached to the laptop computers by a cable during the process which is brief but does prevent them from recording anything. Departmental policy 4.60 states that officers have to turn on their recorders whenever they initiate a contact involving a traffic or pedestrian stop, yet it is unclear what happened here.
While incarcerated, Williams said she tried to file a complaint against Bonome with Internal Afffairs but correctional officers told her she would have to wait until she was released from jail. On Feb. 24, she was arraigned on charges of resisting arrest and battery of an officer, and her public defender told her she had to plead guilty because no jury would believe her word against the police. Former prosecutor, current defense attorney and judge pro-tem judge John L. Michels offered her a deal of 15 days in county jail and three years summary probation, albeit with the provision that she have no negative contact with any law enforcement officer.
Even though she did not want to take the deal, she pled guilty at 4 p.m. that same day and returned to jail for six more days. May said he tried to stop her by gesturing to her, but a courtroom deputy told him he could not communicate with her.
Regardless, Williams and May still filed a citizen complaint against Bonome through the RPDs Internal Affairs division, but learned later that the complaint was to be investigated by Reeves, the same sergeant who initially defended the officers actions against Williams.
Assigning involved supervisors to investigate complaints is not an uncommon occurrence in the RPD.
The Community Police Review Commission has expressed concerns over the high number of complaints farmed out to field supervisors from Internal Affairs as well as the problems which have emerged when an investigating sergeants involvement with the incident under review compromises the citizen complaint process. Cases have even occurred where the sergeant assigned to investigate the citizen complaint was also a witness to that incident and the department has found no problem with that.
State Attorney General Bill Lockyer told the Black Voice in a 2001 interview that this was one of the long-standing problems discovered in his office's investigation which led to the consent decree that went into effect in March 2001. When the RPD revised their citizen complaint policy, it included a provision addressing this problem.
Lt. Jeffrey Collopy, who heads Internal Affairs, said that it is against departmental policy to comment on investigations of citizen complaints including providing the name of the investigator involved. He added that this complaint was still in the pipeline and scheduled to be completed by the end of May.
May and Williams, who plan to take their case to the civil courts, spoke of their support of law enforcement but believe that the bad behavior of some officers make life a lot harder for the good ones.
"I feel like Bonome has a mean streak in him," May said. "I don't think he should have a gun or a badge."
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