By Mary Shelton and Cheryl Brown
A loud cry was heard from Riverside citizens when they learned that Wayne Stewart, one of the four officers who shot and killed Tyisha Miller as she laid unconscious foaming at the mouth on December 28, 1998, will be able to come back to work on the Riverside Police Department. Last Friday Superior Court Judge Charles E. Stafford, JR located in the Indio Court handed down his decision.
Reportedly the case was remanded there because so many of the judges had to recuse themselves in the main Riverside court. Response was swift. The family is wounded, calling for justice, the department still supporting the officers and the community is united in their indignation and vow to never have Stewart return to the force.
There is a new NAACP President since the shooting and she said the organization is very disappointed with the ruling and the comments of two city council members, Ed Adkison and Frank Schiavone who reportedly support the judges decision. The course of action the NAACP is recommending is that the citizens of Riverside should pack out the City Council on the night of May 6, to show their displeasure with the ruling and to make sure the city doesnt bring Stewart back to work. Waudier Rucker Hughes said, The Riverside Branch of the NAACP is outraged, deeply disturbed and troubled.
It is our collective opinion that not only does Officer Stewart not deserve a return to the streets of our city as a policemen but also does not deserve to be rewarded for his part in the murder of Tyisha Miller.
Reggie Beamon, a member of the Tyisha Miller Steering Committee and now the President of the San Bernardino Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) said he was calling Martin Luther King III because a light needed to be turned on the judges blatant disregard for human life and the danger the judge has put the community under. "The whole effort was drawn out to let it (the protest) simmer down to the point there is a calmness. This is a slap in the face of the Black community and they do it because they think we are asleep. Stewart actually shot Tyisha in the back. Im calling on clergy and Black civic leaders to let our voices be heard. We cannot allow the City of Riverside to re-instate him," said Beamon.
Rose Mayes, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Council, and member of the Mayors Use of Force Task force said the ruling disturbed her. She joined others, "it is a slap in the face against everything we worked so hard for during the past four years. It is a step backward for the city," she said. She said she hoped that other people would speak out against this and this is not the time to sit back and accept it.
She added that the authorities should realize the impact that such a reinstatement would have on the community and consider the communitys input when making that decision. The department should have recognized the problems that could occur in the community if Stewart returns to duty, she said.
The Riverside Police Officers Association doesnt agree. Patrick McCarthy, President of RPOA, said the Association supports their members. "We have always stood by them. They were wrongfully terminated. We respect the judges decision," said McCarthy.
"He (Stewart) was what was wrong in the first place," said Mayes. "His pattern of behavior and that of the department cannot change in only three years."
Mayor Loveridge said he wants to hear the alternatives before he speaks about his position. "There are different choices. The judges order is strong and rather clear," he told Black Voice News.
Tyisha Miller family spokesman, Rev. Bernell Butler, the only one to be punished by going to jail for protesting the killing, is somewhat embittered by the response to the issue. He said if the family hadnt been talked into settling by the attorneys and if people hadnt given up on justice for Tyisha then the judge could not have made the decision. "If the truth could have come out in a trial there would have been a different outcome. Our family is suffering and this is like pouring salt on the wound. Where are the ministers? Where are the community members? We must remember they shot an unconscious person in the back fearing for their life. Where is the justice?" he asked.
Bill Howe, a steering committee member and member of the Community Police Review Commission which was set in place by a Consent Decree, said that he firmly believes that none of the officers involved with the shooting should ever return to the police force.
"People havent forgotten what happened on that night of December 28, 1998," he said. He added that through his work with the Eastsides Community Action Network, he talks to parents and children who still fear the police department, certain officers and the way they are treated. There are many good officers but the few bad ones make things difficult for them," he said
Howe knows police work. He is the retired Chief of Police for the University of California Riverside and the City of Corona. He strongly objected to the behavior exhibited by the four officers after the tragic shooting.
"We dont need officers like that who go around celebrating and making jokes after shooting people," he said. He believes that Preece especially shouldnt be allowed to return to duty because of his behavior after the shooting where he made offensive comments and condoned other officers bad behavior at the scene.
He is referring to what happened after the shooting. The officers gave each other high fives and made racial comments about the grieving family. Then Sgt. Gregory Preece who came after they put together an ill-fated plan said in roll call, "In LA they treat you like a King but in Riverside its Miller Time."
Community and national leaders converged on Riverside and a faithful group of people marched every Monday for two years. Most of the protesters were targeted and most got 6 months suspended sentences and community service. Butlers situation is worse and he has already done four months in jail, his family is separated and it seems to him that the officers are being rewarded for bad behavior. "I know that God is in this plan and I cant give up," he said.
His regrets about the family settling are the same as Rev. Jerry Louder, President of the U.S. Pastors Society and pastor of New Jerusalem Christian Church, "we should have never settled the case. We should have gone to trial. If we had, all of this never would have happened. The family settled, Johnnie Cochran settled and we are all living with the residue of the case. If it had gone to trial, this would have never happened. I hope the city will follow through in dismissing him (Stewart).
However, no one has come out and talked about the fact that there was a policy in place at the PD in situations where a person was inside a car and unresponsive. If there was evidence of drinking alcohol or inebriation, then the officers are supposed to back off the situation. They didnt do that and that would have resulted in their dismissal. Johnnie Cochran never dealt with that policy, only with the settlement and getting what he could out of the family," said Louder.
Rucker-Hughes commented: It is our belief that the shooting of young Tyisha, as well as, the lack of training and forethought evidenced by these officers actions on that fateful night continue to shed valuable light on a grave situation involving abuse of Blacks and Latinos by some Riverside police officers.
We echo the sentiments of Pastor Mumford and Councilman Moore in their condemnation of this misguided and unconscionable effort to reinstate Officer Stewart to our police force. We view the attitude and comments of Councilmen Atkison and Schiavone as being insensitive and reflective of the kind of hide your head in the sand indifference, duck for cover callousness and circle the wagons defense that is all too familiar and predictable and we call upon the Council, inclusive of Ed and Frank, to do the right thing, by appealing this decision allowing Officer Stewart to return and by insisting that there be no whitewash of justice for Tyisha.
We recognize that not all police are out to get African Americans, but when those who are sworn to "protect and serve" us end up blowing away our children heads, anger and outrage is the inevitable fall out. That is because one more attack on the Black community, already under a constant state of siege, one more atrocity, naturally just adds fuel to an already burning fire.
In conclusion, let the record show that the Riverside Branch of the NAACP opposes this mis-carriage of justice by the courts to allow the reinstatement of Officer Stewart to the Riverside police department. We will be in attendance at the May 6, 2003 Council meeting to monitor what happens in this case.
Pastor Jesse Wilson, president of the Tyisha Miller Steering Committee said, This ruling has dredged up painful memories and I believe will strain the relationship between law enforcement and the eastside community. It is a lose/lose situation.
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