Chip Johnson, 5/6/11
Richmond city and police officials have fired officer Dedrick Riley twice since 2006 for alleged misdeeds – and twice Riley has prevailed in binding arbitration hearings required by the police officer’s union contract.
On Monday, the veteran officer was reinstated for the second time with full back pay, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be back on patrol soon. The 41-year-old officer is scheduled to appear in Contra Costa County Superior Court on July 8 to face criminal charges of assault under the color of authority and filing a false police report for allegedly beating a handcuffed suspect in 2009.
Regardless of the outcome of this case, it screams for the need for swifter administrative hearings for police officers and quicker resolution of the criminal or civil claims that sometimes arise from them.
For the integrity of the police profession and as a matter of public policy, the legal wrangling on both sides of the aisle puts a burden on taxpayers who have to pay for an officers’ administrative leave while losing out on having that extra police officer on the street.
While police officials are legally bound by the arbitrator’s decision, they were stunned and expressed disappointment with the outcome.
“Honesty is at the heart of police work, and without it our whole system breaks down,” said Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus, a reference to the nature of the charges brought against Riley.
Harry Stern, the attorney representing Riley, said his client was the target of a witch hunt prompted first by Magnus, and later by city human resources officials influenced by Magnus. He views the criminal case as a by-product of the city’s misguided campaign and will move to have it dismissed, he said. He declined a request to interview Riley.
The case against Riley is the result of the same dysfunctional management practices that led eight African American officers to file a lawsuit against the department in March 2007, charging racial discrimination a little more than a year after Magnus took over as chief, Stern said. Since Magnus arrived, the only officers to be fired from the department have been African American, he said.
City officials believe Riley’s record as a police officer provided ample cause to show that he should no longer be a police officer.
Riley was fired the first time following a March 2006 encounter with a suspect outside a bakery on 23rd Street, the city’s main drag. Investigators sustained a finding of dishonesty in that case after Riley failed to file a use-of-force report on the incident, police officials said. He was fired seven months later, only to be reinstated in July 2007.
Two years later, in March 2009, Riley’s actions toward a suspect led to another investigation and his second dismissal from the department.
In that case, the officer approached a vehicle parked on Third Street near Ohio Avenue and questioned a parked motorist, according to the criminal complaint against the officer.
When the motorist tossed something – later confirmed to be cocaine – as he emerged from the car, Riley swept his legs from underneath him, took him down and handcuffed him, the complaint stated.
While seated on the ground and handcuffed, the drug suspect launched into a verbal tirade against the officer and Riley struck him, the document stated. The suspect then challenged the officer to strike him again and he did, according to court records. Stern said the complaint accurately portrayed his client’s actions, but insisted that those actions amounted to “good police work.”
Contra Costa County prosecutors disagree.
“Cops face this kind of stuff every day they go out on the job and 99 percent of the time they ignore it,” said Barry Grove, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case. “On this occasion, he gave into it and punched the guy around a little bit, and you can’t do that.”
Stern said the arbitrator – an independent third party who reviewed the case and ruled that Riley should get his job back – also found that Riley’s actions with the suspect fell within the bounds of the department’s use-of-force policies.
Both sides blame the other for delaying Riley’s hearing, but it shouldn’t take two years to sort out or cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay and city legal fees.