Karl Fischer, 5/6/11
A Richmond police officer avoided being fired over an excessive force complaint — for the second time in five years — when an arbitrator ordered him reinstated with full back pay this week.
But Dedrick Riley, 41, will remain on paid leave while a felony case proceeds against him in Contra Costa Superior Court for allegedly beating a handcuffed drug suspect during a 2009 traffic stop.
“The arbitrator’s opinion as to the facts is irrelevant to the case,” deputy district attorney Barry Grove said. “It’s not going to have any impact on us whatsoever.”
Prosecutors charged Riley with assault under color of law and filing a false police report, both felonies, and misdemeanor battery in June 2009. The criminal case plodded through continuances while the city fired Riley. He underwent arbitration through the police labor contract and it resolved on Monday.
Riley’s attorney, Harry Stern, said the prosecution sprang from Richmond’s earnest desire to be rid of Riley, who also won his job back through arbitration in 2006 after a firing for a similar complaint.
“Given the information provided to the District Attorney’s Office by the department, I’m not surprised that the former DA (Robert Kochly) made the charging decision,” Stern said. “But I believe it was an attempt by the department to leverage Riley’s (administrative) case, given their initial failure to fire him.”
Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus declined to comment because of the pending criminal case. The department fired the six-year veteran for dishonesty and use of excessive force.
The most recent complaint arose in March 2009, when Riley approached a car parked near South Third Street and Ohio Avenue during the graveyard shift. He saw the driver toss something to the ground as he stepped out of the car, according to the criminal complaint, and Riley knocked him down and handcuffed him.
Prosecutors say Riley punched the handcuffed man, then hit him repeatedly when the suspect mocked his blow.
Though the discarded article proved to be crack cocaine, no charges were brought against the motorist. Both the department and the District Attorney’s Office investigated, resulting in Riley’s firing and criminal charges, respectively.
Riley denies punching the man after he restrained him, Stern said. Riley used appropriate force, his attorney said, to prevent the destruction of evidence and because the suspect struggled with him.
Riley waived his preliminary hearing, and is scheduled for trial in July. A conviction could affect his employment.
Richmond previously fired Riley in March 2006, claiming he failed to properly report force used against a homeless man on 23rd Street, then lied to investigators about it.
As with the current case, Riley regained his job with back pay in 2007 after a union grievance and arbitration hearing.
Riley then sued the city, claiming racial discrimination and retaliation. A judge dismissed his suit in 2008.