The suspension of a veteran Riverside police officer has been overturned by an arbitrator. The officer was represented at all stages of the proceedings by Bill Hadden of Silver, Hadden & Silver.
Rick Prince was a highly respected Riverside officer for 13 years. He had numerous commendations, excellent personnel evaluations and no discipline in his file. But the department and the new Riverside Community Police Review Commission abruptly decided to put an end to that. It all started on May 9, 2001, when Prince and a trainee were on patrol, and began investigating a possible handicapped parking violation. For years, Prince had received widespread recognition for his dedication to alleviating the plight of the handicapped. He had developed a detailed, uniform approach to the enforcement of handicapped parking laws, and submitted same in writing to the department. He generated hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue from the issuance of citations, all of which were enforced in the same way, without regard for age, race, ethnicity or sex. In fact, regardless of any extraneous circumstances whatsoever. Simply put, if someone parked unlawfully in a handicapped space, the person was cited and, if a handicapped placard was being improperly used, the violator was issued a misdemeanor citation, and the vehicle was towed.
On the day in question, Prince and his trainee observed a female who had parked in a handicapped zone but appeared to have no physical limitations. Prince instructed his trainee to make contact with the woman, who insisted that the placard belonged to her and that she did not deserve to be harassed by the police. When the placard registration was checked by the officers, the woman was forced to admit that she had lied, that the placard was not hers, and that she had no placard of her own. As with so many other violators he had encountered, Prince determined to cite her for the misdemeanor misuse of a handicapped placard, and to arrange to have her vehicle towed pursuant to the California Vehicle Code.
The driver, who was loud, accusatory and uncooperative from the outset, refused to provide the officers with a legible signature. When Prince, as per department practice, sought to obtain a thumbprint from her in lieu of arrest, she flailed her arms and attempted to pull away from him. Prince instinctively responded by grabbing her hand and placing it in a wrist lock, admonishing her that if she continued to resist the attempt to obtain the print that she would be arrested. She ultimately relented, received her citation, and was released.
Shortly thereafter, the department received a complaint from the woman’s husband (who was not present at the scene), suggesting that the officers had abused her because of her race or gender, alleging that she had been nothing but cooperative with them.
For reasons unknown, the department took almost a year to complete its investigation of the complaint, producing a minimal product replete with factual inaccuracies.
The Riverside Community Police Review Commission, a body whose supposed charge it is to fairly and independently evaluate disciplinary investigations of the police department, merely rubber-stamped the department’s factual errors and added some of its own.
The department modified its disciplinary proposal to accommodate the whims of the commission, and charged that Prince somehow deserved a suspension for applying a wrist lock to defend himself and to control the woman’s errant hand.
Prince appealed, and, after a two-day hearing, prevailed. Hearing officer Tom Angelo determined that the female motorist’s dishonesty at the scene, quickness to attribute racial or gender discrimination to the officers, failure to cooperate, and obnoxious behavior under cross-examination by Hadden, all contributed to a finding of unreliability. Under all the facts and circumstances, Angelo held, Prince violated no rule by trying to control a hand thrust near his face by someone who had shown a pattern of belligerence. Angelo ruled that Prince should never have been suspended, and that he was entitled to all lost wages and benefits, and the expungement of the action from his file.
For Prince, the road to vindication was a long and tedious one:
“All I did was what any other cop is trained to do, instinctively insure my own safety,” he said. “If a Citizen’s Review Board is going to have any credibility, it should investigate these cases more thoroughly, and become more educated in police procedures and training.”