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Civil rights suit in California police shooting

Miller was hit by 12 bullets in the fatal shooting  

Riverside officers named by black woman's family

May 19, 1999
Web posted at: 9:34 a.m. EDT (1334 GMT)

In this story:

'High-fiving' each other

City, police respond


LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Police officers in Riverside, California, who fatally shot a black woman in her car last December, shouted racial epithets and celebrated with high-fives afterward, her family said in a civil rights lawsuit.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles Federal Court, names five officers and the city of Riverside as defendants and alleged "racial animus" as the motive for killing Tyisha Miller, 19.

According to the suit, four of the officers -- three white and one Hispanic -- were directly involved in the shooting.

A fifth officer named in the suit was a supervisor at the scene.

Miller's family seeks unspecified damages for, among other claims, wrongful death, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of civil rights.

'High-fiving' each other

The woman was shot 12 times on December 28 after she was found lying unconscious in her locked car parked at a gas station in Riverside, 50 miles east of Los Angeles. There was a gun in her lap.

Police, who had been summoned by Miller's worried relatives, say they were unable to get her attention. Toxicology tests later showed Miller had a blood-alcohol level of .13 percent.

According to police, they opened fire when she suddenly reached for the weapon after an officer smashed the car's window and tried to grab the gun.

The lawsuit alleges that officers Mike Alagna, Paul Bugar, Dan Hotard and Wayne Stewart ordered Miller to "get your -- ass out or we'll sic the dogs on you," while pointing their handguns at her.

Sgt. Gregory Preece, a supervisor, was present.

The suit said at least 24 rounds were fired at Miller, and at least one officer emptied a magazine, reloaded and fired again.

According to the Riverside County Coroner's report, 12 shots struck her.

When it was over, according to family attorney Johnny Cochran, the four officers involved in the shooting were rejoicing, "high-fiving each other in joy and glee."

He said he based his allegations on information from a witness whom he declined to identify.

City, police respond

"The shooting of Tyisha Miller was unjustified," the lawsuit said.

"At no time did she present an imminent threat of harm to the defendant officers or to anyone else and she made no aggressive or provocative movement such that a reasonable officer under the circumstances would have believed that she was a threat," it said.

The city's lawyer had only a brief response. "The city intends to defend the case vigorously and the outcome will be determined in the courts," said Skip Miller, an outside attorney representing Riverside and the officers.

Lawyers for the police have denied the charges. An investigation by the Riverside district attorney concluded that police were justified in using deadly force.

The district attorney's report concluded that Miller was sitting up and moving toward a gun since there were no corresponding bullet holes in the driver's seat.

Cochran said an independent autopsy investigation reveals a "different" conclusion "quite contrary" to the official version and will be submitted in court.

Both the shooting and the officers' exoneration sparked protests in Riverside and drew criticism from such black leaders as Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III.

The four officers involved in the shooting are on paid administrative leave while Preece is back on duty.

The FBI and state attorney general are conducting separate investigations into possible civil rights violations.

Hundreds protest California police shooting decision
May 10, 1999
Officers won't face charges in shooting of black woman
May 6, 1999
Marchers want feds to police New York cops
April 15, 1999
Justice Department to tackle police brutality charges
March 26, 1999

Riverside PD
Amnesty International: Police Brutality and Excessive Force in the New York City Police Department
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