Shots Fired at California City Hall
RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) _ A former municipal worker opened fire in a City Hall council chamber today, shooting the mayor and two council members before wounding a policeman as he tried to flee, authorities said.
The gunman was wounded in a gun battle with police and another policeman was hit by gunfire, but his bulletproof vest spared him injury.
The shooting began about 8 a.m. as the City Council was preparing to meet in a City Hall annex, some 60 miles east of Los Angeles.
Councilman Chuck Beaty was hit struck in the face and shoulder during the initial burst of gunfire. He was in critical condition at Riverside Community Hospital, Police Chief Jerry Carroll said. Councilwoman Laura Pearson was hospitalized with a hip wound.
Mayor Ron Loveridge was treated and released at a nearby hospital after being grazed by a bullet.
``It was surrealistic, something you would see in a movie or television,″ the mayor said. ``And you also recognize that you may or may not leave the room, ... that this may be your final testimonial, lying in a small room behind the council chambers.″
He added, ``Godspeed to those who were seriously wounded today.″
Police immediately responded when the gunfire was heard.
Police Sgt. Wally Rice was wounded in the lower abdomen and was in surgery, Carroll said. A round struck Officer Scott Borngreve, but his bulletproof vest protected him.
Carroll identified the gunman as Joseph L. Neale, 48, a former city employee who often attended City Council meetings. He was taken to Riverside County Regional Medical Center in Moreno Valley. The extent of his injuries was unknown.
In 1994, Neale filed a lawsuit challenging the city for firing him from his part-time job with the Parks Department. He worked for the city from 1989 to 1994. In the lawsuit, he claimed he was discriminated against on the basis of age and race.
The Riverside Press-Enterprise said Neale was most recently employed as a postal worker in Fontana.
City Hall, which has no security check points, remained closed after the shooting.
``I recognize that the event raises questions about the safety of all of us in public office. This is something we will be looking at in our city and I suspect other cities,″ the mayor said.
Carroll said counseling teams were available to employees.