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Cops Escape Shooting Charges

May 6, 1999

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) _ Four police officers were justified when they fired 23 bullets at a young black woman they found sitting armed and unresponsive in a disabled car, the district attorney said Thursday.

District Attorney Grover Trask said the officers may have acted hastily and made mistakes in judgment, but they did not act criminally when they killed Tyisha Miller, 19, in December.

Ms. Miller’s death led to allegations that the officers _ three whites and a Hispanic _ were racists. Religious leaders, civil rights activists and residents of Riverside, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, protested the shooting at town hall meetings, vigils and marches.

``We thought we were going to get justice but we just got the same old thing,″ said the Rev. Bernell Butler, Ms. Miller’s cousin. ``Police officers are able to murder and get away with it.″

Ms. Miller had pulled into a gas station parking lot with a flat tire. Relatives who arrived to help her said they called police after Ms. Miller appeared to be having a seizure and was foaming at the mouth.

Trask said the officers found Ms. Miller unresponsive, lying on the fully reclined driver’s seat with a gun in her lap. They were unable to awaken her by banging on the windows, shining lights or shaking the car, he said.

When an officer tried to break the driver’s side window with a baton and reach for the gun, Ms. Miller sat up, lifted a pager and stared at the cop, who backed away, Trask said.

One officer yelled at the others to hold their fire, and the woman lay down again, Trask said. When she rose up again and appeared to reach for the gun, the officers all fired, the prosecutor said.

A coroner’s report indicated all the bullets entered her body from the back, proving that she was not laying down when she was shot, Trask said. Her loaded gun was never fired. Ms. Miller was hit by 12 of the 23 bullets. Four struck her in the head.

Toxicology tests showed Ms. Miller had a blood-alcohol level of .13 percent. A driver in California is legally intoxicated at .08 percent. Tests also detected marijuana residue.

Trask said the officers’ plan to break in the window of Ms. Miller’s locked car to get the gun out of her lap may have been a mistake, but it did not reach the level of criminal conduct.

``In deciding whether or not to file criminal charges, the job was not to determine what the police could have done or even what they should have done,″ Trask said.

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