La Mesa Police Still Targeted by Ex-S.D. Mayor Candidate’s Brutality Suit

Rich Riel amended his complaint and hopes to serve papers on ex-Chief Al Lanning, others.

Still acting as his own attorney, former San Diego mayor candidate Rich Riel is plunging ahead with his lawsuit against the La Mesa Police Department.

On Wednesday, Riel’s case of alleged police brutality against former Chief Al Lanning and four officers saw two procedural hearings scheduled—one for June 15 and another July 13, according to court records.

Riel on March 20 filed an updated complaint (attached) against the police and Johnnie Loy Williams, a convicted felon involved in the October 2010 incident on Highwood Avenue that led to Riel’s civil suit in El Cajon Superior Court.

After previously failing to properly serve legal papers on the defendants, Riel said he would try again in the coming week.

But Thursday, a lawyer for the Police Department told Patch that Lanning and the officers have agreed to allow his legal office “to appear for them in this case without requiring proper service as dictated by the California Code of Civil Procedure.”

The lawyer, John P. McCormick, said via email: “We are filing a responsive pleading within the next few days.” 

As for Riel’s allegations, including one that Williams wasn’t properly investigated by La Mesa police, McCormick said it would be improper to comment upon any ongoing investigations “nor to suggest there are any such investigations.”

“I can report that we are doing those things necessary to properly investigate any and all relevant allegations in pursuit of a proper conclusion to the pending litigation,” he said.

On Thursday, Riel said the defendants are stalling for time, “hoping I will give up and go away. They are running up costs, hoping I will quit. I hope to serve Lanning within the week. I will be sending the sheriff out to attempt service after I have served the [former] chief.”

Riel, a Serra Mesa resident in his mid-60s, ran for San Diego mayor twice in the early 1980s. In late February, Judge Eddie Sturgeon sided with La Mesa police in efforts to fend off the case, saying the lawsuit wasn’t properly executed and he hadn’t served papers properly.

But Riel quoted Sturgeon as saying “I don’t want to wait six months to get to this case.”

In a March 9 letter that Riel says was hand-delivered to Police Chief Ed Aceves, Riel criticized the officers’ refusal to accept service of the papers, which Riel said gives the appearance of wrongdoing.

Riel said such actions violate a police code of conduct (attached) suggested by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

“This lawsuit is going to expose the historical practice instituted under Chief Lanning of a systematic abuse of the constitutional rights of citizens,” Riel said in the letter.

He offered to drop his legal action against three officers—Russell Higgins, Sean Snow and Rodolfo Salazar—if any of the three “wish to disavow the actions taken by Chief Lanning and Sgt. [Brett] Richards.”

On Oct. 8, 2010, the Riel complaint says, he posed no threat to the public or police when the four officers “dragged [me] from the porch of [my] house, handcuffed and incarcerated [me] in the back of a police car, while [my] home was search and seized without due process.”

Riel’s complaint cites another 2010 case, a lawsuit by Todd Brunetti against the city of La Mesa claiming he was subject to the “excessive and unreasonable use of force.”

“Sgt. Richards was present when Brunetti was Tasered 9-10 times for as long as 11 seconds each time, while holding his child,” Riel alleged. “Not only was he forced to undergo excessive Tasering, he endured two elbow strikes directly to his head, a knee strike to the side of his body and was sprayed in the face with Oleoresin spray.”

Riel called this evidence of “excessive and unreasonable use of force” an ongoing policy of the La Mesa Police Department. 

But court records show that Brunetti sought dismissal of the case on Oct. 4, 2010—less than five months after filing the lawsuit against Chief Lanning and Officer Jacob Wisler.  

[Wisler was one of two officers who returned Mayor Art Madrid home in February 2008 after finding him lying in a sidewalk inebriated while a city finance employee also was passed out in Madrid’s SUV.]

[The officers were criticized for not conducting sobriety tests before they drove them to Madrid’s Eastridge house about a block away.]

[An independent investigation by San Luis Obispo-based James Gardiner Associates cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, saying they didn’t violate department regulations or the law.]

In his March 22 letter to Aceves, Riel said: “I have been instructed by the Judge [Sturgeon] in my case to serve each one of your officers and Chief Lanning by personal service. Please consider this a formal request for you to instruct your officers as to their duty as law enforcement professionals. Their refusal to accept service puts them in the class with criminals and deadbeats.”

Riel said he wasn’t asking Aceves to order them to accept service, but “I am requesting that you give all of them this letter and the attachments, and urge them to do their duty.”

Patch sent police officials a series of questions on the Riel case, but they were forwarded to Mission Valley-based attorney McCormick, who responded on their behalf.


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