A judge has dismissed Rich Riel’s lawsuit against La Mesa and former Police Chief Al Lanning. But Riel—a 1980s candidate for San Diego mayor—has elected to press on, seeking a grand jury investigation in the case and citing Mayor Art Madrid’s public-drunkenness incident of 2008.
In a letter to the county grand jury [attached], Riel said La Mesa police, with council assent, follow an unwritten “three-tiered system” that affords special treatment to people of influence.
“The recipients of the special treatment that are used in this complaint are La Mesa Mayor Art Madrid, La Mesa City Finance Department employee Trisha Turner and Johnnie Loy Williams Jr.,” he wrote. “These individuals and others are regularly given preferential treatment when they come in contact with the members of the La Mesa Police Department.”
He asserted that many more victims have suffered in the past “and are today suffering from this unlawful policy,” citing his case and those of Robert Chaidez, Todd Brunetti and Terry McComas, who filed complaints against the Police Department.
“What is needed is a Grand Jury investigation to confirm the existence of this unconstitutional practice,” he wrote. “Without a grand jury investigation, it is impossible to determine who else has suffered from or is benefiting from this illegal policy.”
Last week, Riel wrote Patch: “It is my understanding that all of the individuals and the city of La Mesa have been contacted and asked to respond. I have not been contacted and don’t expect to be.”
Despite his police-brutality suit against La Mesa being dropped in August, Riel upped the ante that month, asking for the county grand jury to look into his accusations as well as to “investigate former Chief Alan Lanning and current Chief Ed Aceves for their conspiracy to violate the constitutional rights of Citizens to their right to enjoy the equal protection of the law.”
He also called on the body to look into the three other complaints filed with the La Mesa Police Department “and make those findings available to the complainants.”
Riel, in his mid 60s and now living in Serra Mesa, filed a civil suit in August 2011 against La Mesa police and Johnnie Loy Williams, a convicted felon involved in an October 2010 incident on Highwood Avenue that led to Riel’s civil suit in El Cajon Superior Court.
But in late August, Judge Eddie Sturgeon in East County Superior Court dropped the city and police from the suit, leaving Williams, an El Cajon resident.
In his 15-page “citizen's complaint” to the grand jury, Riel wrote that Lanning ran his Police Department like a benevolent dictator and is “surrounded by police officers that share his vested interest in perpetuating the three-tiered system. Under the rule of Lanning, a police officer who wants to follow the Constitution is penalized because his arrests are measured against other officers who don’t need a search warrant or probable cause. Police officers know that their conduct is not measured by what is right, but by what Lanning will allow.”
John P. McCormick, a lawyer for the La Mesa Police Department, said in August that the court ordered the case dismissed as to the City of La Mesa and its employees. … I have not asked the Police Department for its reaction. I expect they have none.”