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Susanville Officer Cleared in Criminal Probe

Posted on Monday, March 01, 2004 at 12:00PM

A Lassen County grand jury has refused to issue a criminal indictment against city of Susanville Police Officer Richard Warner in connection with Warner’s use of force in May 2002. Warner was represented by Joe Rose of Goyette & Associates law firm through the Legal Defense Fund.

Warner is a well-respected three-year veteran of the city of Susanville’s Police Department. In May 2002, Warner was investigating a report of terrorist threats and stalking by several teenagers and one adult against another adult male. During the investigation, he made contact with the suspects in an athletic gymnasium at a local rancheria. There was a crowd of people in the gymnasium when Warner made contact. The complaining witness pointed out the suspects in the crowd to Warner, and Warner summoned them over. They came over to Warner, but refused to submit to a citizen’s arrest.

The crowd in the gymnasium became unruly and attempted to interfere with Warner’s arrest of the suspects. Warner had to use pepper spray on one suspect to gain compliance. One of the suspects escaped on foot, while another physically resisted Warner’s orders. Warner successfully cuffed the second resisting suspect and exited with him in town.

Several people from inside the gymnasium met Warner at his patrol car. They shouted at him and claimed that he had no right to make the arrest. As he unlocked the car doors, he rested the suspect’s torso on the trunk of his car. Emboldened by the crowd around the patrol car, the suspect lifted himself off of the trunk lid several times and yelled profanities at Warner. Warner returned the suspect to the trunk lid while unlocking the patrol car doors. Warner then lifted the suspect off of the trunk, safely placed him inside the back seat of his patrol car, and drove away.

The suspect was booked into jail for terrorist threats and stalking, photographed, and released with a citation the same day.

Thereafter, the suspect and his mother filed formal complaints of excessive force against Warner with the city of Susanville and the office of the Attorney General.

The city of Susanville conducted an internal affairs investigation and concluded that Warner’s use of force was consistent with the law and the city’s use of force policy. After the internal affairs investigation was concluded, the newly appointed chief of police, Chris Gallagher, conducted his own review of the evidence developed through the internal affairs investigation. Gallagher also concluded that Warner had conducted himself lawfully and that his use of force was proper.

The Office of the Attorney General referred the complaints it received to the Lassen County district attorney for investigation. Over the objection by Gallagher, Lassen County District Attorney Robert Burns then referred the case to a criminal grand jury for possible felony indictment.

Over several days in January 2004, the grand jury heard witness testimony and viewed physical evidence, including the suspect’s booking photos and photos of Warner’s patrol car and trunk lid. After investigating and evaluating all the evidence, the grand jury made no indictment against Warner, thus clearing him of criminal misconduct.

Immediately after the grand jury’s decision not to indict, Burns declared, “As far as I’m concerned this matter is concluded.”

On behalf of Warner, Rose requested a declaration from the grand jury under Penal Code section 939.91 that no indictment was issued, which will become a permanent part of Warner’s personnel record evidencing this successful outcome.

Warner remains on patrol in the city of Susanville. He is grateful for the services of the Legal Defense Fund and glad to be focused again on doing his job rather than defending his career, his professional reputation, and his liberty.

“I sincerely appreciate the support of Police Chief Gallagher, the city, the police department administration, and my fellow officers through this ordeal,” said Warner, adding, “Goyette & Associates and the Legal Defense Fund were fantastic!”

PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.