Nicest Cop In Fairfax Dies While Waiting To Be Fired
By Jim Scanlon
The Coastal Post asked a long term resident of Fairfax, a hard working, blue collar type, what kind of man Ricardo Alvillar was. "You know what?," he said moving his face closer to mine and articulating clearly, "He was the nicest cop I ever met. He was polite to everybody He always had a smile. He was congenial. He was fired for being congenial!"
The man was referring to Ric's firing ten years ago. He was stunned to learn that Ric was dead and that he died waiting to learn if he would be fired again. "Oh no! Not again!" he said.
Ric died in his sleep on Sunday March 10, 2002. In mid February he had been suspended from the Fairfax Police force where, he had worked for 22 years, on charges arising from a courtesy investigation of a minor traffic accident outside the town last August. He had been fired from the Fairfax PD ten years before but an administrative judge ruled in his favor and reinstated him with full back pay at a cost to the town of perhaps $100,000.00. The sergeant who brought charges against him ten years ago was the same one who brought the charges this time, shortly before leaving for a new job with the San Anselmo Police.
The Fairfax Police Chief had given notice that he would make a decision on Ric's dismissal on Friday, March 8th, but that deadline passed without an announcement, as did Saturday. On Sunday Ric had a heart attack. His death solved one dilemma for the Chief, but created others which seem sure to divide and embroil the town over the coming weeks and months.
On Saturday, March 23, approximately 350 friends (275 chairs were set) gathered at the Marin Arts and Garden Center in Ross to celebrate Ric's life. The host was Steve Shaiken, a friend of the family, a Fairfax resident and a well known Marin County Attorney who served on the Fairfax Planning Commission with Ric's wife Terri (Who also writes for the Coastal Post).
Selected friends of Ric's spoke first, then the public, followed by a solo harp performance of an original song, "Things are not as they seem," a song named in Ric's honor, and a guitar and bass viola duo. A police badge was formally and silently presented to his widow and, in a quasi military ceremony, a marching squad of uniformed Deputy Sheriffs folded and presented a US flag to Ric's young son.
Those who spoke, former the Police Chief of San Anselmo Bernie Del Santo, San Francisco Police Lieutenant Paul Chignell, Fairfax Parks Commissioner Martha Ture and Fairfax Police Dispatcher Allison Clark, did not mention the controversy surrounding Ric's suspension although a few members of the public alluded, incidentally, to his getting his job back ten years before.
Clark's sobbing, tearful tributes to her loving friendship with Ric and his kindness and patience with difficult people was exceptionally moving, and many handkerchief's were out. Also deeply moving was the list of times over the years when Ric aided Peter Mendoza, a handicapped person who uses a motorized wheelchair. Mendoza is a Fairfax resident, employed by the San Anselmo Police Department. He spoke in short staccato phrases of the many times Ric helped him when he was stuck in his motorized chair, or when it broke down. He spoke of the time Ric saved his life when he was choking on food, of when he had had an operation and had trouble breathing and Ric stayed by his bed side for hours. Another resident spoke of Ric's killing a rattlesnake in his yard, another of Ric's caring for his young daughter, another of "...a cop, parking his car-and walking, walking-the streets in the hills, checking cars and locks." Another of his reconciling her with her neighbor.
It went on and on. In a local supermarket the Coastal Post asked the manager at a check out counter if he knew Ric. "Sure", he said. "He was a nice guy. He used to come in here all the time. Very friendly. We close up at 10 o'clock and you could always see him drive by in the police car, checking to see if we were having any trouble." Ric was a bilingual cop who often helped other police departments in investigations. He was Fairfax's domestic violence officer. The charges against Ric, which have not been formally made public, seem trivial-even if they are accurate, as rumored-when compared to 22 years of exemplary service and the fact that there was no public complaint or uproar or lawsuit against the town, as sometimes happens even with the best of police work. Ric had two grievances for harassment pending when the complaint which resulted in his suspension was filed. The grievances, the old, impeached complaint and the new one all involved the same Supervisor, now with San Anselmo Police.
It is difficult to understand how the Chief of Police would spend $20,000 to investigate Alvillar when the initiator gone, there was, at the least the appearance of prejudice, because of the prior complaint's reversal and the grievances, and the complaint did not originate from any member of the public. Why, if there was some merit to the complaint, wasn't it just handled internally? The report which was prepared by a retired police captain from San Anselmo cost Fairfax $19,000.00 and is now a focus of contention, with two Councilman upset for not having been allowed to see it and being asked nevertheless to authorize payments that had already been made. The town Mayor, at press time, is cautiously presenting a wait and see attitude and it seems that the town's administrator and at least one City Councilman seen to be attempting to keep the report secret, to consider the matter settled, resolved.
Police work covers a wide range of activities-from education, prevention and community outreach to hunting down vicious criminals and the application of deadly force. With each department, big or small, urban, suburban, or rural, there is a mixture between the extremes. The mix shifts back and forth depending on the times. Ric's police reputation clearly falls on the "good cop" side of the spectrum as opposed to the "tough cop." It remains to be seen if any conflict in police culture played a part in present day times when there is a strong national attitude toward defining all lawbreakers as "bad guys" and "evil."
What can the report contain? Is it too trivial for words? Considering that, over the years, police officers in Marin County have not been fired for petty theft, for having discharged their fire arms accidentally in public, for raiding the wrong homes, for mistakenly exchanging shots with other peace officers etc., one wonders what the report might contain.
Ric's wife Terri spoke only briefly after the public portion of the celebration. She maintained her composure until her last few words when she said she intended to do everything she could to clear Ric's name. These words acted like a shock wave through the gathering that set off a loud and sustained applause. One got the feeling that this friendly, dignified, polite, sad occasion was like a calm before a storm.
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