Fairfax "Nice Cop" Death Suit Advances
Ex Cops Investigating Cops
By Jim Scanlon
A little over a year has passed since
Ricardo Alvillar, "the nicest cop in Fairfax" died of a heart ailment
while the Fairfax Chief of Police and the Town's Administration deliberated,
well past their self imposed deadline for dismissing him on charges arising out
of a minor traffic accident which happened outside the town. It appears that
the Workers Compensation claim may be on the verge of resolution. Although this
aspect of a complex situation seems perfectly clear cut --- he died of a heart
ailment while employed as a police officer-nevertheless, the town continues to
deny benefits to his widow and minor son.
Generally workers compensation claims of cases like this are resolved in less than six months but only recently (February 11, 2003) has the attorney for the town shown a willingness on the part of the town to settle,"--- but with the requirement "...that other pending litigation besides the workers' compensation claim be part of a global settlement"
"The town" he writes "...would like to see to it that Mr. Alvillar's son receives some measurement of compensation"
It is difficult, probably impossible, to know whether the attorney who wrote the letter was deliberately, or unconsciously insulting, 1) in linking an overdue routine claim covered by statute to a pending Federal Civil Rights case, 2) in referring to Ric as "Mr." rather than "officer," and 3) in omitting mention of any consideration for Ric's widow. The attorney did not respond to a detailed message left on his voice mail.
However and whenever the "clear cut" part is resolved, other grave, contentious issues will still remain.
Ric had been suspended in 1992 after a complaint that parking regulations were not being enforced. An investigation had been conducted by his supervisor, Sgt. James Providenza who surreptitiously surveyed him for two weeks. While his suspension was under appeal he was fired for alleged insubordination based on testimony by Providenza that he failed to jail a young man involved in a family dispute The Administrative Law Judge who heard Ric's appeal of his suspension found that Ric's rights as a peace officer had been violated and that there was no evidence that he had unfairly enforced parking regulations since the case rested on Sgt. Providenza's testimony which he found had been "impeached by another officer.
Ric was reinstated with full back pay, but the record indicates several grievances by Ric, and minor reprimands by his superiors, during the following years. In 2001 Sgt. Providenza and Ric were assigned to the same shifts and Ric complained of harassment by Providenza who was returning all of his written reports for corrections of grammatical errors -- something not done to, or for, other officers. Additionally, Providenza wrote a memo requesting that all other supervisors return all of Ric's reports to him for correction of spelling, punctuation etc. --- and they all complied.
During that time, the Alvillar home in Fairfax was vandalized by a neighbor, a mountain bike advocate, an act that had political overtones in that Terri Alvillar was on the Town's Planning Commission, and an outspoken critic of illegal activities by mountain bikers. Terri and Ric and others peacefully picketed a fund raising benefit at a local downtown bar for the bicycle activist who had confessed his activities and was convicted of vandalized their home. Ric had been "counseled" by Chief Hughes not to protest the fund raiser. A few days later, a letter from the owner of the bar that had hosted the fund raiser was received by the town complaining of Ric's protest and suggesting that he be terminated.
Around that time, Ric was ordered by Sgt. Providenza to investigate a hit and run accident outside Fairfax town limits. The accident involved an SUV with a broken tail light and a 20 year old truck with a scratch, or scrape. His investigation of this accident was found deficient by Providenza. Another officer was assigned to investigate the accident and Richard Schmidt, a former San Anselmo Police Captain on disability retirement was hired by the town to investigate charges arising out of Ric's alleged negligent investigation of the broken taillight and scratched truck.
Schmidt's investigation dragged on into the following year and produced a 79 page report. which cost $18,000, which sustained the charges. Ric was placed on leave pending a decision on his termination which was to be made on March 8, 2002. When Ric died of heart dysrythmia on March 10th, a decision still had not been made.
It is hard to imagine how things could have gotten much worse at this point, but they did. Two Fairfax police officers responded to the 911 call for assistance as he lay dying. Their time of arrival, their actions, or lack of action --- however that might be--- all lead to Terri Alvillar's formal complaint over lack of training, making a false police report and a cover up by Chief Hughes.
Her complaint, which she claims the town administration repeatedly refused to accept, was considered by the Town Council in closed session and rejected with a brief statement by the Town's Mayor on April 1, 2003. A confidential investigation described as "very comprehensive" had been conducted by Michael Manick who found that the Chief and the three officers involved had all acted appropriately and that the complaints against them were unfounded. The Mayor said that the Chief and his staff have the full support and confidence of the Town Administration and that there would be no further statement on the matter. The contents and cost of the Manick report were not made public. Manick is a retired police officer who served for many years with a number of California police departments including San Rafael. He was Chief of police of Hayward, Union City, Arcata and Tiburon. He and Providenza worked together at Union City and it seems likely that he, like Captain Schmidt, was personally acquainted with all police officers involved. It is therefore, hard to credit Schmidt and Manick with being truly "outside investigators." It might be a good idea for the town council to consider just exactly what an "outside investigator" is.
Be that as it may, the local complaints by Ric's widow have now been dismissed. All this will be overshadowed by the civil rights complaints filed in US District Court, Northern District of California. Proceedings are scheduled to begin on April 28, 2003 in Federal Court in San Francisco.