Richard D. Draper, a San Diego police officer until he was fired for allegedly pistol-whipping a college student in an El Cajon freeway altercation, described himself Tuesday as a pro-active cop who saw no “gray area” when it came to law enforcement.
“I am and have been an extremely assertive police officer,” Draper told the Civil Service Commission, which is considering his appeal for reinstatement after a 10-year police career checkered with citizen complaints.
“I conducted a high number of contacts. I produced two to three times the work load and two to three times the number of arrests other officers did.”
Letter of the Law
He also characterized himself as a patrolman who went by the letter of the law and would arrest any suspect, no matter how small the infraction.
“I had difficulty seeing there was some gray area into whether some person broke the law,” he said. “My feeling was that if someone broke the law, then there should be some enforcement taken.”
He said he carried that attitude into the confrontation last February on Interstate 8. He chased Scott McMillan for 27 miles at speeds of up to 100 miles an hour after the San Diego State University student cut him off in traffic.
The chase ended at an El Cajon exit, where the off-duty Draper jumped from his vehicle, pulled out his gun and then pulled McMillan from his pickup truck.
Said He Was Hit
McMillan has contended that Draper struck him in the back of the head with the gun and slammed his face into the hood of his truck during the ensuing arrest. He also has told the commission that the officer pulled his bloody T shirt off him and never inquired whether he needed medical attention, despite a deep gash in his head.
Draper, wearing a gray sport jacket and speaking softly, for the first time Tuesday gave his version of the incident which ultimately led to his dismissal in May from the San Diego Police Department. He was terminated after 10 years with the police force, a time in which he was the target of about 20 citizen complaints for excessive force, false arrest and other allegations of police misconduct.
Draper said McMillan committed an act of felony assault with a deadly weapon when he cut him off in traffic. He said he had to swerve off the roadway to avoid a collision. And he said he drew his gun to make the arrest because he did not know whether McMillan was armed and dangerous.
He said McMillan kept his hands down below the seat, an indication that he might be armed. He said he was aware that many people returning westbound along that interstate are carrying guns they have used for target practice in the desert. And he said freeway shootings were occurring during that time.
“I didn’t know if Mr. McMillan was a wanted felon,” Draper said. “I didn’t know if he was a maniac. I didn’t know if he was armed.”
But he denied deliberately striking McMillan with the pistol. Draper said he held the gun close to the back of McMillan’s head after he continually tried to break free from his grasp.
“My gun did not not come in contact with his head,” he said.
He said police superiors were concerned about the freeway altercation and other incidents of his alleged police abuse because they were embarrassed by the publicity. And he said Lt. John Morrison warned him once that “the administration was gunning for me, that I better watch my Ps and Qs.”
Draper and his attorney, John Heisner, also produced a thick stack of job performance evaluations and commendations showing that while Draper’s commanders were concerned with his aggressive behavior and the high number of complaints, they also considered him an asset to the department.
A 1985 job appraisal issued by then-Sgt. Michael Blakely listed these strong points: “Officer Draper is a mature individual. He is a very hard worker dedicated to providing the best police service available to the public.”
Under “weak points,” Blakely wrote:
“Officer Draper has been described as being something less than flexible in his review of criminal acts committed by the citizenry. His views are generally limited to a black or white perspective with no appreciation of a gray area. This narrow perception . . . has caused individuals to perceive him as inapproachable and insensitive to the needs of others.”
Two of his police colleagues testified Tuesday that they thought highly of Draper’s conduct as a policeman.
“He was a very competent officer and very knowledgeable of the law,” said Officer Robert T. Staley. “I think I learned a lot from working with him. He had a knack for dealing with people that I admired at times.”
Sgt. Tim Smith was asked whether Draper was an asset to the Police Department.
“I think he has been and will continue to be,” Smith said.
Is he fit to serve again?
The hearing continues at 9 a.m. Friday.