02/06/2006

Slaying occurred minutes after Texas officer let incorrect man go

MARGARITA MARTÍN-HIDALGO, Staff Writer

Copyright 2006 THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS 

Had he checked the computer in his squad car, Rockwall Officer Josh Stamper would have known the driver he'd stopped was suspected of threatening someone at gunpoint, police officials say.

But, Officer Stamper acknowledged to investigators, he didn't check. Suspecting nothing, he let 24-year-old Jason Nicholas Miller go.

Eight minutes later, authorities allege, the young man shot and killed a childhood friend from Heath. Mr. Miller remains jailed in lieu of $500,000 bail on a murder charge.

On Thursday, Officer Stamper received a four-day suspension without pay for failing to check Mr. Miller for weapons early Nov. 19. Officer Stamper couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

Police Chief Mark Moeller said that the five-year Rockwall officer had a lapse in judgment but that the punishment is fair because Officer Stamper had no prior disciplinary problems.

"He's been a good officer," Chief Moeller said. "That night he made a mistake."

The parents of the slain man, 23-year-old Brian Fisher, are less forgiving.

Gary Fisher said he considered Chief Moeller fair and honest but thought the punishment was "laughable." He also said he thought the department took too long to reprimand an officer who didn't do his job.

Mr. Fisher, a former Highland Park police officer, said he doesn't hate Officer Stamper or want to see him fired. But he said the officer might want to change careers.

Personnel records show no blemishes on Officer Stamper's performance evaluations, though a 2003 review said he needed to improve his "officer safety skills."

Officer Stamper's current boss, Sgt. John Knight, said the incident was a bad thing that "happened to a good guy."

Sgt. Knight said he was disappointed in the officer but thought the punishment was fair.

"I'm not going to speak for him," the sergeant said, "but he understands the gravity of the situation."

In his statement to Chief Moeller about what happened Nov. 19 when Mr. Miller had allegedly threatened another man in Terrell, Officer Stamper acknowledged that he could have done a more thorough job. He wrote that he "did not check the ... entry on the computer after my first contact, as I did not feel Mr. Miller was the suspect. I know now that looking back, if I had, I would have seen his name and further investigated the incident."

In a report about what happened, Lt. Carl Alsabrook noted that a communications officer had repeated information about the Terrell incident and suspect over the radio system after another officer requested a rebroadcast. Lt. Alsabrook's account:

"Officer Stamper stated that prior to the stop, the radio description of the suspect was unintelligible. Officer Stamper acknowledged hearing Sgt. Knight's request for a rebroadcast of the description but denies hearing the suspect's name.

"When asked if his mobile computer reporting system would have revealed all of the information regarding the call, including the suspect's name, Officer Stamper acknowledged that it would have."

Brian Fisher and Mr. Miller had been friends since middle school, living across the street from each other in Heath. Gary Fisher said that they had drifted apart after Mr. Miller joined the Marines but that his son had helped Mr. Miller after his general discharge.

The Fishers had only one picture of the boys together. After the killing, Judy Fisher cut Jason out of the photo.

The night Brian Fisher was killed, he had been playing poker at a friend's house. Mr. Miller was in Terrell at a club, drinking and playing pool with a friend and the friend's girlfriend, according to a Terrell police report. Later that night, as Mr. Miller drove the couple home, things got ugly.

The Terrell police report says Mr. Miller and the man exchanged words at the man's apartment complex and Mr. Miller "raised the gun and pointed it at him as he walked up" and threatened to kill him.

After he left, the man called 911 and told a dispatcher Mr. Miller was "driving a black Dodge Neon, he's drunk and carrying a .45."

Half an hour later, Officer Stamper stopped Mr. Miller and then let him go.

Mr. Fisher said he hadn't decided whether to pursue legal action against the Police Department.

He said he doesn't know what he'd say to Officer Stamper if he met him.

His wife knows what she would say: "Do you know I'm Brian Fisher's mom?"

E-mail mmhidalgo@dallasnews.com 

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