Teen accused of stabbing VB officer may have been too high to be interrogated, attorney says

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A teen accused of stabbing a Virginia Beach police officer may not have been sober enough to understand his rights when police interrogated him, a defense attorney says. 

An interrogation of 18-year-old Riley Miller is at the heart of an ongoing debate about whether the teen’s own words should be used against him at trial for serious allegations, including attempted capital murder of a police officer.  

Miller is accused of stabbing VBPD Officer A. Rodriguez while being arrested in connection to a robbery on Shore Drive on Dec. 13, 2017. 

Police charged both Miller and his friend, Jonathan Todora, in connection to the armed robbery of an 18-year-old woman who was going to buy Xanax from Todora, court documents show. 

Both Miller and Todora were 17 years old at the time of the robbery. Todora told police he received the gun from Miller, and Miller allegedly admitted that he was going to receive money from the robbery, according to court documents. 

Todora pleaded guilty to robbery and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in April 2018. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with 5 years suspended, court documents state. 

Miller struggled during his arrest, allegedly stabbing Rodriguez in the upper right thigh and sending the police officer to the hospital. During a search of Miller’s backpack, police found a jar with about 4 ounces of liquid in it. Miller later told investigators it was “liquid Xanax,” according to testimony by VBPD Officer M. Zieger, who was present at Miller’s arrest and took him to Sentara Princess Anne Hospital. 

The teenager allegedly told Zieger, “I stabbed that m—– f—— cop. I hope he dies. I would stab his entire family if I wasn’t handcuffed to this bed.” 

Miller was agitated, threatening, and loud at the hospital, spitting into two nurses’ faces during his treatment. He was discharged from the hospital within a few hours, but medical professionals told police they believed he was suicidal, according to his defense attorney, Steve Givando. 

Medical records show that Miller told a VBPD officer he’d taken 4 ounces of the “liquid Xanax” earlier in the night. Lab testing showed the liquid was actually Clonazolam, a “designer” drug sold on the dark web that’s one-and-a-half times stronger than Xanax, according to the testimony Dr. Michael Bohan, a drug addiction specialist. 

After he was discharged from the hospital, Miller was taken to VBPD headquarters and questioned by Sgt. M. Laino. 10 On Your Side watched the 30-minute interrogation, in which Miller could be heard slurring, talking about his own death, and momentarily mistaking the detective for his therapist. 

“One hell of a night last night,” Laino said to Miller in the interrogation video. 

“I heard I stabbed a police officer,” Miller responded. 

During the interrogation Miller talked with Laino about his past drug addiction, which included taking Xanax by the age of 13, and using other drugs like marijuana and psychedelics. 

“I’ve been doing drugs so long, I don’t give a f— if I die,” Miller told Laino. 

Laino asked Miller to read his own Miranda rights and questioned him during the process to make sure the teenager understood. About halfway through the process, the detective asked Miller a question about one of the Miranda rights, and the teen said he’d forgotten what he’d just read moments before. 

“Hold on, I forgot what I just read,” Miller told Laino on the interrogation video. 

Although Miller told Laino that he understood his Miranda rights, Givando argued that he couldn’t knowingly consent to the interrogation because he was on drugs. Prosecutor Brandon Emery said that the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office acknowledges that Miller was intoxicated, but that they believe he was able to consent to the interview. 

Bohan testified that Clonazolam is not a legal drug in the United States, but is prescribed in Canada. He said that the drug can often cause rage, disinhibition, and memory loss when taken in excessive doses. 

Miller was committed to a mental hospital to deal with his drug addiction and depression a week before the robbery and stabbing. His mother picked him up from the Staunton facility when he was discharged on Dec. 12, 2017 — just hours before he would be arrested. 

“I was very happy. He was the son I always knew and loved. He was sober and ready to go to drug counseling,” Miller’s mother, Laura Russell, testified. 

Russell said she took her son to Bohan’s office immediately, where he gave the teenager a prescription for a medication that would help him with Xanax withdrawal and treatment. Russell took Miller home, where they ate dinner and relaxed for much of the night, until 2 a.m. when the mother checked on her son. 

“He was a completely different person,” Russell said. 

She said her son was agitated, slurring words, staggering and cursing. She called 911, but while she was on the phone Miller left the house. 

“I watched him walk out the front door and stumble and fall in the street,” Russell testified. 

The Virginia Beach Circuit Court judge, who will decide whether information gleaned in Laino’s interrogation of Miller can be used at trial, continued the hearing on the matter until March 20 due to time constraints on witnesses who still need to testify, including Miller himself. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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