Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A tale of two lies

Someone once was arrested during a protest while wearing a button which read, "Cops lie too" on his shirt. The photo of him being pulled out of a group of people, a look of panic on his face, filled the front page of the Metro section of the Press Enterprise, on Nov. 16, 1999.

a group of white activists tsked tsked over his selection of a button to wear during the protest. Instead of criticizing the police action, they criticized the button. Either because cops don't lie, or because even if they do, we should not say so in public lest the conservative majority take offense at our words.

But yes, they do lie. And this is a tale of two lies, told by two Riverside Police Department officers in two different incidents which occurred the same year. The fates of both were determined by the same arbitrators.

The first lie was told by Officer Eric Feimer who was involved in an arrest in 2001, where he used force but when asked about it, failed to report it. He failed to report it in his written account of what happened, failed to report it later to both his supervising sergeant and the area commander.

Feimer probably wishes he never met the man he arrested, furthermore known as S/Elliot. He arrested him, and left him with abrasions and bruises on his face. His report was short and to the point.

"I put suspect in handcuffs" is what it stated.

Something must have struck the attention of his supervisors because Sgt. Paul Villeneuva asked him over the radio, did you use force during the arrest?

Feimer answered back, "negative."

Lt. Jim Cannon, the area commander, asked him if he used force, and at first Feimer told him the same account, but the next day, he came in to talk to Cannon and provide further details about his encounter with Elliot. HE said that he wanted to change his statement to add significant details including the fact that the suspect(Elliot) had struck at him twice, so he brought him down to the ground with a bar hold.

Well, if that is so, why not mention it in the original written report? All acts of force are supposed to be reported according to the department's policy, and that certainly includes the bar hold.

An internal investigation was launched by Internal Affairs and after its completion, Feimer was found to have violated several departmental policies including

1) failure to report force to a supervisor
2)failure to document injuries

Chief Russ Leach terminated Feimer's employment on Dec. 13, 2001. Feimer decided to fight his termination, through arbitration. His arbitrator was Alexander Cohn. Cohn took testimony from both sides, and decided that Feimer's firing was improper. Instead, he ruled that a suspension without loss of seniority was proper. So Feimer was reinstated back on the force.

Cohn's ruling was based on his belief that the city did not prove that Feimer was willfully dishonest. He did violate policies but not willfully. His lie about his use of force against Elliot, wasn't really a lie. It was not really the truth. Cohn chose instead to blame the policy(9.1(b)) calling it "vague."

The city appealed the arbitrator's ruling in Riverside County Superior Court but lost.So did the residents of Riverside, but the residents have never really been all that important.

The second lie, or series of lies was told by former officer Derek McGowan, to several of his supervisors in 2001 concerning his whereabouts while he was supposed to be onduty. Sgt. Tim Bacon, Sgt. Guy Toussaint and others heard varying stories from McGowan concerning his whereabouts. He was undergoing SWAT training, when he was supposed to be working on several robbery investigations, in that division after he had been transferred to Robbery from his stint in the Traffic Division.

On Aug. 8, 2001, he allegedly went home without being released by Toussaint. On that date, McGowan had allegedly told Sgt. Hoxmeier that Toussaint had excused him because he was ill. On Aug. 9, he was absent one hour when he shifted his work schedule without prior approval. Different sergeants received different accounts from McGowan regarding where he was, and what he was doing. No one seemed sure which versions were true.

Officer Christian Dinco, who was on the SWAT team with Toussaint and McGowan said at one point that the two men were at odds over SWAT techniques and that he believed that Toussaint might lie, but that McGowan would not. He also said that Toussaint was furious at McGowan and had made some comment that Dinco took to mean that Toussaint would "get" McGowan, but he did not report him.

(hopefully Toussaint would not "get" McGowan with his bare hands because Toussaint's hands cost the city over $1 million dollars in the Derek Hayward wrongful death case)

When the dust settled, and an investigation was done, McGowan was fired by Leach on April 25, 2002. McGowan appealed that ruling and the case was arbitrated once again, by Cohn, who decided this time that it was egregious to lie to three sergeants because that did harm to the police agency and whether or not it could be trusted. McGowan appealed that ruling in Superior Court and lost again, last year.

So when is a lie, a lie?

When it is told to three sergeants about one's whereabouts, but not when it involves the omission of an act of force against a member of the public? Is not the image of an agency harmed when it has to reinstate an officer who has lied about an act of force committed against the member of the public?

But then again, who knows what happened?

The firing of Feimer and McGowan is only known because the minute the two arbitration findings by Cohn were appealed, the firings and the details leading up to them, became public information. If it were not for the appeals, no one would know that either of these two officers had been fired, and why. If officers are lying to their supervisors, that information should be public, because if they lie to their supervisors, then that probably means they lie on the job, in other ways.

Do they lie when they write their reports?
Do they lie when they testify in court?
Do they lie when their supervisors check on them?
Do they lie about evidence, or probable cause?
Do their supervisors lie for them?
Do they teach lying?

Scary, indeed.


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