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

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Storm Clouds on the horizon??

In the midst of a whirlwind of city elections, police union elections and the waning months of the arranged marriage between the city and the state AG's office, comes potential storm clouds on the horizon.

Or at the very least, a potential range war between the Riverside Police Department and the Community Police Review Commission.

Not that the CPRC is a stranger to strife between itself, and factions of the police department. But this one if it erupts could be entirely different.

The CPRC's previous range wars were fought with the RPOA, including a five year battle which culminated in a public vote that placed the commission in the city's charter away from the whims of the city council.

For the most part, the battles between the CPRC and the department's management have been a few relatively minor squalls, under the radar of most city residents. Chief Russ Leach attended a workshop with the CPRC on March 17, 2004 and told them that the CPRC was the most important commission on the city's roster.

Only one week later, two members of the RPOA board came in front of the same commission and unleashed a litany of complaints against the body including the claim that the commission had made some really horrible decisions and most of its cases were thrown out in arbitration, but when asked by the CPRC to provide documentation of this claim, the RPOA demurred. Instead, several of its boardmembers targetted their pique at a commissioner and pushed for her ejection by circulating a letter around City Hall. When that failed, they lobbied one of their council members to push for the disqualification of active(but non-RPD) law enforcement officers from serving on the Commission. This council member, reading me as an anti-cop person, lobbied me for my support in this endeavor and if I had truly been anti-cop, I would have gladly helped him. He guessed wrong.

So we moved on to the city charter amendment, and the resulting campaign.

Then came the whole Officer "Hands Tied" episode where slow response time was not blamed on the shortage of officers(as it is now) but the existance of the CPRC. Dan Bernstein saw the obvious, and wrote it in his column, and the public responded by voting the CPRC into the city's charter. In part, not because they had not heard the RPOA's message(as claimed by its PR representative, Richard St. Paul) but because, as Bernstein wrote, they had heard its message loud and clear.

Measure II probably would have passed without the RPOA's high-priced campaign but every little bit helps.

Calm seas prevailed for a while. Maybe the RPOA's leadership had finally figured out that the CPRC was not the enemy but really the best thing that ever happened to it.

The CPRC once again fell off the radar of most people who returned to taking its existance for granted.

Until revelations about the Summer Lane shooting investigation conducted by the CPRC's own investigator came to light. Revelations which do not match those included in the RPD's report which made it clear as early as a memo written by Sgt. Steve Johnson to Leach on Dec. 7, 2004 that it was a justified shooting, done to deal with the highest level of threat.

That statement was echoed by a memo written by Det. Jay Greenstein to Johnson on Dec. 21, 2004.

"The female suspect hit Officer Wilson with her vehicle three times and was preparing to attempt to run him over again when Officer Wilson eliminated the threat to his life by discharing four rounds [sic] firearm into her vehicle, mortally wounding her,"

In fact when you read the transcript of the interview given by Ryan Wilson to Det. Jay Greenstein and Det. Ron Sanfilipo, by its end, they are telling him what happened in their question including their own perceptions and experiences as police officers, and Wilson's saying "right", "yeah" and so forth.

When they tell him they can tell how traumatized he is because he is still shaking(the interview took place the day after the shooting)Wilson laughs. Then Greenstein congratulates him for surviving a "hair raising ordeal".

Absolutely true words about the ordeal, but words which should have not been said by the two detectives interviewing him as a potential criminal suspect, during the actual interview used as part of an ongoing investigation which will ultimately determine whether or not Wilson ever faced criminal charges. Especially by two hardworking and talented investigators like these two, who are above the mean. It also looks too effusive to be explained entirely away by the team-tagging "good cop"/"bad cop" interrogatory tactics. Perhaps it just means that officers in the department are too close, emotionally and experience-wise, to one of their own to investigate shootings done by their own officers.

So this investigation essentially ended early as all investigations really do when conclusions are drawn and expressed from the beginning, at least as far as the Officer Involved Shooting Team is concerned. The District Attorney's office, as Deputy Chief David Dominguez(who had little else to say) said in the PE article backed them up in its own decision, just as it has in the past.

The Internal Affairs Division refuses to say a thing about the conclusions it reached in the administrative investigation, but it seems safe to say that they did not close the book on the shooting much slower than the DA did.

Usually the CPRC follows stead, and as its chair, Michael Gardener, said in the PE article decides the shootings are within policy. Once, in the Rene Guevara shooting, the body determined that the officer had waited too long to fire his weapon.

This time, however, you have commissioners in public meetings referring to the shooting of Summer Lane, as "an executionary type of shooting. He executed her." and another saying:

"Given what we have in front of us, the D.A.'s office should be the greater concern."

With that comment, hell just froze over, because in the past, commissioners had been reluctant to even mention the words, "DA" and "CPRC" in the same sentence, let alone in this context.

Dominguez, in his lack of comments, seems to be hoping that with time, the commissioners will come around, issue the appropriate ruling and then he can break the department's silence on this shooting. He could be right, as the department's policy on lethal force is quite liberal.

Still, moods would have to change at CPRC meetings inside the city council chambers before they come around as departmental officials likely hope. After all, there is quite a large gap to bridge between these two terms: execution and justified shooting.

Two inquiries two opinions in the Summer Lane shooting death

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