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, April 08, 2006

And So It Begins

And So it Begins.

Just 31 days after being released from its obligations under the Stipulated Judgment, the Riverside Police Department experienced its first critical incident: The shooting of an unarmed Black man on University Avenue by a police officer. Not an auspicious beginning for the department and those who now run it, coming quickly on the heels of the celebration of the end of one era and the beginning of the next. For others who were concerned about the dissolution of the stipulated judgment in March, not an entirely unexpected one. To them, it seemed more like a nightmare in waiting. What is past is prologue, after all.

Meetings took place almost immediately afterwards in the community. Chief Russ Leach, with RPOA president Kent Tutwiler and Vice-President Brian Smith in tow attended one meeting last Thursday. He chose every word he said carefully in front of his audience. After all, for police chiefs in any agency including this one, the "wrong" words said in the heat of the moment about a critical incident can make or break a career. Just ask Sonny Richardson, Ken Fortier and Jerry Carroll. But, this question in this case was already asked and answered during a pivotal moment last year.

Kent and Brian have to do their part as well, or else over 250 officers will hand them their walking papers, just as surely as they elected them only several months ago. The struggle between union and union leadership and union and management is played on dozens of similar stages each year. There are some dynamics even the Attorney General of the state of California can't touch, let alone change.

Just as with shootings past, a dual process quickly arose in public discussions. There are the whats, whens, wheres, whos and whys of the critical incident itself. Then comes the ifs. If we had done this, would this had happened? If they had this training, this equipment, this toy, that personality profile test, would things have changed in terms of the outcome?

In this case, pushing itself to the forefront are issues pertaining to how the police officer interact or "handle" mentally ill people particularly those in the homeless population. According to a policy and procedure manual that used to be available for the public to read in the public library, there was little if any language in terms of policies addressing the mentally ill, the mentally incapacitated and those engaging in what is called, "suicide by cop"(itself a product of the dismal history which has preceded it). Chief Leach himself admitted the department needed to do far more in this area.

Talk also reemerged on the issue of diversity training, and what struck me was how this Black woman at a April 10 "community healing" meeting just said, "they treat us like animals." Some might(and apparently have) said that this is how they should be treated or have joked about it. After all, considerable language had been used denegrating people of color on this particular area of this particular street of this particular neighborhood here. The police chief had also admitted in December that the department's diversity training was infrequent, inadequate and outdated. Supposedly, the Human Relations Commission's members have been entrusted with assisting in its update. But will it be enough to "teach" officers about the cultural beliefs, communication styles and practices of other ethnic and racial groups? And who should do that teaching?

Officer Involved Shooting

DATE: April 3, 2006 at 1:59 pm

LOCATION: Welcome Inn of America(Ottawa and University)

NAME: Lee Deante Brown, 31

history: 1997 conviction P.C. 459, several arrests for being under the influence of a substance

OFFICER: Terry Ellefson

history: Fatal Officer involved shooting, Nov. 15, 2005


John, a maintenance man:

"He was on his knees. He[an officer] shot him twice at close range. Bam. Bam."

Kenneth Williams:

(Press Enterprise, 4/6/06)

Williams said Brown only grabbed the electrode-tipped wires that shot out of the Taser at him. When Brown jerked the wires, the cartridge tip of the Taser broke off, Williams said, but the weapon remained in the officer's hand. Williams said Brown flung the wires away.

Williams said Ellefson then shocked Brown by holding the prongs of a Taser against him, but it had no effect.

At that point, Williams said, Ellefson shot Brown in the shoulder.

Williams said Brown spun around from the shot and said, " 'You can't kill me (expletive). I'm God!' " Then the officer shot him in the chest, Williams said.

Racheal Bacon:

(Press Enterprise, 4/4)

Bacon said she was in her room when she heard someone yell, "Get down! Get down on the ground!" and "Stay on the ground, or I'll Taser you again!"

Bacon said she stepped out of her room and saw a police officer and a tall, thin man with jeans and no shirt sitting on the ground in front of the door to a nearby room. The officers shocked the man several times, she said, and one officer hit him with a nightstick.

Bacon said one of the officers had managed to get one handcuff on the man, but he was pulling away from the officer.

Then, Bacon said, the police shot the man twice.

"You could tell he had no idea what was going on," she said. "You could tell that he was really scared."

Bacon said she did not see Brown grab the Taser.

When Brown was shot, she said, "He was basically injured and on the ground."

James Bell:

(Press Enterprise, 4/4, 4/5)

James Bell, a passerby who said he watched the confrontation unfold from the sidewalk, wondered why the officers used Tasers on Brown in the first place.

"He wasn't hurting anybody," Bell said.


Press Release written by Sgt. Leon Phillips, Homicide Unit:

"Ellefson lost control of his taser, which was grabbed by the
subject. Officer Ellefson feared the taser would be used against him
because of their close proximity and fired his weapon at the subject,
striking him twice."

Sgt. Mike Cook, Audit and Compliance Panel:

(Press Enterprise, April 5)

Cook said he was not sure whether Ellefson dropped the Taser or Brown took it from him.


African-American woman, Eastside(4/10)

"They treat us like animals"

Woodie Rucker-Hughes, NAACP Riverside Chapter president(4/10)

"There are a lot of questions that need to be answered."

Suzy Medina, longtime resident, Eastside

"This is 2006. Every time we want something in the community, somebody has to die."

Medina also spoke about the blood soaked pavement which still marked the spot where Brown died. In other areas that had experienced officer-involved shootings the sidewalk had been washed clean.

"So what, it's just the Eastside," Medina said.

CPRC Briefing:

April 12, 2006 at 6pm, City Hall


RPD officer shoots man

RPD officer loses taser, shoots man

Witnesses contradict police department's narrative


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And so it too begins:

You are not seeking the truth about what happens on critical incidents. You only fuel the fire of a bias press article.

You want to lead people to believe that the upstanding citizens who were frequenting that fine motel establishment on University Ave are more credible than two police officers who risk their lives every day so you and I may sleep peaceably in our home every night. I'm sure those people quoted in the press enterprise articles have never had any issues with the police. I'm sure they have no ax to grind with the police.

People who comply with police orders don’t get shot. People who don’t fight with the police don’t get shot. People who don’t grab a device capable of producing fifty thousand volts of electricity don’t get shot.

People who rip taser darts out of their skin and the shock has no effects on them are scary. People who do it twice are terrifying.

Bottom line is the officer's dealt with the situation to the best of their ability.

Fives years ago they wouldn't have had the less than lethal options available to them. They tried those, they didn’t work. But the point is they tried them first.

It’s unfortunate that a man had to lose his life. But let’s not forget he put himself in the position to force the police to respond to his actions.

You imply that nothing has changed. I offer this....

How would have RPD responded to this incident seven years ago? Would he have had as many chances to comply with little to no physical harm coming to him as in this incident? I think not, so progress has been made.

Keep up the good work and thank you for your service RPD. Some of Riverside's citizens think you do a great job.

Keep the faith,

Joe Citizen

Thursday, April 13, 2006 1:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, Mary; Can you please give your opinion on when you think officers should use deadly force and when they should not.


Asti Spamanti

Thursday, April 13, 2006 3:09:00 AM  
Blogger Five Before Midnight said...

Dear Joe Citizen:

Thank you for your response. You raise important issues. I guess you didn't sleep peacefully last night. You weren't the only one.

I agree that it is important to be impartial, which is why I provided accounts from both the "joe citizens" and the police department. Surely, you do not believe that I should have excluded what civilian witnesses said in the interest of fairness?

After all, under the terms of the stipulated judgment, the department was to make credibility evaluations for officers providing statements to investigators, in addition to civilians. Most LE agencies do not do this, as was cited by Dr. Samual Walker in his latest book.

Hopefully, that's what the investigators are doing, taking into account the statements provided by "joe citizens" as well as the two police officers involved. That is part and parcel of what any impartial agency that is assigned to do such an important task involving its own employees is supposed to do. Comments like yours, when made by officers, are often cited by citizens who have expressed distrust in the process of an agency investigating its own conduct. One of the reasons why Riverside not only has the CPRC, but why it was written into the city's charter in 2004.

The briefing last night, which will be posted here, elicited concern in those who attended, because like you, it appears that the investigators have pretty much written off the eyewitness accounts of the residents of the University Avenue motels(except when it comes to Brown's earlier conduct). Maybe that is the proper thing to do when all is said and done. Maybe not. It seems a bit early in the investigation(the preliminary state of it was emphasized by departmental representatives) to make such decisions. The hopeful part of the process last night was that Deputy Chief Dave Dominguez did ask the CPRC investigator to provide them with contact information for any additional witnesses he uncovered.

I was unaware that Mr. Brown had ripped out the taser darts twice. That information was not provided in any published account of the shooting. Thanks for providing your additional factual information.

People who comply with police orders don’t get shot. People who don’t fight with the police don’t get shot. People who don’t grab a device capable of producing fifty thousand volts of electricity don’t get shot.

That doesn't leave much hope for the mentally ill, mentally incapacitated or those who are in medical distress(and thus displaying "hostile" behavior) does it? Perhaps that is why both the community members AND Chief Russ Leach have raised concerns about what can be done to better train or support officers who deal with mentally ill people. Do you think that what the police chief has asked for his own department is a waste of time?

take care,

p.s. What did you think of the decision to move the law school out of L.A.? I understand the old campus is now a high school.

Thursday, April 13, 2006 9:27:00 AM  
Blogger Five Before Midnight said...

Dear Asti Spamanti:

Thank you for your response! Nice name, although spelled incorrectly. You have much better taste in dinner beverages than Starsky and B. Fife did.

The department has a policy on the use of lethal force that has undergone many revisions in the past five years. I'm sure if you call them and request a copy, a department representative will be happy to provide one.

Take care,

p.s. You and Joe Citizen need to get some sleep now.

Thursday, April 13, 2006 9:39:00 AM  
Blogger Sandalou said...

There IS no excuse for shooting an unarmed man in cuffs and you're no citizen Joe. Just another dirty cop who makes the real cops look bad.

As to when lethal force should be used Assti. How about when something bigger than a dirty cop's ego is in danger?

Silly me, there isn't much that's bigger than a dirty cop's ego, that's the main problem. Go ahead and start spewing your usual sewage guys, you're not fooling anyone anyway.

Sunday, April 16, 2006 1:00:00 AM  

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