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

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Not asked, not answered

Dan Bernstein, the columnist from the Press Enterprise wrote an insightful piece on last week's briefing by the Riverside Police Department before the Community Police Review Commission on its investigation into the Douglas Steven Cloud shooting. It addressed the blink-and-you'll-miss-it show that the police department puts on before the CPRC several weeks after each officer-involved death.

Listen and Like It


After he laid out the details of the Oct. 8 incident, which began with an attempted Home Depot robbery and ended at a nearby crash scene, Cannon took no questions. Zero. RPD policy.

However, the responsibility does not lie at the door of what Bernstein called the "Just sit there and listen" police review commission. Its hands were tied on this issue. The responsibility lies elsewhere.

Basically, the routine is currently the following. The police department sends two high-ranking representatives from its command staff, who are most often Capt. Jim Cannon who heads its Investigations Division and Deputy Chief Dave Dominguez who was transferred out to the new Magnolia Station, to attend a CPRC meeting to provide a public briefing in front of the commissioners and members of the community. Sometimes, Lt. Darryl Hurt attends the briefings also, although it is not clear what capacity he serves under because he usually does not say anything.

Three high ranking officers, two Black and one Latino, who are examples of the slow diversifying of the department up into the highest levels of command. The department likes to put its men of color who are in upper management, front and center out in the community, which many see as a positive development. The routine before the commission appears etched in stone and well rehearsed.

First Dominguez offers his condolescences to the family of that who is deceased, especially if they are in attendance, an action that was criticized by an anonymous poster here who called his or her self, the "President of the League of Hot Female Cops" before departing once again.

"I wonder if Deputy Chief Dominguez extended his sympathies to the famalies of the officers who have been put in the unfortunate position of having to take another human life and of almost being seriuosly injured or killed themselves? I bet he hasn't. But can't say I'm surprised. Anyways, bye! "

Sometimes, there is a handful of people in the audience. Other times like with the Cloud shooting, it plays to nearly a full house. Cannon briefs the commission on the department's investigation which includes a narrative of the incident whether it's a shooting or an incustody death. Then when the briefing is concluded, all three police officers leave the building. Why? Because the commissioners and the public are not able to ask these individuals any questions.

It did not always used to be that way.

Beginning with the Vaseuth Phaisouphanh shooting in 2001, the department representatives always accepted and answered questions from commissioners. As more than one commissioner has said, the briefing was intended to be an expansion of the information provided by the department in earlier press releases in a forum accessible to the public. That is how it should be and that is how it was for the first seven incustody deaths investigated by the CPRC, from 2001-2004. Not that the police department representatives answered any questions asked by members of the audience, often picking up and leaving the building while members of the public were asking them. But the commissioners had a voice in that process.

Then along came the Summer Lane case.

The briefing for the Dec. 6, 2004 shooting took place over two weeks later on Dec. 22. The minute order provided by the CPRC does not provide much information into what happened, but the report on the Lane shooting approved by the CPRC nearly a year later, does.

Dec. 22, 2004 CPRC briefing minutes

In its report, the CPRC included a section titled "Initial Riverside Police Department Briefing". In it, the commission states that the information given by the police department indicated that Lane's car had been backing into Officer Ryan Wilson who was on the ground struggling with Christopher Steven Grotness when he fired the fatal shots.

The commission later found that this information contradicted with that uncovered by both its own investigator as well as the department's own Officer-Involved-Death Team. The correct information was also related in extensive detail in two interdepartmental memos relayed between members of that team on Dec. 7 and Dec. 8, well before the date of the CPRC briefing. In these memos and also in the statement provided by Wilson to investigators, the narrative was that after struggling with Grotness, Wilson had stood up, walked behind Lane's stationary vehicle up to the driver side window and had fired four times through the window. The CPRC reported using that information made the following observation.

In this case, it seems that the police department had a significant time, 17 days from the date of the incident to the date of the briefing, to submit accurate information. It didn't. Moreover the statements were never corrected when it was presumably discovered they were made.

Summer Lane shooting report

On Nov. 9, 2005 the CPRC determined unanimously that the shooting violated the department's use of force policy.

Summer Lane shooting finding

The department was criticized for providing incorrect information at the Dec. 22, 2004 briefing although the CPRC tempered its words by stating in its report that it was a balancing act to provide information that was both timely and accurate. That is true, and it is entirely possible that somehow the information transferred from the investigators to the designated representatives in the command staff contained errors, which were inadvertantly brought into the briefing with those individuals. Mistakes happen, and the police department should have corrected the ones made in this case as soon as it realized they had been made instead of leaving the commission in the dark for several months.

The eventual revelation of what really happened in the Lane shooting, a version that was in agreement with that given by the involved officer, cast the department in a negative light by making it appear as if it had been hiding the truth from the commission and the public when it is unclear what really happened.

What also became a problem was the department's reaction to criticism that it had erred on its briefing on the Lane shooting. Its response should have been to continue with the process, while examining its own internal process involving the dissemination of information on the shooting to ensure that the information provided by those working closest on the case was what was communicated to the CPRC. Perhaps the process needs to be tweaked so that the transfer of information from one level to the next does not become similar to a game of "telephone".

Instead, the department's response was as it often is when it faces criticism which is to withdraw into its self and away from the process, like a turtle retreating into its shell. To become less transparent and in a department which is still trying to improve itself after a five-year court-mandated reform process, that is a simply another mistake to throw on top of the one made at the Lane briefing. Hopefully, the department will instead decide to resume its practice of allowing commissioners to ask questions and do its best to answer them with the information available.


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