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 21, 2006

Running in place

Hours after the fatal shooting of Joseph Darnell Hill, 34 by an unidentified Riverside Police Department officer, over 40 people had congregated in the sanctuary of the Universalist Unitarian Church on the corner of Lemon and Mission Inn Avenue in downtown Riverside to discuss the Oct. 8 shooting of Douglas Steven Cloud.

Hill was the second African-American man to be fatally shot by police officers this year and the third to die in police custody in 12 months.

According to the police department, the shooting took place after one officer had conducted a traffic stop on Hill after he allegedly did an illegal u-turn and ran through a stop sign, in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Arlanza. The police stated that Hill became "belligerent" while two officers spoke with him and then had tackled with the officers, knocking both of them to the ground. At one point during the struggle, Hill allegedly tried to grab one officer's handgun and then grabbed hold of his department issued taser. After he pointed the taser at the officer, the backup officer shot Hill because he feared for the safety of his partner, according to a police department press release issued on Oct. 20.

Taser information: M26 and X26 models

It was the second shooting which involved an officer allegedly losing control of a taser in less than seven months. In April, Officer Terry Ellefson shot and killed Lee Deante Brown, after Brown had allegedly grabbed his taser during a struggle and had approached him with it, according to the police department. In a briefing the police department gave to the Community Police Review Commission on that shooting, a department representative admitted that none of the civilian witnesses had reported seeing a taser in Brown's hand before he was shot.

The police department has completed its investigation of that shooting and the CPRC is expected to begin drafting its public report on that shooting within the next several months after it has reviewed reports submitted by the police department and its own investigator, Butch Warnberg. The CPRC briefing from the police department on the Cloud shooting will be held next week at City Hall. Several panelists at the forum urged people to attend.

Conversation at the forum was topical and stuck to the agenda until the two plainclothed officers sitting by themselves, a few rows in front of the musical organ left the building. After they left, emotions began to flow into the dialogue, between panelists and the audience as people expressed their frustration with the lack of definitive information about either shooting. They told stories afterwards of neighbors wanting to leave Riverside because they were scared of being in a car accident and shot by police officers, whose faces they might never see, whose names their relatives would never know, in deference to a recent California State Supreme Court decision that prohibits the release of the names of any police officers involved in an onduty shooting. The mood in many communities has been tense since the Brown shooting and that sentiment increased with the Cloud shooting.

Local attorney, Andrew Roth did say that the officers' names would be publicly revealed if there was civil litigation filed in civil court in relation to a fatal shooting and that there was a lot of case law that would support that practice, because inside the courtroom, the public's right to know usually was upheld above considerations of individual privacy.

Litigation has been initiated in the officer-involved deaths of Summer Marie Lane, Terry Rabb and Lee Deante Brown. Cloud's family has also hired an attorney.

At least one community leader at the forum expressed frustration at the disparate versions of events given in the Cloud shooting by the involved officers and several civilian witnesses.

"One and one isn't two," Woodie Rucker-Hughes told the audience.

Hughes, who is the current president of the NAACP, Riverside chapter expressed her dismay about how the department was acting towards this shooting. She said that after the Brown shooting occurred, a representative of the department had appeared at a community healing meeting held soon after.

"The police were there," Rucker-Hughes said.

Now, the department was keeping its distance. Chief Russ Leach had been invited to either attend or send a representative to the forum, but declined. It was not clear why the two plainclothed officers were in attendance.

"They are circling their wagons again," sighed Rucker-Hughes.

Roth also noted the difference in how the police department handled its shooting cases. He said that he had met with the family of Vaseuth Phaisouphanh who was shot and killed by former officer Edgar J. Porche in 2001. After that shooting, Leach had personally briefed the CPRC on the shooting and had provided evidential information on the shooting to Roth and the family including police reports and a copy of the officer's recording from his department issued digital audio recorder. Why did he do that? Roth said, because the Phaisouphanh shooting was a legally justified shooting.

Fast forward to the Cloud shooting five years later.

"You are not going to see the police chief stand up in front of the city," Roth said.

Roth blamed the police culture for problems that contributed to police shootings.

"It's not merely the "bad apples" who find themselves in that situation," Roth said.

He added that the department needed to work on its training including the examination of alternative options to use instead of the handgun. The police department needed to receive the resources it needed to develop training for its officers, who Roth said, were typically 22 or 23-year-old individuals.

According to Leach, the average age of a police officer in the department is 24 with 2 1/2 years experience.

Roth reminded the audience that there were no fatal officer-involved shootings from the shooting of Tyisha Miller on Dec. 28, 1998 until the Phaisouphanh shooting in June 2001. The reason why, he said, was because the five police officers including the sergeant who were involved in the Miller incident lost their jobs. The officers who were fired by former Chief Jerry Carroll were the first to ever be fired for an onduty fatal shooting in the department's history. But then the police officers' union made it clear what it thought about that and soon after Carroll was sent off into retirement. That first vote was cast by razor at a local high school. The second, by a collective pink slip.

James Williams, III, who is assigned to Department of Justice's Community Relations Division in Los Angeles said that it took on average, at least 12 years for a police department to change the culture of its police officers.

Whether that change had been initiated at all, was the topic of much conversation both during the forum and afterwards, over cookies and apple juice in the reception room of the church. Some people said yes, there has been change. Others did not seem as sure. Individuals appeared mixed on whether the rash of shootings this year including those in the past two weeks was merely a cluster of tragic events or harbingers of problems remaining inside an agency that just finished a five-year, $22 million process to tear itself down and rebuild itself from the ground, up.

State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who placed the department under that decree in March 2001 said he did so to break the "racist, sexist, cowboy culture" of the police department. Five years later, a Riverside County Superior Court judge dissolved the stipulated judgment, after Lockyer had determined that the police department had made great strides in improving its patterns and practices on its way to becoming a "model" agency.

The police department can only do so much and it can't do it alone, inside a vacuum. Yet, soon after the dissolution of the judgment, the process ran aground fairly quickly in many respects. That being the failure of the city to take a leadership role in furthering the reform process, not to mention the lack of response from the community's leaders when it became clear that there were problems.

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."

Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, by Lewis Carroll

Things looked promising at first, in terms of the city's commitment at a March 28 workshop when the city council voted 7 to 0 to continue the reform process through its implementation of the Strategic Plan. However, soon after, it appeared as if the city's elected officials and many of its community leaders had placed this reform process on the backburner as they moved onto other things including seizing blocks of commercial property downtown through eminent domain and approving a five year "Riverside Renaissance" plan that many doubt would ever see fruition. After all, if the city could not see through a five-year "renaissance" of the police department through the implementation of the Strategic Plan, then how could it seriously commit itself through reinventing and remolding the entire city?

So what exactly took place after the city council voted on a process to continue the implementation of the Strategic Plan?

What happened is this.

The consultant that the city was supposed to enter into a contract with to assist in the implementation of the Strategic Plan apparently cares more about the future of the police department and the integrity of that process than the city government does. It is also clear that six months had passed without the police department presenting a single "quarterly" report and no one in the city's leadership was paying attention. Even those city leaders who belatedly remembered their promises made to the city's residents and then tried to address a process gone off-track, appeared more interesting in running interference for City Manager Brad Hudson and his sidekick, Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis who had failed to deliver on the mandate given to them by vote, by their employer, the city council.

There was much concern about the present and future of the RPD expressed at that meeting, which was sincerely felt.

However, the time to concern yourself with what is going on with the police department should not just be when there are critical incidents involving its employees, but during the time in between them, when questions should be asked as to whether the department is doing things like continuing with its evaluating and training of its employees and whether or not it is developing new training programs to address challenging issues, one of the most recent being how police officers interact with mentally ill and medically incapacitated individuals. Perhaps, the investigations into the past four three critical incidents will help answer some of these questions in a much more difficult way than could have been done if the three partners of this arduous seven-year process had stepped up to the plate.

Is this process moving forward or is the city running in place? Because what you get from running in place is tired feet.

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that."

Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, by Lewis Carroll


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