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

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Men on roofs: Police and the mentally ill

Part of a Series

An unarmed Black man acting strangely is standing on top of someone's roof. A group of police officers stand below him trying to decide how to handle the situation with a fire truck parked nearby. Among the options being considered in both situations is the deployment of less lethal alternatives.

What happens next?

The answer to that question depends on what day it is, because the above scenerio happened at least twice in Riverside during the past several years. Different courses of action were pursued, resulting in greatly different outcomes.

Here is the first incident.

Date: July 2001

Time: Day shift

Place: Motel on the south-west corner of Iowa and University Avenue

The first incident occurred in July 2001, at a motel on the corner of Iowa and University Avenue. I received a phone call from several concerned city residents who informed me in a panic that there was a Black man standing on a roof at the motel and they were afraid that the Riverside Police Department was going to shoot him down. When we arrived, there was a crowd of mostly African-Americans outside the motel watching to see what would happen and there indeed was a young Black man standing on a sloped roof, adjacent to a closed stairwell.

An officer was carrying the shot gun which had led to people running to make the phone calls to our office, but it was black and orange meaning that it was one that was equipped to shoot less lethal munitions instead of bullets. Still, there was a lot of concern seeing it on display even though it was not a lethal weapon. One reason being, was that the distressed man was standing on a sloped roof that was adjacent to a closed stairwell, which placed him about 20 feet off the ground. It was a hot day, as July often is in Riverside and he would occasionally sway, as if the heat was draining his strength. People worried that if officers fired even less lethal munitions at the man that he would fall 20 feet hitting the paved parking lot. Then there was the question, as to why police officers would shoot rubber bullets at a man who was just standing there and not harming anyone.

A fire truck was also on scene, parked next to the stairwell. It was one of the really long ones, with the even longer ladders which are used to enable fire fighters to access tall buildings or to get people down from those buildings.

Hours passed, and the man refused to come down, but none of the police officers were in a hurry to bring him down or force him off the roof. They would toss him bottles of water occasionally which he deftly caught. The man's parole officer showed up eventually and asked the crowd to go home, but everyone shook their heads and no one budged. The predawn shooting death of a young Black woman in medical distress locked inside her aunt's car was still fresh on everyone's minds that year. Not one person left the motel and not one person would until the young man was safely back on the ground.

The man was serving parole and very distraught, because of some family issues. His brother was at the motel standing with some friends by one of the rooms. He kept asking me and anyone else nearby, why they, meaning the police officers would not let him speak to his brother so he could try to talk him down. The nearest police officer told him to sit and wait until they brought him down.

At some point, the less lethal shotgun disappeared from the equation, meaning that the officer who was carrying it locked it up in the trunk of a squad car where it belonged. From that point, the mood, certainly among those who bore witness to the incident changed. Maybe the incident changed as well at that point. Soon after, then Det. Jay Greenstein walked over to the man's brother and asked for his assistance in talking his brother down. The young man walked over and stood next to the building and spoke to his brother. No one could hear what was said, or if his brother answered him in return but five minutes later, his brother who had sat or stood on a motel roof for over four hours was on his way down the ladder of the fire truck. The police did not rush the man down but worked with him on his own internal schedule, as is often necessary with individuals who are mentally ill or in emotional distress.

The fate of that man is unknown. He was taken to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation and the officers on scene were happy, several overjoyed that it had ended with the man safely down from the roof. The crowd dispersed and went on its way.

The second incident occured over three years later at night. It ended far differently and no one was smiling afterwards.

Date: November 2004

Time: Swing shift

Place: Residence on Pear Blossom Road, Canyoncrest

This incident also began with a Black man who was mentally ill and standing on a roof of a residence that did not belong to him. It also involved a group of police officers standing below, supervised by an inexperienced watch commander and a fire truck parked nearby.

And like in the 2001 incident, there were less lethal shotguns involved. They were carried by officers and were not returned to the trunks of their squad cars until the incident ended.

Instead, these shotguns were fired approximately 40 times at an unarmed mentally ill man standing on a roof by an unknown number of police officers. If that were not enough of a show of force that likely was excessive, fire fighters then used their hoses to spray water at the man, in an apparent attempt to dislodge him from the roof. These actions were ordered by the watch commander, in response to an unarmed mentally ill man standing on someone's roof. The fate of this man is unknown.

This incident merited a brief mention in the Press Enterprise the day after it happened. At the time, that newspaper was without a full-time reporter assigned to the law enforcement beat so this critical incident which would have garnered headlines in almost any other city was buried in the metro section. That included what happened after the Pear Blossom incident, as it came to be called. What came after was never reported at all.

The details remain sketchy to those outside of it. Like most incidents, the department kept this one under wraps, in this case for over a year. Until last autumn.

In November 2005, an unidentified person, "Starsky", posted information about the incident on this blog. It's unclear how much of his information was what really happened, but according to his version what followed the incident on the roof was this.

The department decided to do an internal investigation of this roof incident. After that action was initiated, the watch commander called in the involved officers and tried to get them to change their reports in a way that would support the level of force used against this unarmed Black mentally ill man on a roof. According to "Starsky", the officers committed what was akin to insubordination and refused to do what they were told to do by the lieutenant. If this is indeed true, their actions were the only positive aspect of this deplorable incident. It is not common that and it is often met with reprisal when police officers refuse to obey their supervisor but in this situation it would have been the right action to take.

At some point, the lieutenant's actions were apparently backed by someone in upper management, before the situation was properly addressed. The lieutenant was eventually demoted back to sergeant. The lieutenant was a White woman, which was why the incident was recounted in this blog as proof that if an individual woman behaved badly, then all women were suspect. Her supervisor's identity and his exact role in the incident was only alluded to, because apparently he was a White man who later left the department.

The incident at Pear Blossom Road was the watershed incident involving force that was likely excessive in nature being used against an unarmed mentally ill man. If not for the lack of press coverage and the embarassing scandal that erupted in its aftermath, this incident could have been used as a catalyst to create and implement training for officers in terms of how to interact with thoses who were mentally ill. If it had been handled on that level as something other than an embarassing episode to be kept hidden, then perhaps today mental health training would be in place in this department. Why because the unfortunate truth is that it's only when incidents like this are front and center, with an audience watching that anything positive comes out of them to address similar situations in the future.

Nearly every city, county or state that implemented a mental health intervention program and/or training was pushed to do so by one or more fatal contacts between mentally ill individuals and law enforcement that was public. Some were pushed to create these programs due to the imposition of federal consent decrees against their agencies which included in their list of reforms the creation of such a program, most often a crisis intervention program. Often it is community members themselves who drive for the creation of these programs.

It is past time for the Riverside Police Department to align itself with and join other law enforcement agencies across the country that have created and implemented these programs. After doing research, it appears that the RPD has some catching up to do and it's time to start doing. And as the Pear Blossom incident made clear, the supervisors should be trained as well as the front-line officers on how to interact with the mentally ill.

Again, if the RPD needs resources to contact for further information, here are some additional ones in addition to those already mentioned. There is no excuse not to do anything that you can show the public a work product for upon its request.



Ohio: What is CIT and how is it implemented? (source of many informative links on CIT programs)


How to set up a CIT program

A graduating officer's enthusiasm for CIT program

Overview of CIT

More than just training: reducing the stigma

Crisis Intervention Teams in the United States(incomplete list)

Georgia Bureau of Investigation:

Georgia Bureau of Investigation CIT

Tucson(AZ) Police Department:

Tucson's CIT: Learning from other agencies' experiences

Akron(OH) Police Department:

Akron Police Department CIT program

Dutiful Mind: A retired officer's perspective on Akron's CIT

Columbus(OH) Police Department:

CIT training comes to Columbus, Ohio

Denver(CO) Police Department:

Denver police chief announces intent to create CIT program


Colorado provides CIT training

Appleton(WI) Police Department:

Appleton Police Department's CIT program

Louisville(KY) Police Department:

Louisville's CIT program wins award


CIT in Maine


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mary, where's my blog comment? Don't be a hater!!!!


Monday, November 06, 2006 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Five Before Midnight said...

Dear "Sigmund":

Blogger does not allow any comments to be changed or edited, only accepted or deleted. Your comments here have not been altered in any way and there is no conspiracy involved nor are there any plans for one so you might want to calm down. Light some candles, do yoga or something.

In fact, you and your very crowded psyche have already published four comments here in recent days. Your friend, "Insider" has published two thoughtful comments here as well as have two other individuals, including one who once stated he would never write anonymous comments. Guess there's a first time for everything.

I am somewhat curious about your many references to Muslims in your comments here, almost as many times as you've changed aliases. These references, along with other things including Pear Blossom, makes me wonder if it isn't you that has been hiding in plain sight all along.

Until next time.

Have a nice day,

Monday, November 06, 2006 5:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What are you talking about Marilyn? I can call you Marilyn can't I? I do not recall making any references to Muslims (at least not any that were not true). And why would you want to delete any blog entry from being submitted? There's a lot of wonderful interaction that can occurr here. By the way, how many crazed, uninvited men have trampled on your roof before? And from what I understand, that guy on Pear Blossom had numerous prior arrests including felony assaults on police officers. I also find it interesting that you will not name names when it comes to white female watch commanders (formerly) but have no problems identifying white male officers. Either, you hate white male police officers or your secretly desire one!

Sigmund Freud

Monday, November 06, 2006 8:43:00 PM  
Blogger Five Before Midnight said...

Dear "Sigmund":

You know my name but I don't know yours so there is no need to call me Marilyn. We'll have to come up with a better name for you. Sigmund just doesn't fit you.

Thank you for your angst-ridden comments. I can see that you are still mired in deep anguish about what you perceive as unfair post deletions and I am very sorry about that. Rest assured, all five of your most recent comments have been published since you returned several days ago and I'm sure you've read them by now. Probably twice just to make sure you weren't seeing things and that they were really there. That includes the one where you made a reference to Allah and the Hill brothers.

You're not a bad writer actually. Not quite as good as your pal "Insider" and not nearly as good as "Kevin, R.P.D." whose tied for obvious reasons with that alterego, "Serpico" but you have some potential that is there if you choosed to embrace it. You're currently at about the same level as "D.J" despite more practice but his or her metaphors just sounded better. Wasn't he or she trying to shut you down so maybe you should complain to him or her if you feel so stifled in your creativity and self-expression.

Are you even a White male police officer? Maybe, you're a crossing guard and just wish you were. After all, if I recall you were unable to even answer my taser question a while back during one of your prior incarnations. But then maybe you're just not taser certified.

Again, I suggest lighting candles or doing some yoga to alleviate your intense angst.

Have a nice day,

Monday, November 06, 2006 9:51:00 PM  

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