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 22, 2006

First We Did. Now We Don't.

Tyisha Miller had a blood alcohol of 0.13 and her initial toxicology tests showed the presence of cannabis, according to the Riverside County Sheriff-Coroner's office, when she was shot and killed by four police officers in December 1998. As early as Jan. 8, 1999, these toxicology results were printed in articles written in the Press Enterprise.

In that article, Sgt. Chris Manning said that accessing these toxicology results would enable investigators to better assess what had happened in a situation leading up to a critical incident.

Anastacio Munoz had a blood alcohol of 0.20, when he was shot and killed by Officer Melissa Wagner Brazil(who ironically also had a blood alcohol of 0.20 when she was involved in an off-duty vehicle accident in Corona in 2004, according to court records) and Officer Carl Michael Turner in November 2002. Munoz's blood alcohol level was mentioned in several news articles after the shooting.

Rene Guevera was seen drinking out of a beer bottle and tested above the legal limit(0.08) for alcohol, when he was shot and killed by Officer Richard Prince in December 2003. His drinking was mentioned in several news articles, based on accounts provided by the police department.

Summer Marie Lane was under the influence of methamphetamine when she was shot and killed by Officer Ryan Wilson. Her drug use was mentioned at a briefing held by the department in December 2004.

Lee Deante Brown was alleged to have used PCP before he was shot and killed by Officer Terry Ellefson on April 3, 2006. Toxicology results will not be released until the department has completed its investigations, which will take at least six more months.


On one level, it could be considered commendable that the department has declined to release the toxicology results, because it might go along with their statement that they do not wish to "try" the investigation in the press. This decision to do so would deviate from past practice where the police department has either commented on or released toxicology results as soon as they came in. This left many community members feeling as if the department was using those test results to justify the actions of their officers in these shootings, especially when those statements were made in the initial days and weeks after the shootings occurred. This sentiment was most prevalent after the shooting of Miller and led to a lot of complaints and heated discussions on the issue in different circles.

However, one problem with this sudden reversal on protocol is that when it comes to Brown, there has already been this assumption floating around for several weeks that he was on PCP when he was shot by Ellefson. This assumption which was provided on several occasions by representatives from the police department has been used to explain and defend the officers' actions against him. One woman said that when she had asked an officer how Brown could grab a taser out of an officer's hand, she was told that a man on PCP had the strength of three men.

Then there are people like "Asti Spamati"(whomever or whatever he is) who seem to believe that he is not mentally ill at all, just using illegal substances including PCP and rock cocaine, when often the line between the mentally ill and the drug addict can be blurred by the fact that untreated mentally ill people may attempt to self-medicate by using legal substances(alcohol) and illegal substances, according to medical experts.

A lot of the assumptions about Brown first arose when it was revealed that one witness, possibly Kenneth Williams, had told Officer Michael Stucker that Brown was on PCP. The police department acknowledged at its April 12 briefing that a witness had made that initial comment. Also, Brown had been arrested without incident on April 1 at a motel, for being under the influence of an illegal substance, which the department said was PCP.

However, was Brown under the influence of PCP when he was shot by police two days later? Only those who have access to the tests can know for sure and they are not talking, even though they were the ones who first put that word out there.

Those tests could have different possible outcomes. Brown could have been on PCP either alone or with another substance. Brown could have tested negatively for all controlled substances, or he could have tested positively for another drug altogether(i.e marijuana).

Another factor that could explain the disparate treatment by the police department is that the turnaround for laboratories for blood alcohol testing is much faster than it is for drug testing and most of the previous cases involved alcohol intoxication. While initial drug tests might come back several days to several weeks after the samples are drawn, more detailed drug screening may take up to six weeks or longer. Consequently, the information is available to be disseminated earlier.

More detailed drug screening is most often done when the initial tests are positive for controlled substances. Getting an accurate toxicology reading from someone who has died also poses complications including delays as well, although especially in Miller's case it did not prevent positive test results for several substances being made readily available for public dissemination. In Brown's case, his toxicology tests had been expedited in order to learn the truth quickly, the police chief reassured people at one meeting.

With all this aside, it still is curious that the police department has opted not to release the results of its toxicology tests, even as the discussion of Brown's possible PCP use has suddenly died down from its corner. Those who are cynical might think that the department has already received the toxicology results and they did not reveal what had been expected. Hopefully, the department has learned enough in the past five years to not choose to withhold them for that reason.

The department's current position is that it will not release the toxicology results until it has completed its investigation which may take six months or longer. By then, the public's attention will have probably moved on(hopefully, not towards the next shooting).

If Brown did test positive for PCP, then it's a contributing factor to a tragic situation which led to his death. PCP will be the major focus of attention rather than mental illness and it will deter people from tackling the issues of either problem because he will be labeled as a person who deserves what he got.

However, if the reality is instead, that Brown was not on PCP at the time he was shot to death, it will be quietly whispered as a footnote on a piece of paper stacked together with hundreds of other papers in a three-ring binder that defines the department's own investigation. PCP will still be the major focus of attention rather than the issue of mental illness and it will deter people from tackling the issues of either problem because he will be labeled as a person who deserves what he got.

Well, at least until it's the CPRC's turn to evaluate all the evidence and information in addition to what it has gathered on its own. Since its own evaluation takes place in a more public arena, the public will be allowed to participate while it drafts its public report. Once that report becomes public, so will Brown's PCP status. Then whether the answer is positive or negative, it will likely be known why the department withheld this information as well, given that it did put that information out there in the first place.

If the test was positive, then hopefully, by that time the department will have started putting together tactical strategies and training to at least deal with individuals under the influence of PCP so something beneficial can come out of this tragedy. Because the officers were operating at least under the assumption that Brown was on PCP(based on information given to them) this is something that needs to be done. It will probably choose not to tackle the more complex issues of mental illness if it can focus its attention elsewhere, which will then have to wait until the next critical incident involving a mentally ill person. Just like other critical incidents that occurred before the Brown shooting were ignored.

If Brown was not on PCP, nothing will happen or change in the interim. Unless that truth comes out, Brown's legacy will be that he was high on PCP when he died, not that his death became the cornerstone of the RPD's new crisis intervention program on addressing the interactions between police officers and the mentally ill.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The CPRC's Role in All This?

Last week, the CPRC received its briefing on the shooting of Lee Deante Brown. It had already initiated its own investigation into the shooting, the day after it happened. The investigator has interviewed witnesses including several new ones, which is good news at least for the investigation that they were found. It remains to be seen if that is good news for the police department as well.

It will take months before the investigator returns to the CPRC with his completed report in hand to brief the CPRC in much greater detail than the briefing that took place last week. The commissioners will review that information, along with the entire investigative report submitted by the police department's homicide division. Then the CPRC will begin the process of drafting its own report, including holding discussions on how its members viewed the shooting, in relation to its adherence(or lack thereof) to departmental policy. After the report is completed, the commissioners will then access the administrative review conducted by the Internal Affairs Division of the department's own criminal investigation and then meet behind closed doors to discuss, deliberate and ultimately decide whether or not the shooting was within departmental policy.

Six times out of seven, that process has led to the CPRC affirming the department's own investigation. One time, it did not. Before the final decision was made, unidentified correspondents on this site predicted, even boasted that the CPRC ultimately would hold no power in terms of determining the outcome of a fatal officer-involved shooting. Ultimately, they were correct in their assertions. The city manager's office abstained from the decision and left it up to Chief Russ Leach who sided with his department's own investigation to the surprise of no one. The outcome was likely not as spontaneous as it seemed, given the comments written here that prophesied it. Sounds more like a contingency plan was in place.

The relationship between the CPRC and the various factions of the RPD has been a stormy one. For some, it's a public relations tool to bridge the gap(some might say gorge) between the department and the communities in Riverside. Others look at it as if it is the devil's incarnate. Still others look at it as something in between.

Here once again, is Officer Hands Tied to give his perspective on the issue. Some congratulations are in order. Officer Hands Tied has won the prestigious Scoobie award for the best acting performance during a non-winning political campaign.


HOST: Good morning, Officer Hands Tied. I understand that this is an issue that you remain very passionate about. Do you think that this form of oversight is necessary?

HT: Of course not. It's just unnecessary duplication, repetition and replication of what we already have in place. We have the D.A's office, the State AG's office, the U.S. Attorney's office, the FBI and God.

HOST: Well, some might argue that if you are so sure you are always doing the right thing, then you wouldn't be afraid of one more form of oversight.

HT: It's just sooooo unnecessary.

HOST: But it's a young body. It's only been around this century. Wouldn't you say it's a diamond in the rough?

HT: No. I don't like diamonds anyway. They are hard, unforgiving gems whose clarity is dependent on where they came from. One minute you can not see it in front of you, then there it is sits on top of the mantle out of reach. It spends time on Rick's list, located under the palm tree, then ascends up the glass ladder to a place in the meadow already cleared before it. Gold is my thing. Everywhere. I'd bathe in it if I could. Gold is pretty to the eye, uniform in color and pliable. Where I came from, it was very abundant.

HOST: Say what?

HT: If I were Rumplestilskin, I could make it.

HOST: But you are not him. He's a mean little man who wanted something he could never have.

HT: He did pray for people though.

HOST: Don't you think that you might be just a little sensitive about the reality that nine civilians are standing in judgment of how you do your job?

HT: You have to have a thick skin to move up in this place. That's what I learned. It took me a while though, one act of rebellion before I spoke up for the bystander. It's tough to be a diamond in this world. Tougher still to be me.

HOST: I've lost you there.

HT: Remember who I am after all. What I am.

HOST: How much celebrating did you do after the dissolution of the Stipulated Judgment anyway? It sounds like quite a bit.

HT: Oh 40 ounces here, more there. It was a party that was a long time coming after all. Plenty of time left to celebrate.

HOST: O-kay. It's not always a pleasure to talk with you, but it's always interesting.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

RPD Briefing Before the CPRC

On April 12, representatives from the police department appeared before the Community Police Review Commission to present the department's official version(up to now)of what happened before and during the April 3 shooting of Lee Deante Brown.

According to Capt. Jim Cannon:

At 1:26 pm, the department received a call of a man acting suspiciously near the intersection of Loma Vista and Ottawa. According to the police department, Brown was lying down in the street, jumping on cars, screaming and exposing himself to people. Brown then headed towards University Avenue and walked into traffic, causing cars to stop abruptly to avoid hitting him.

Officer Michael Stucker, who Cannon referred to as "Paul Stucker", was monitoring his police radio and he headed towards The Welcome Inn of America motel at 1910 University Avenue. When he arrived, a man told him that Brown might be on PCP. Stucker then called for backup. At the time, Brown was lying in the parking lot. When he saw Stucker approach him, Brown retreated to the alcove. Stucker gave numerous commands, and Brown did not comply, instead saying "You can't hurt me" and talking to Jesus. He advanced towards Stucker and Stucker tased him, knocking him down on the ground. Brown got up and Stucker tased him again.

At 1:55 pm, Officer Terry Ellefson arrived onscene. He asked Stucker to undo his taser so he could handcuff Brown. Ellefson apprehended Brown on the ground and handcuffed his left wrist. When he tried to put handcuffs on his right wrist, Brown got to his feet. Ellefson tased Brown, but it had no effect. Stucker got closer and tased him directly on his body. At that point, Brown grabbed Stucker's arm and Stucker felt the electricity in his body. At some point, there was prongs from the taser stuck in his hand.

Stucker then took his expandable baton and struck Brown an undisclosed number of times. Ellefson tased Brown on his right shoulder and tried to grab the loose handcuff which was swinging wildly. Ellefson and Brown struggled further. Both Ellefson and Stucker saw Brown with the taser in his hand(but there was no explanation provided by the department in terms of how he got hold of it) and he began advancing towards the officers. They backed up and Ellefson then took his service weapon out and shot Brown twice.

Cannon then said that the two officers were the only two to see the taser in Brown's hand.

"Witnesses somehow were unaware that Brown had grabbed the taser," he said.

This was mentioned at the very end of the presentation almost as an aside. The civilian witnesses either had blinked and missed the struggle over the officer's taser or they are the liars with axes to grind that "Joe Citizen" claimed them to be in his earlier comment. Those are the two possible explanations that the department can possibly come up with to explain the conflicting information provided by the civilian witnesses and the two police officers involved in the fatal shooting. A third possibility is one that it is not really ready for and it is doubtful that it ever will be. Hopefully, evidence not testimony from the department can put this possibility to rest.

Maybe they are right. Maybe they do have all the answers, all the evidence and have opted to withhold both from the public. Because it is early in the investigation of a critical incident, it might be appropriate to do so. One problem with doing this, is that while they are declining to offer evidence of why they have reached the conclusions that they have, they are making judgments themselves in public about a recent event. While doing so might present no problem with the department or the "Joe Citizens" of the world, it might be construed by other people as having made up one's mind from the start or are in a sense, circling the wagons. This might be particularly true for people who live in communities where relations between residents and the police department have been strained for many years. Some of these people might wonder and many have, why does the department even bother to collect their eyewitness accounts of critical incidents at all?

If the civilians had agreed 100% with the version provided by the police department, would there be any comments by anyone about them having "axes to grind"? Would there be any sarcastic comments by anyone about them being upstanding people at a "fine motel establishment" on University Avenue?

Probably not. In that case, they would most likely be viewed as the most truthful, pro-police individuals in the universe, not to mention the best witnesses out there. It's one thing if the "Joe Citizens" of the world practice this dichotomy. Quite another, if the police department practices it too.

Even the police chief referred to civilian witnesses who were quoted about the shooting in the Press Enterprise as "mystery witnesses" at a recent meeting. Words like that while meant to explain or even soothe, can actually fuel further dissent, because the police department has not yet repaired all the bridges which it had spent the last three decades burning. Yet even as the department has written off the accounts of civilian witnesses for reasons still unexplained, it is asking the CPRC's investigator to provide it with contact information for any new witnesses who turn up. Hopefully, this is more than just an exercise. Still, by asking this of the CPRC, it shows that the department is admitting and recognizing the CPRC's power granted to it by the city's charter to conduct its own independent investigation.

Community members who attended the briefing before the CPRC walked away from it shaking their heads. A few asked each other, if they had heard at exactly what point the police department had stated how the taser went from Ellefson's hand to Brown's and then agreed they had heard nothing about that. In a depiction of a shooting that narrated every other action taken by Brown down to the exact detail, why was the most important detail of the entire critical incident still missing?

Hopefully, these questions will be answered in coming weeks.

Columnist Dan Bernstein wrote a very good column on April 14. He has been a regular attendee at recent community meetings on the issue. One point he raised, that even if the version the department has provided of the shooting is the accurate one, it still does not paint a pretty picture.

Bad Day in April

He writes about the LAPD's crisis intervention program, known as SMART which pairs up law enforcement officers with mental health experts. Other cities have created similar programs to address police officers' interactions with the mentally ill populations. Some of these programs were created in response to critical incidents including those where mentally ill people were killed.

LASD MET and other programs

Memphis PD Crisis Intervention program

Portland Police Bureau's CIT program

One community resident in this city offered up information she had learned about a similar program to Riverside's city council.

Their collective response? YAWN. Blink. Blink. Hardly surprising. The Attorney General's office is gone. Hopefully, this is not a sign that the city council's interest in the department's operation has gone with it.

Leach has also voiced his concern on this issue, and said there was a lot more to be done by the department in this area. In response, there were no shortage of community residents offering him assistance addressing this challenge. One hopes that he takes them up on their offers and utilizes their collective expertise on mental health issues to come up with a similar program for the RPD. Community members and the police department working together to grapple with a serious issue as this one, is what community policing in practice is about after all.

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

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