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, May 23, 2006

Is the CPRC facing fallout from Summer Lane?

The Community Police Review Commission played to an audience of city residents several weeks ago, but a ghost of two Decembers past dominated the conversation without ever saying a word.

That ghost was Summer Lane, a woman shot and killed by Riverside Police Department officer Ryan Wilson in December 2004.

In December 2004, the police department had briefed the CPRC on the shooting and provided a preliminary narrative of the incident. That night, there was no way to anticipate the fire storm which would erupt the following year. In part that was due to inaccurate information provided at the preliminary briefing, which clashed with that provided in interdepartmental memos written by members of the Officer-Involved Shooting Team before the briefing took place.

In November 2005, the CPRC released a finding that it had found the shooting to be out of departmental policy, the first decision of this kind since the panel began investigating officer-involved deaths in 2001. After reaching that decision in closed session, the CPRC then forwarded it to City Manager Brad Hudson. Many community members believed that the decision would lie in his hands, because the police department had submitted a finding of its own, which was that the shooting was within policy.

Their belief in a process which put the two entities and their findings on equal footing, was misplaced. Hudson opted out of the decision making process altogether and handed it off to Police Chief Russ Leach for a final disposition. Leach backed his department's own finding. Through his decision not to make a decision, Hudson showed clearly just how much, or more accurately, how little importance the commission had inside City Hall.

It appeared that the commissioners who released that finding received that message clearly too.

CPRC Chair Les Davidson told members of the public that the commission's hands were tied

"We are bound by that Charter, " Davidson said, "Our feelings may be different but we have to stay within it."

The Charter, Davidson was referring to, was the city's own Constitution that was first established and ratified in 1907. In it, are the rules and regulations which govern the city's operation including its boards and commissions. Several of these bodies comprised of city residents are included in the city's Charter. In 2005, the CPRC joined this select group.

Ironically, the inclusion of the CPRC in the city's Charter was intended to liberate it. The Charter Review Committee drafted a proposed amendment which would place the CPRC safely away from any political interference by the city council. Many community members believed this step became necessary after the existence of the CPRC was challenged by city council members who opposed it and had received considerable campaign contributions from the Riverside Police Officers Association during their election campaigns. The voters echoed their concerns and passed ballot measure Measure II in every precinct in the city, during the November 2004 election. Even the city council members who had opposed the CPRC were impressed and several said that they would honor the wishes of the voters.

Once it became included in the Charter, only another ballot initiative passed by a majority of the city's voters could abolish or make substantial changes in the operation of the CPRC. Or so members of the public believed.

Now, one year later, the inclusion of the CPRC in the city's Charter was being looked at with new eyes, as just another obstacle in its path toward realizing its full potential. Although it had been once been viewed as a mechanism to preserve the once vulnerable CPRC, now it was seen as a means of restricting its powers even further.

Borrowing a line from the RPOA's infamous anti-Measure II campaign in 2004, Davidson told the other commissioners that their hands were tied. He implored members of the public to petition their elected officials including Mayor Ron Loveridge and the city council to take steps to strengthen the commission.

"It's not that we don't want to do the job," Davidson said, "We can't do the job."

As usual, Commissioner James Ward did not mince words.

"The more I sit on this Commission," Ward said, "The more I'm convinced the city has been sold a bag of goods."

Ward said that the city government was micro managing the CPRC and that through the Lane decision it had shown that the CPRC's role was intended to be solely advisory. He added that not much had changed inside City Hall since the shooting of Tyisha Miller in 1998.

At the beginning of the meeting, Davidson said that he had placed the item on the meeting agenda after he and Vice-Chair Ward met with Leach, Hudson and City Attorney Gregory Priamos. They had discussed key issues but there was not total agreement among all involved parties.

About 20 people attended the CPRC meeting on April 27 and listened to commissioners expressing their frustrations at the apparent limitations of their powers, before walking up to the podium and adding a few of their own.

Rudy Morales, a former member of the Human Relations Commission, took the body to task.

"Get off the chair and do it yourself," he said.

Morales added that when he had served on the HRC's Law Enforcement Policy Advisory Committee years ago, there had been similar problems. But commissioners were in a much better position to push for changes than members of the public.

"Listening to what I heard today, it doesn't sound like we've made much strides, " Morales said.

Morales' words were echoed by other concerned city residents who attended the meeting including other people who had sat on LEPAC before the committee was disbanded in 2000 to make way for the CPRC. Even its prior members had publicly defined LEPAC as a toothless tiger. Was the CPRC ultimately going to follow down its predecessor's path?

The crux of this latest concern centers around the issue of the CPRC's right to investigate officer-involved deaths. According to its own bylaws, the CPRC has the power and right to do the following:

Review and investigate the death of any individual arising out of or in connection with actions of a sworn police officer, regardless of whether a complaint regarding such death has been filed.

This power grew out of a ground swelling of concern that arose from the shooting of Tyisha Miller in 1998. It is no accident that the bylaws, the ordinance which created the CPRC and the charter that gave it a future all state that the CPRC is to investigate in custody deaths. One of the legacies of the Miller incident was how little faith and trust many community members particularly African-Americans had in the ability of a law enforcement agency to investigate its own officers' alleged misconduct. Both the creation of the CPRC and the inclusion of this power were a response to this concern.

"Asti Spamanti", who claimed to be a RPD officer, said the following before storming off.

"Oh, I've got an answer for you. How about this---"Mr. Asti, I do not know when officers should use deadly force because I have not the training or experience to answer that question or make those types of decisions and therefore, I probably should not be condemning these officers for making a decision that people like me, Sandalou, and others who so freuqently speak out against the police, are either afraid to do or incapabale of doing."

His or her words serve as a reminder to why people do not have faith in a police agency's ability to self-investigate. What is really being said here is that no member of the public even has the right to question the actions of any officer, let alone one who has shot and killed a person. These words have been used to refute the need for everything from state-sanctioned oversight of the police department to the creation of the CPRC. These words are still being said today, seven years after the shooting of Miller.

One problem is, that these words also extend to other employees in the police department including its management. To be reminded of this, one needs only to look at what happened during the only known RPD shooting to be determined to be out of policy in its recent history. After the police department decided that the four officers who shot and killed Miller had violated departmental policies, the decision was made by then Chief Jerry Carroll to fire them and their supervisor.

So what happened to Carroll soon after that fateful decision? His fate and his future was essentially decided on the date he made the decision to fire them. Most likely, he even knew it at the time.

The vote to oust him was not one cast by paper ballots, but by razor. Hundreds of razors taken to hundreds of heads, removing every vestige of human hair, as if by doing so, they could exorcise the chief who had betrayed the rank and file with his decision to fire five of its members. Carroll had fired five of their group's members so they were going to fire him in response. That was his first strike against him.

Carroll's "retirement" did not become official until early 2000 amidst a firestorm that erupted after his decision to promote two men of color and a White woman to the position of lieutenant. This action elicited howls of reverse discrimination against White male police officers. He had just committed his second strike.

The city soothed the howls of reverse discrimination by trying to reverse Carroll's promotions with as much vigor as they would later fight against a claim of racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation filed by a Black male officer. Carroll soon accepted a retirement and left the department.

If the tenure of a police chief in the RPD could not survive a decision to fire four officers involved in a shooting determined to be in violation of departmental policy, then it should surprise no one that if a panel of civilians come out with a similar decision on another shooting, its decision would also elicit an angry and passionate response by the same parties.

Given the predicable outcomes of the situation involving the split findings on the Lane shooting, was such a response by those parties even necessary?

The fallout from the Lane shooting is apparent, as the recent pleas by the CPRC's commissioners for the public to appeal to its elected government to strengthen the body's powers have shown. Unfortunately, given the current political climate at City Hall, this is not likely to happen any time soon.

With the already controversial shooting of Lee Deante Brown on the horizon, these questions will again be asked and answered and these concerns will once again be raised by commissioners and members of the public alike.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Will What Goes Up, Come Down?

In the April 22 edition of the Press Enterprise, ran an article asking why the number of citizen complaints received by the Community Police Review Commission had increased 42% in 2005. During 2004, the CPRC had received only 90 complaints, compared to 128 in 2005.

Commission members including former chair, Michael Gardner appeared mystified as to why the CPRC received the highest number of complaints in a single year, since 2002.

One possible reason mentioned by some individuals is that the CPRC had increased its public outreach in 2005, in terms of educating city residents on its roles, responsibilities and most of all, its existence. That makes some sense, because that might indicate that a bigger pool of potential complainants might have been tapped into by the extended outreach.

Gardner appeared to reject that contention in the news article.

"The outreach effort is not intended to fish for complaints," he said.

Okay, that might not have been its intent but that might be its result.

Another possible factor could have been the increased publicity the CPRC received in 2004 which resulted from the passage of Measure II. This measure was created by members of the Charter Review Committee to place the beleaguered commission in the city's charter safely out of the reach of city council members financially backed by the Riverside Police Officers Association's Political Action Committee. In November 2004, 60% of the city's voters spoke loudly and passed Measure II in every precinct in every ward in the city. After that, the city council members backed off and pledged to support it as long as it existed in order to respect the wishes of their voting constituents.

These two explanations are possibilities. There is also another that no one seems eager to suggest, at least not out loud.

That possible explanation to offer up is that allegations of misconduct increased for 2005, because there are continued problems in a police department that has struggled to recreate itself since the shooting of Tyisha Miller in 1998. The fact that sustain rates at least on the CPRC side have increased as well suggests that the department continues to struggle with issues. It will become more apparent if this is indeed the cause if the trend continues in 2006 and beyond. If it does not, then this past year may have been an aberration

The new RPD is a much younger work force with an average age of 24 and three years of experience. Even the sergeants who supervise these officers skew on the young side, due largely to retirements at this level and higher in the past year or so, according to department representatives. Less experienced officers may be more likely to make mistakes involving policies. It is critical that they are properly supervised by experienced sergeants out in the field. It is also important that the department's field training officers are experienced and teach them the new way to do business rather than relying on old patterns.

The racial trends involving those who file complaints continues as it has in past years.

Over 20% of complaints were filed by African-Americans, which is over twice their representation in the city's population. Latino complainants filed 23% of all complaints, Whites, 30 % and Asian-Americans, less than 1%. About 23% of all complaints were filed by people of unknown ethnicity.

An area that continues to concern community members involves the use of excessive force. After all, that is one of the main issues that brought the commission into existence.

The CPRC received 20 allegations of excessive force, a number also nearly double that received in previous years. None of these allegations were sustained, but seven of them received a "not sustained" finding which is assigned when there is not enough evidence presented to make a decision one way or another. It is not clear how many of these allegations were sustained or given a "not sustained" finding from the police department, because it does not circulate its own statistics to members of the public, despite provisions in PC 832.7 that allow it to do so.

The CPRC last sustained an excessive force allegation in October 2004, involving the case of a young Black man who was approached by an officer while he was in his car at Bordwell Park. Both the police department and the city manager's office decided that the allegation was unfounded.

A report submitted to the State Attorney General's office stated that there was one excessive force incident in 2005 and one in 2004, but that there were still investigations pending for incidents in 2005.

In 2005, complaints spiked up higher earlier in the year, leveled off and slightly decreased in the summer, then spiked up again in the autumn to the levels it had hit earlier in the year. This trend caught the attention of many community members off guard especially because it occurred at the tail end of the police department's five year stipulated judgment with the state attorney general's office. Still, only the CPRC commissioners publicly questioned it.

Rising up with the number of complaints was the number of those sustained by the CPRC. Without statistics from the department's Internal Affairs Division, it is unclear whether its trend in this area matched that of the CPRC.

The sustain rate for complaints hit an all-time high of 19%. That was nearly double the rate calculated for 2004, which was 10%. It had hovered between 10% and 13% the last three years.

Interestingly enough, for the first time, there were allegations of criminal conduct sustained by the CPRC. In 2005, the CPRC sustained six allegations of criminal conduct and also sustained two allegations of false reporting(if it involves falsifying a police report, that's a felony under the penal code in most jurisdictions).

The article stated that criminal allegations involving two officers who allegedly planted evidence in the same case were sustained. It is not clear whether or not the department sustained the allegations as well, but the involved officers are no longer with the police department. The Riverside County District Attorney's office declined to file criminal charges against them, which reveals very little about the veracity of the charges because they rarely file criminal charges of any kind against RPD officers.

It is also not clear whether the officers were fired, pressured to resign in lieu of termination or they simply lateraled to other agencies. It appears clear that they are longer at this department.

What is disturbing about this incident besides the obvious is whether these allegations of evidence planting would have ever come to light if a citizen possibly the victim had not filed a complaint with the CPRC. One would think that if there were officers possibly engaged in such egregious misconduct that a supervising sergeant would have caught it, or a lieutenant, or either the field operations or investigations captain. However, if that had been the case, then one of these individuals would have initiated an internal investigation of the alleged misconduct. Did this happen? Or did it take a citizen filing a complaint before something was done about a very serious situation?

More importantly, if any evidence did emerge to sustain the complaint, did the Internal Affairs Division initiate its own inquiry into prior cases these officers were involved with to ensure that there was no evidence planting or tampering in those cases? Fruit from a tainted tree would be bad enough, but perhaps they should check all of it, perhaps even check the whole orchard. Due to this state's stringent confidentiality laws pertaining to peace officers' records, these questions can never be answered, publicly, which does little to alleviate concern. Any incident of evidence planting or tampering has the potential to taint the entire department.

The answer to the above questions must only be one thing. Of course they did, immediately! Any ethical, responsible law enforcement agency would take this mandatory and precautionary step without hesitation. After all, it's one thing for one officer to plant evidence on his own which is abhorrent enough, but for two of them to apparently collude and conspire together on the same case? How did they ever find each other?

"Traffic" violations constituted two other criminal inquiries launched by the department. One of them involved an unidentified officer who was charged by another LE agency, for drinking and driving, which is a much more serious charge than true traffic violations such as running a stop sign.

There was an officer, Melissa Wagner Brazil, who was arrested and charged with drunk driving and hit and run, both misdemeanors, after she was involved in an accident in Corona in 2004. She plead guilty in February 2005 and was sentenced to several years probation and ordered to enroll in a "first time offenders" drunk driving program. Ironically, Brazil had been given an award from M.A.D.D. for her record of arresting people driving drunk.

It is not clear if she is the DUI case that was included in the 2005 caseload.

A former officer, Chris Gaspard, was arrested by the Riverside Police Department for reckless driving in 2004 and charged by the D.A.'s office for that offense as well as evading a police officer. No doubt, Gaspard has arrested and perhaps even used force against individuals who have evaded arrest in his presence on the job. He eventually plead guilty a year after he was charged to the reckless driving charge, and received one year probation and agreed not to drive with a license, a fairly light sentence.

Two other unidentified officers apparently had used a police database which tracks criminal and driving records, for their own personal use. According to many newspaper accounts, this is a nationwide problem faced by numerous LE agencies.

Top 10 Abuses of Police Databases

Police Abuse of Databases A Problem

One officer was allegedly running a search on his own name, the reason why was not disclosed by the police department, which meant the other officer was probably doing a search on someone else's name. It was not clear whether these officers also "left" the department, stayed or were terminated. Certainly, in the case of the officer looking up another person's name, termination is the only responsible action. Ethical, honest and professional officers do not commit violations involving professional databases and officers who lack these qualities display these deficiencies in other areas of the job. This could be a sign of trouble elsewhere on the job.

The department declined to pursue criminal charges in either case, deciding the incidents were not serious enough to merit them. Most likely, it was not other employees in the agency whose names were entered into a search in the police database.

Complaints against police rise

Monday, May 01, 2006

Misogyny in the RPD

I saw this posted comment on my blog one morning by a regular visitor, "B. Fife". He has made comments indicating that he is a Riverside Police Department officer in the past. This latest comment, well second to latest, is no different. Well, except the fact that he dropped the LE title from his moniker this time around.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mary,

I have seen you on your daily strolls around the east side, about five times or so the last couple of weeks. Each time I see you, you are wearing the same purple sweatshirt and blue jeans. Then I think to myself, I wonder if she wears the same pair of skid marked granny panties everyday..... Then following that thought, I throw up a little bit in my mouth.

Instead of spending so much time trying to find negative things about cops, why don't you try taking a shower and changing your clothes at least once a day!

B. Fife

Friday, April 28, 2006 6:25:30 PM

One of the scariest things about this comment, is that "B. Fife" is absolutely correct. I have been walking through the Eastside more than a few times in the past several weeks. I have been wearing blue jeans, albeit not the same pair, and on several occasions, I have been wearing not a purple sweatshirt, but a sweater. It is purple knit, buttoned-down and one of my favorites. Well, at least it used to be. Now, it's just another reminder that I am hated by officers in the Riverside Police Department, both as an individual and as a woman as well. It's just a reminder that at least one of them is watching my movements. No civilian who knew me would so interested in letting me know this and I highly doubt any civilian in the Eastside would be writing comments in defense of Riverside Police Department officers who have made such negative comments about their neighborhood here. They may defend good, hard-working officers but not those of this ilk.

Oh, and I shower once daily, twice after reading comments like this one.

I wondered at first as I always do, who he might be, civilian or law enforcement officer until I realized that here was a person who knew my name, my face, the fact that I had a blog, the blog's address and had a strong animosity towards me that has led him to post under this moniker since March 2 and probably under other nicknames even before that.

Needless to say, I will probably change my route of travel back to what it had been after I received those postings from "Kevin R.P.D." last October. A route that is frequented only rarely by Riverside Police Department officers. Why should I walk through a neighborhood and every time I see a squad car driving by wonder if it is "B. Fife" stripping me inside his head, again? That is a violation that no man can ever understand, let alone feel, but it is an intimate experience for most women, something we swap our experiences with, through stories about facing sexism in contemporary society.

It is an unfortunate reality for any woman, simply for being a woman that she will be harassed by a man simply because she is female. If she is being harassed for being an individual hated by a man, that man will use sexist behavior and imagery to express it, because she is a woman. If she is a woman of color, he will likely use racist behavior and imagery too.

In this case, it is apparently being done by public servants who were hired to protect and serve women(and men) not denigrate them. It is being done by a man who is too cowardly to even sign his own name to his words. Not even to spare other employees in the department a bit of extra scrutiny that one woman has to do in order to feel comfortable in her surroundings because of what one man has done, because this man has no face. However, not only does the internet give him the perfect hiding place, so does law enforcement through its shield laws and its blue code. Every harasser has an audience and from comments made by both "Asti" and "B. Fife", it's clear that there is probably an audience quietly watching their antics. Few people are not aware of the blue brotherhood.

I passed along the comment made by B. Fife to other women, and one word came back to me, over and over. Misogyny. How could someone put so much hate and misogyny, into so few words? In this case, the explanation could fill a book. A simpler explanation is that men engage in this behavior, because they can.

We, as women live in a society where men make the rules that both genders follow and one of the unwritten rules is that women are to be subjected to denigration by the male gender's less emotionally secure individuals on the basis of our gender. That hatred can be expressed through street harassment. It can be expressed through violent crimes, including rape and sexual assault. There is also plenty of ground left over for men who hate women to operate, in between the two extremes.

Misogyny, literally, is the hatred of women or hostility towards them. Whether it is all women, a few women or one woman. From the time we are girls, we have to learn how to cope in a world where often we can not walk down a street without someone yelling something derogatory to us from a car, or trying to pinch or touch us on the street. We may innately realize that men may mentally undress us as we walk past them, but we do not wish to be reminded of that. We do not wish to be reminded that we are not human beings at all, but objects. Unless we are women of color, then apparently we are nonhuman in other ways, a designation based on race

Several women believed that the comment was meant to frighten me as much as it was meant to denigrate me, because this person wanted to make clear to me that he was paying attention to my movements at least through "his" area of town. Where I was going, what I was wearing, is his way of saying, I'm watching you. After all the probability that my travels through the Eastside would have brought me into contact with one police officer this many times, does not suggest they were random encounters. Experts say that men engage in this type of behavior to exert power over women, to control them and I can feel that keenly from those words.

Only about 3% of all the officers hired recently by the police department were female and if "B. Fife's" behavior is in any way indicative of the current working environment, it will have to fight to keep them. Men who engage in this type of behavior tend to target any women who does not fit their narrow definition of what a woman should do, and it is clear to the "B.Fife"s of the world, that women only serve one purpose. Policing the streets is not on that very short list.

That one purpose is sexual gratification, or at least to be graded on a scale that is based on this purpose. That was clearly delineated in "B. Fife's" comment.

First, what "B. Fife" does to each woman he encounters during the day is to strip them naked inside his head. Doing this provides him with a tremendous sense of power over each and every one of them. If they are unlucky, he will tell him how he does this in great detail. If he keeps his actions to himself, he is doing them a small favor. After doing this, he provides his personal evaluation on each women. Since a woman's worth to him is based on her sexual desirability, he assigns them grades on the pass/fail system.

A passing grade for "B. Fife" on his desirability scale would be an erection or perhaps, a smile of approval. A failing grade is a series of derogatory comments followed by a form of regurgitation response. Between the two, I am more than happy to be on the receiving end of an upchuck response.

His comments clearly stated that I was being graded on his scale of whether or not a woman is sexually desirable(and thus has a purpose in this world) and apparently I received a failing grade. Something for which I am very grateful. The "B. Fifes" of the world are not God's gift to this woman or any woman with self-respect.

Humor aside, it is a way that men of "B. Fife's" ilk grade each woman they encounter every day to exert power over them, as men. Law enforcement allows them many opportunities to do this. After all, the police department itself has stated that its officers have hundreds of contacts with members of the public each year.

"B. Fife" continues on this same track in his next post, by offering suggestions for me to follow in order to receive a passing grade next time.

Anonymous said...

Poor Mary.
I suggest a shower, shave and change of underwear.
It is obvious to me and many others that Mary what you need is a good " BANG "! (-:

Saturday, April 29, 2006 3:46:52 PM

This is a typical stock response by an emotionally immature man who has issues in terms of relating to women who exist for reasons not included on his "list". By the time most women enter adulthood, they have heard the adage, "All you need is a good fuck to be able to do this_________ or not be like this________(insert words of choice in the blanks). That is exactly what "B. Fife" is stating here. It is a response meant to embarrass, humiliate and intimidate women who are not acting in ways men like "B. Fife" view as appropriate and men like him try to stop that behavior in its tracks with sexual comments when tactics like cajoling, ultimatums and threats do not work.

Attitudes like those expressed by "B. Fife" here are one of the problems women have had to tackle in to survive as police officers in departments rife with a culture that in most cases, does not want them there. They have invaded turf which had been considered the sole domain of men and have entered into a club where they are not welcome. If men like "B. Fife" are what they have to deal with in the RPD, then it is no wonder their retention rate is so poor. The problem may not be so much that they do not know what they are in for(as has been suggested) but that they know exactly what they are in for.

Attitudes like those expressed by "B. Fife" here present obstacles to women who want to report crimes against them to police officers. When I asked women if they felt like reporting crimes like rape or domestic violence to someone like "B. Fife", all of them answered no, quite adamantly. Historically, women have been reluctant to report violent crimes like rape to police officers because of past and present sexist attitudes about women and rape voiced by law enforcement officers. Police agencies have worked hard to stem that tide and turn it in a more positive direction. Men like "B. Fife" do nothing but hinder those efforts, with their misogyny.

After all, who wants to report a crime of violence to someone who is a misogynist, even if most of the time that attitude is shut away in a closet? It is still in the room with him and the woman.

Finally, the thought of any woman having to turn to someone like "B. Fife" to report a violent crime that happened to her, because she was a woman is enough to make me want to throw up.

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