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, January 02, 2007

Another scepter changes hands

Press Enterprise columnist Dan Bernstein used to call him the "Handsome D.A."

He has been in power longer than one generation has lived. But the era of Grover Trask, Riverside County District Attorney ends today, when his successor Rod Pacheco is sworn in to office, ending Trask's 20 + year reign. The Press Enterprise published a retrospective of Trask's career here focusing mostly on its highlights.

District attorneys in neighboring counties threw their accolades in Trask's decision also but then they are a fraternal bunch.


San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos used the same word as Cooley to describe Trask -- mentor. Ramos said he sought Trask's advice before his office decided to charge former San Bernardino County sheriff's Deputy Ivory J. Webb Jr. in the shooting of Elio Carrion, an unarmed passenger in a car that Webb had been chasing.

"I went to him for advice about when to file a case on a peace officer, and it was a tremendous help to me," Ramos said.

Not that any prosecutor under Trask's leadership has had any actual experience prosecuting law enforcement officers for onduty behavior involving fatal shootings. What's interesting is that in Riverside County there was a shooting that was similar to that of Carrion in that an individual was shot and in this case killed after apparently obeying an officer's command. Oh what a difference a video makes and a county too.

In 2001, Dante Meniefield, who was African-American was shot and killed in an abandoned apartment in Moreno Valley after Deputy Robert Marks told him to raise his hands. After he raised them higher, Marks shot him striking him in the head. Marks was not charged for this shooting by Riverside's District Attorney's office.

The only indictment against a law enforcement officer which came out of Trask's office for a fatal shooting was in the case of one of his own employees, Daniel Riter, an investigator. However, that case was prosecuted by the State Attorney General's office and Riter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, a lessor offense, and sentenced to seven years in state prison. The Court of Appeals took his appeal under submission in 2005.

Supposedly, the District Attorney's office does its own independent investigation of onduty shootings, meaning that it does not simply rely on the analysis and case product of the involved law enforcement agencies which are given the task of investigating their own. On paper, that makes sense, but are these inquiries actually independent?

At a public forum that centered on the officer-involved shooting of Douglas Steven Cloud by two Riverside Police Department officers, local attorney Andrew Roth who was a panelist said that no independent investigation was conducted by the District Attorney's office. What he explained sounded similar to how the RPD's Internal Affairs Division conducts its "investigations" of officer-involved deaths. In that another agency or agency's division does the actual leg work and then that work product is subjected to an administrative review.

Even though departmental policy 4.8 clearly states that the police department's internal affairs division is supposed to do its own independent investigation, it instead conducts an administrative review relying almost entirely on the case product from the department's criminal inquiry. The Community Police Review Commission noted this in several of its own investigations of fatal incidents and recommended that this division either follow the department's policy or the department should rewrite its policy to reflect the current reality. That recommendation was submitted by the CPRC twice.

Interesting that a division can not abide by a departmental policy in its own operations yet one of its reasons for existing is to investigate police officers for possible violations of departmental policy along with other misconduct. The police department has yet to implement the CPRC's recommendations but then again, it has implemented only about half of all submitted recommendations, a record which is somewhat better but not a whole lot better than it had with the CPRC's predecessor, LEPAC.

Yet, there is still this insistance that the District Attorney's office investigates fatal officer-involved shootings as a separate entity.

Once, I listened to a diatribe on police officers and sheriff deputies in this county who ran around like young cowboys shooting people, law enforcement officers who were "out of control". The interesting thing about these statements is that they were actually made by an employee inside the District Attorney's office who plays a role in said investigations. Another senior prosecutor occasionally would ask me what I thought of this or that officer-involved shooting and had told me which one he believed was the most egregious one so far, one that was conducted by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department in one of its contract cities.

Yet despite these sentiments, this office has yet to file any criminal charges against a law enforcement officer involved in a fatal onduty shooting and probably never will. Maybe these individuals are frustrated by that, though probably not as much as many of the people in this county especially African-Americans and Latinos who have watched members of their communities get shot and killed while unconscious inside their cars, or with their hands up or told that someone had died in police custody from drug-related positional asphyxia when the autopsy shows that every bone in the man's face and neck was either broken or dislocated.

Trask's office would tread cautiously in the prosecutions of other police officers committing misconduct including on and off-duty assaults and batteries. Officers who would receive misdemeanor charges and very little or no jail time for those types of crimes from the Riverside Police Department would include Phillip Graham, Tommie Sykes, Robert Mager, Michael Collins and Aaron Perkins.

At a press conference in an undisclosed location in May 1999, Trask said that his office would not file criminal charges against the four police officers who shot and killed Tyisha Miller, hitting her 12 times while she lay inside a car. No one can remember exactly what his reasons were in great detail, but everyone remembers Trask or at least one of his underlings saying that it was a close call. That was even before the office received information that an RPD officer had overheard racist comments being made at the scene of the shooting and later at the police station. Trask did send his concerns about "racial animus" up to State Attorney General Bill Lockyer who would eventually launch a patterns and practices investigation of the police department. The rest as they say, is history.

If an act of violence was committed by any other White individuals against a person of color in which racist language was used about and against that person, then these individuals responsible for this behavior would face criminal charges with hate crime enhancements attached. Law enforcement officers apparently are exempt. Many people felt what the officers did to Miller was essentially a hate crime and the decision of over 200 RPD officers to shave their heads to protest of the firings of the involved officers merely added fuel to that sentiment.

In Savannah, Georgia, there is much agonizing and hand wringing over its decision to hire former Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief, Michael Berkow, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Pass out the aspirin in Georgia is one solution and no doubt, LAPD chief, William Bratton has a large stash of it.

Locals and city officials in Savannah are talking about what's been in the news 3,000 miles away.


"I was really excited — his resume seemed really good," said Gary Hall, 50, the owner of a cafe in the city's historic district. "Now look at all of his problems."

"We have great expectations for what this chief can do for us," said R.E. Abolt, the Chatham County manager. "But there's this passion not to lose focus. The rest of this seems almost like a sideshow."

For those who don't know, Berkow is the subject of at least one investigation and several law suits alleging both racial discrimination and gender discrimination while he was heading the department's Internal Affairs Division. I guess with at least two internal affairs divisions in two different departments on two different issues, it's do as I say, not as I do.


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