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

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Canary in the mine: The CPRC meets

Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis' proposed changes to the Riverside Community Police Review Commission were taken to the commissioners themselves at their general meeting today. They didn't appear much more impressed with his powerpoint presentation than community members were when presented with it at Monday's public safety committee meeting. It's not like either the commissioners or community members were invited to be involved with or even informed about the efforts made by both the city manager's office and the police department to micromanage the CPRC.

But first some community leaders spoke on the issue.

Former CPRC commissioner and retired police chief, Bill Howe told the commission, DeSantis, City Attorney Gregory Priamos and interim executive director, Mario Lara that he believed that Pedro Payne, the former executive director was an intelligent, hard-working individual who had loved his job very much.

"His resignation shocked me," Howe said, of the man who he had personally trained to do the job, "I do not believe he resigned of his own free will."

After what had happened to Payne in the last few months including the decision by DeSantis and City Manager Brad Hudson to ban him from public outreach, few people do. Howe said that Payne was not allowed to even attend community meetings on his own time, which he believed was a violation of his civil rights.

Even fewer people believed DeSantis when during his presentation, he said that he realized the voters in Riverside had placed the CPRC in the city's charter and that it holds a "special degree of respect". One of those who didn't, was Howe.

Howe criticized the direction that the city was taking with the CPRC because it was detrimental not only to the commissioners but to community members. Howe also challenged the city on its decision to stop the CPRC from using private investigators from the Baker Street Group in San Diego County, explaining that it had done so to utilize investigators who were not personally or professionally connected with Riverside to avoid any potential bias or conflict of interest. The decision to delay sending the CPRC's investigators to interview witnesses of officer-involved deaths for three to six months or longer was not acceptable in his opinion because during that time, witnesses could move out of the area and might not be able to be contacted by the CPRC. He added that in some cases, it had taken a year for investigations to be completed by the police department.

Howe also reminded both the commissioners and city employees present at the meeting of one thing. Well, two things.

"This was put in the charter by the voters," Howe said, "The city is going to do its best to get rid of the commission one way or another."

Rev. Paul Mumford, from New Joy Baptist Church had served on the Mayor's Use of Force Panel in 1999, when that panel came up with a list of recommendations including one to create an ad-hoc committee that would research various forms of civilian oversight and come up with a recommendation of a model to implement in Riverside.

Mumford told the commission that it was ridiculous to ban Payne from talking to community groups. He reminded them that after the officer-involved shooting of Tyisha Miller in 1998, there had been much upheaval in the community.

"The commission was born out of that situation," he said.

Mumford echoed Howe's words and said that if the commission is just there for window dressing and appeasement then there was no point in having one. But the community will have a voice, Mumford said, and it believed that having an accountability arm from the community was necessary to keep the police accountable to that community even if they didn't like it.

"Someone is trying to stir the pot," Mumford said, "And see how far you can go without accountability. "

Deborah Wong who chairs the Riverside Coalition of Police Accountability said she felt the latest chain of events created a "very delicate period for the CPRC" and asked that no major policy changes be made involving the commission until a permanent executive director was hired. Though she added that she felt Payne had been "pushed out of his position".

Vickie Jackson said that she was very, very disappointed by the way the commission was going and surprised that at a meeting she had attended in November, the commissioners had not been aware that Payne had been banned from doing outreach. She reminded the commissioners that Payne was yet another person of color working at City Hall who had been run out of his job by the city and that it disgusted her as a "minority who worked for the city" to see what was happening.

"Dr. Payne had the experience. He had the education. He had the dedication," Jackson said.

Payne was also Black, and two other Black employees, former interim asst. city manager, Jim Smith and former director of housing and community development Tranda Drumwright had been demoted and fired respectively already on City Manager Brad Hudson's and DeSantis' watch.

DeSantis fumed for the entire public comment period and City Attorney Gregory Priamos, who was making his CPRC meeting debut served mainly to give Commissioner Jim Ward, a primer on the Brown Act after Ward asked why an item he had requested to be placed on the agenda was rejected by Lara. Ward had wanted the commission to discuss the chain of events that had occurred over the holidays including the resignation of Payne. However, he had been informed by Lara just before the meeting that his item had been rejected and instead, Lara had the powerpoint presentation of his boss, DeSantis on the agenda.

At that point, Priamos scooted up to seat himself at the table in front of the commission to explain Lara's actions in a way he had never done for Payne by telling the commission that Ward's agenda item had been "too broad" and had been "20 words or less". Priamos added that he had told Ward to be make his agenda request more specific. What Lara showed at his first meeting is how difficult it is for an executive director to have two employers, the commission and DeSantis, and Lara clearly knows which side his bread is buttered on.

Few commissioners besides Ward commented on the proposed changes presented by DeSantis. Brian Pearcy, the chair of the Outreach Committee which has seen the most attritition lately said that he had been disturbed when he first found out that the city put the muzzle on Payne in terms of banning him from doing outreach. He backed the assertion that the commission needed to have its own investigator involved in officer-death cases from day one.

"We need to make sure our investigator is there when the tape is down," Pearcy said.

Pearcy added that it used to be that only police investigators were at the scenes of officer-involved deaths but that changed with the addition of officers performing administrative investigations, city attorneys and district attorneys being called on to show up. But Pearcy said that the commission had to look at the situation despite its misgivings as a "positive opportunity".

Chair Les Davidson spoke up in part to tabulate how many private meetings he and other commissioners had attended with DeSantis, Hudson, Chief Russ Leach and other city employees and said there had only been two such meetings. This was in response to Howe's contention that Davidson's vice-chair Ward had been excluded from at least one meeting.

The commission faces these latest challenges as it prepares to replace outgoing commissioner, Bob Garcia who is terming out and Bonavita Quinto who decided not accept a reappointment to a second term, a decision that surprised many people with its apparent suddeness. They face a potential weakening of their powers, as a community watches.

To be continued...

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