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

Friday, January 26, 2007

Riverside County round and round

The Riveride County Sheriff's Department has promised that it will fully investigate a fatal officer-involved shooting involving a male motorist who hit a squad car after four officers shot him because he was heading towards them, according to the Press Enteprise. It was the first such shooting of the new year.

Riverside County Sheriff's Department investigates shooting


Deputies said they shot and killed Keith Watkins, 41, of Sun City, after he accelerated toward deputies and rammed a patrol car at the conclusion of a pursuit.

But Watkins' fiancée and family, who gathered Wednesday at the dead man's home, said they doubted the shooting was justified. Watkins' sister, Marion Watkins, of Hesperia, said she and her three siblings were considering filing a wrongful-death suit.

"They shot him so many times," said Watkins' fiancée Leilani Hollowell through steady weeping. "What's wrong with those people? If they're drunk, whatever the case may be, there's no reason to shoot somebody."

The Riverside coroner did not release information on how many bullets hit Watkins. Neighbors on the quiet cul-de-sac where he died reported hearing between 15 and 30 shots.

Sheriff's spokesman Gerald Franchville said doubt and questions about the shooting were natural.

"People are always going to have those questions, and that's why we investigate it so thoroughly," said Franchville. "To determine whether some who lost their life really had to."

The four deputies have been placed on administrative leave as is usually standard for shootings. Their experience levels ranged from very experienced to not so experienced.

More details about the shooting can be found here.

March Global Port, the company which manages operations at March Air Force Reserves Base is back in the news again because it is now facing 11 misdemeanor counts which have been filed by the Riverside County District Attorney's office alleging that its fuel storage site and the handling and storage of its material created a safety hazard that a representative from the Riverside County Fire Department called in the news article, "absolutely dangerous".


In a released statement, Senior Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Weissman said Global Port's failure to report releases or threatened releases of hazardous materials to authorities placed citizens at great risk.

"The addition of the actual risk of fire or explosion makes this situation even more dangerous," said Weissman, who specializes in the prosecution of environmental crimes.

Company officials said previously that the tanks have been drained and pose no threat.

Each misdemeanor conviction carries a $1 million fine and a year in jail. The operations surrounding the DHL company at the reserve base have been the focus of much controversy in Riverside since before it set up shop amid protests by residents living in the surrounding neighborhoods who were concerned about the increased noise produced by flights which would be leaving the base every night. Those concerns bore fruition and many residents in the Mission Grove and Orangecrest neighborhoods have taken to sleeping in shifts and wearing earplugs to cope with the situation.

Two major development projects by the city of Riverside have been thwarted by grass-roots campaigns launched by two separate neighborhoods as detailed in Dan Bernstein's column in the Press Enterprise that was published on the day of Mayor Ron Loveridge's annual state of address.

Two on the Town

The first involves this story about the decision of developers trying to build a large fleet of high-priced houses on hills overlooking La Sierra not to appeal a judge's decision against them. A group of concerned city residents calling themselves Friends of the Hills had sued the city stating that this project violated two growth-control measures passed by city voters. Last year, a Riverside County Superior Court judge agreed and issued a major ruling in their favor. While the city and developers have arsenals of lawyers available at their disposal, this organization held regular rummage and yard sales to pay the fees charged by its attorney. And three of its members, Yolanda Garland, Terry Frizzel and Mary Humboldt appear regularly at city council to speak on this issue. Several weeks ago, Garland received one of those letters from City Attorney Gregory Priamos that she had disobeyed the city council and if she did it again, she would be facing arrest.

The other battlefront was Tequesquite Park which was part of a land swap proposed as part of the new Riverside Renaissance project. This componant of the city's newest five-year development plan was easily its most controversial.

Originally, the city council appeared to support the land swap involving this park and wetlands property adjacent to Fairmount Park which was necessary because the city wanted to develop Tesquesquite Park and in order to do so, it had to come up with equal acreage of park land to take its place. Tesquesquite Park would eventually be sold to a private developer and profits from the land sale would be then pumped back into the Riverside Renaissance project.

Residents from several neighborhoods protested this action and launched a unrelenting letter campaign in the Press Enterprise's readers' forum and spoke at several city council meetings on the issue.

Downtown councilman, Dom Betro met with these community members and groups hoping to find a compromise but that didn't happen and it being an election year, Betro had to do something about it so he came up with the new Betro plan. All he had to do was sell it to the rest of the city council and no one is sure how that happened but it did. On Tuesday night, the news was broken that the city will now have two new parks, Tesquesquite Park and the wetlands adjacent to Fairmount Park and Betro dodged an election year bullet. The question is, given that city government is often run on quid pro quo, at what price?

I heard the news that last week city council heroine Marjorie Van Poule, an 89-year-old city resident had also received a letter from Priamos stating that she could be facing arrest for disobeying a city council member, in this case probably her own councilman, Steve Adams. Adams who faces a tough reelection bid largely due to his failed efforts to seek higher office up in Sacramento in the middle of his term is obviously getting his campaign effort off to a good start.

Van Poule has been very vocal about changes made to public participation by community members at city council meetings that were passed in late 2005, including a decision to not allow city residents to pull items off of the consent calendars. Since that action passed, the number of consent items on weekly agendas has greatly increased while the number of discussion items on the same agendas has fallen.

Casa Blanca was the location of a series of raids by the police department this week, according to comments made by Sgt. Ken Banks in the Press Enterprise where weapons and drug paraphernalia was found. Banks rationalized that people in a community should not be afraid to be out in their front yards and I agree with that on all different fronts, having lived in a neighborhood for years where it was difficult to even feel safe in your home.

Jennie Rivera, a long-time community leader in Casa Blanca appeared this week before the beleagured Community Police Review Commission on behalf of one of her sons who is mentally challenged, having been diagnosed with schizophrenia. She had circulated photographs she had taken of her son's battered face that she had taken after his release from a three-day stint in jail without his medications. Apparently, medical aid had been called by the involved police officers to stop the bleeding from a laceration over his left eyebrow and the emergency medical technicians had a difficult time doing so.

On the day it happened which was Dec. 14, her son had gone out to pick up his nieces at a local school and bring them home as he routinely did, but he had disappeared and it took hours for his worried family members to learn what had happened to him. When they finally did, they became much more concerned.

All her son remembered was being hit by what he described as a long object that hit him causing him to see stars and that there were a number of police officers present. When Jennie had told one of the involved officers at a neighborhood meeting that her son had been mentally ill, he had told her he didn't know that and if he were, then he should not be allowed to be outside without an escort. He's absolutely right only it appears that he and his colleagues may be the ones who actually showed why that is necessary. If it's indeed true that those who are mentally ill and their families have an additional reason to be concerned if they leave their houses, something should be done about that.

Jennie like others including one tireless activist, Christina Duran have asked questions in different venues about whether or not the police department is planning to implement new mental health training for its police officers. Soon after, Duran received a letter from Police Chief Russ Leach that she wasn't being invited back on his advisory board which had undergone its twice-annual vetting process to "cycle" community leaders on and off of it. She recovered from that setback and still asks these questions as part of the 99.99999% of the population of this city that doesn't get invited to participate on advsiory boards or ad-hoc committees.

At the public safety committee meeting, Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis attached at the end of his powerpoint on the major changes being made to the CPRC that the city realized after a "series of incidents" that it needed to implement mental health training. When questions were asked about that training, Adams said that it had nothing to do with what was on the agenda and then gave a speech on the mentally ill and the police which could provide some explanation as to why during the years he served on the police force, there were many officer-involved shootings in an agency that is smaller than it is today. One lieutenant at a recent meeting of Cops and Clergy meeting said that when he had first arrived at the police department after a stint in an even smaller law enforcement agency in the 1980s, that there were seven officer-involved shootings in as many months.

People who say silence is golden have never met Adams.

Leach spoke up and said there was no definite timeline on the mental health training which seems to be close to the co-partner model implemented by the Los Angeles Police Department and San Diego County where law enforcement officers and mental health professionals team. DeSantis had said that a meeting was planned involving the department, the fire department, American Medical Response and various county agencies to move this training forward.

Leach mentioned that the department had "stumbled" through this process in the past couple of months because they had been going in a different direction. Indeed the department's focus on this issue during the past six months has ebbed and flowed and stalled. Initially, the department had appeared interested in utilizing a crisis intervention team model and utilizing a mental health organization in Ohio which has trained police officers from different agencies in Ohio including one in Cincinnati. This latest announcement indicates a deviation from that path, perhaps that was what was the reason for Leach's reference to "cookie cutter" training. But then the crisis intervention team model has always been subjected to more resistance from law enforcement agencies than other models even though it is fast-growing in terms of its prevalence.

Hopefully, there will be an update on the development of this new training at the next quarterly progress report of the department's implementation of the Strategic Plan whenever that will be.

It remains to be seen what will work, what will actually be implemented and when, but is very much hoped by many people that this training program will be created and implemented by the department. In part, so that the concerns of Jennie and other families of mentally ill, medically ill or mentally challenged individuals are alleviated.

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