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, February 09, 2007

Abuse of Power: Crimes against women

The Los Angeles Times published an article about the latest scandal to hit Inglewood's police department here. About a half-dozen police officers have been placed under investigation for sexual misconduct at a massage parlor and other local businesses. This internal investigation began after a federal probe of a money laundering and prostitution ring was initiated and discovered that law enforcement officers may have been involved.

Ledgers were uncovered which listed the names of people and the prices they paid for sexual favors. Police officers were included in those lists albeit for having received free services probably so they would look the other way. Some of those officers are still in Inglewood but others had retired or lateraled to other law enforcement agencies. Hopefully those agencies have been notified that there is a problem with some of their new employees.

The investigation may include supervising officers as well to see if they were complicit. What will probably happen is that a few scapegoats might get selected for punishment and the department will minimize the scandal to reduce its risk of financial liability. After sitting through six weeks of the trial involving Officer Roger Sutton's discrimination law suit, it was amazing to learn of the marriage that apparently exists between law enforcement and risk management.

The department is also investigating rape allegations made by a woman who was stopped by two police officers.


In that incident, which is also under investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, a 23-year-old woman alleged that the officers confronted her on Century Boulevard on a Sunday night as she left her hotel to have dinner at a fast-food restaurant. The thoroughfare has pockets that have long been known for prostitution.

The woman, who has said she was in town with her boyfriend to visit her mother for the holidays, alleged that the officers accused her of being a prostitute and demanded that she take them back to her hotel to prove she was not a streetwalker.

At the hotel, according to her attorney, the night manager verified that the woman was from Florida and a registered guest at the hotel. But one officer insisted that she take him to her room while the other officer waited by the patrol car, attorney Dylan Pollard said.

It was there, the woman has said, that she was raped.

Unfortunately, incidents like the ones listed above are apparently not uncommon in law enforcement agencies. Even in Riverside, there were female sex workers who came to community meetings that took place in 1999 and told of how they had been coerced to perform sexual favors involving police officers in lieu of arrest. It's not known whether they took their allegations to the police department and if they had, what response they would have received. Hopefully, one consent decree later, things have changed on that front.

But it all comes down to how much officers in this and other department are willing to report misconduct done by other officers that they may work closely with and depend on for their own safety and how willing supervisors are to not only do their jobs, but also follow through on reports of misconduct they receive from both police officers and other people. What built in protections exist for police officers who report misconduct so they aren't the ones who pay the price for what they saw or heard? Unfortunately, it's not enough for victims to report it as long as the current police culture is in place, because most often, they aren't believed by members of a profession that tend to think these problems do not exist within their ranks.

I guess when it comes to whether or not police officers commit these crimes, the public is supposed to be skeptical that they could do such a thing, but members of this profession do indeed commit these types of crimes. And besides, after an incident I witnessed in the early 1990s involving a Riverside Police Department officer and a woman he had callously shoved out of the driver's side door of his squad car before speeding off after he saw me, it's very difficult to be in the group of doubters. It took me awhile to go from thinking, why can't a man like that get it for free to realizing what it was that he had really done, which was to thoroughly abuse his authority and power as a police officer because not only did he want to, but he could. Unfortunately, this form of abuse and criminal behavior is not nearly rare as it should be in a profession set up purportedly to fight against crime including crime against women.

Other nearby law enforcement agencies including San Bernardino Police Department and the Riverside County Sheriff's Department have had employees prosecuted for rape under the color of authority.

San Bernardino Police Department officer Ronald Vanrossum received 34 years in state prison after pleading guilty to raping about a dozen women during his career. His punishment marks him as an anomaly in the profession.

The following are or were employed by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department when the alleged incidents occurred in recent years.

John Wayne Leseberg

David Kushner

Jeffrey Keith Sanders

John William Burns, Joseph Francis Bessette

The Sheriff's Department is a fairly large agency that employs several thousand deputies both in the jails and in the field. So it's not surprising that a cluster of them would be under investigation for allegations of criminal behavior. Is this law enforcement agency one that experiences more problems than others who have few or no officers facing similar charges? That's not clear but one interesting thing about the cases involving this agency is that many of them whether they involved deputies who allegedly beat inmates in jail or forced women to perform sexual acts on them, were reported by other employees in that agency. Maybe that's the real difference, maybe not.

I attended part of the preliminary hearing involving Kushner who was alleged to have forced several women to perform oral sex on him inside his squad car and was facing numerous felony charges. The women who testified had already been labeled in the media through Kushner's defense attorney as opportunistic liars, but when they testified, most of them broke down on the stand or afterwards, obviously distraught. One woman walked off the witness stand, sobbing and refusing to listen to the pleas of her assigned vicitm-witness representative who trailed behind her.

And Kushner sat there cocky as he had been walking through the area outside the courthouse sizing up every woman he came across. He has reason to be, because if he's indeed guilty, he probably won't face any repercussions for his actions.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Christian F. Thierbach pushed the case to trial, saying that although he doubted the veracity of some of the testimony he had heard, he believed several witnesses. And it comes down to whether or not the women are believed against the words of the officer involved who often receives the benefit of the doubt based on his membership in the law enforcement profession. The vast majority of women who come forward with these allegations are women with criminal records either in terms of drug use or prostitution. Often, this is used against them by lawyers for these officers who say they are lying to avoid arrest. There are likely cases where that might be true, but it's also possible that police officers target these women because they come in frequent contact with them and they understand that if these women were to complain, they would be disbelieved, which is often the case.

After all, most of the time when law enforcement officers do face penalities for crimes of rape under the color of authority, it's when the women they target do not have criminal records. Then they are quick to realize that they are in trouble.

In his case, there was a deputy who had witnessed Kushner inside his squad car with one of the woman. That deputy had not testified during the preliminary hearing. Hopefully, he still has a career left in a profession that punishes those who breach the wall. Others who have come forward have not been so lucky.

The story of the paraplegic man who was dumped by a local hospital at skid row continued, with Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center conducting its own investigation, as stated in this morning's Los Angeles Times.

Not surprisingly, its account differs with what was accounted by witnesses to the incident on Feb. 1. More surprisingly, the hospital has hired a firm to help it deal with the incident and that firm is Sitrick and Co. the very same firm that the city of Riverside hired in 1999 to help its elected officials communicate with the media about the shooting of Tyisha Miller.

Hospital's version of dumping man conflicts with witnesses


[Hospital spokesman Dan]Springer said the hospital's preliminary investigation showed that a hospital ambulance had tried to take the man early in the morning to the Midnight Mission, which he had listed on hospital forms as his home address. But Springer said the ambulance was turned away because there was no room at the mission.

The man was returned to the hospital's emergency room, Springer said; after a shift change, new personnel tried to take the man to his listed address in the van. Springer said he did not know whether those personnel knew of the previous attempt or that the address was a mission. But Springer said that on the second attempt, when the van neared the mission, the man "asked the driver to open the door and let him out….

He assured the driver that his wheelchair was at his home and that he could propel himself to his home from the park."

The Los Angeles Police Department said that the man had said that he had no where else to go and couldn't stay in the hospital. The Midnight Mission also disputed part of the hospital's story and said that its own surveillance tapes proved differently.

The City Attorney's office is investigating both this incident and other previous ones involving the same hospital.


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