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, February 14, 2007

Louder than words: edicts and ethics

There was some interesting letters in the Press Enterprise's Readers' Forum about the ongoing war of words between the Riverside County District Attorney's office and the judges of the Riverside County Superior Court. Actually, as one person stated, it's a one-way battle because judges are more restricted in what they can say on issues than district attorneys who spent most of the past eight years or so outside of Riverside.

Readers' Forum

There's a particularly good letter by former prosecutor and current defense attorney Jeffrey A. Van Wagenen, Jr. who stated that both sides need to stop throwing potshots at each other and work together to address the issue.

(excerpt, letter)

...Our justice system works only so long as the people we serve have faith and confidence in us. The only thing that has been accomplished over the past few weeks is that we have caused doubt, dismay and distrust in those who need us.

If we would spend as much time trying to fix the problem as we spend trying to fix the blame, then maybe we could work together to begin to restore the public's confidence in all of us.

Now that this has been said, it may be time to deal with some of those "faith and confidence" issues.

The new ethics complaint process in Riverside got off to a rocky start when the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee heard its first complaint against a councilman, in this case Dom Betro. You can read about it here. Councilwoman Nancy Hart substituted in for Betro, not that it made much difference because the entire city council had already taken action against complainant Letitia Pepper at a city council meeting two weeks ago. It had essentially made its decision before being asked to make its decision.

Having not been a witness to the events in question, I found the DVD presentation of unconnected events at the city council meeting to be more confusing than illuminating. But the process that followed put that presentation to shame, in terms of not so much resembling an ethics complaint hearing, as a high school lunch room. In a sense, it's not about whether or not the complaint was sustained or unfounded, with merit or without merit, because that's a decision left to the committee to make under the current process. It was the process itself which should be open to input by city residents that showed obvious problems.

Instead of spending any real amount of time deliberating the evidence, all three council members, with Mayor Ron Loveridge wisely sitting this discussion out, just complained about the complainant. Her behavior was on trial, not Betro's. Which was interesting because they had complained about being questioned on their objectivity and then proceeded to show why those concerns were warranted, especially in terms of comments made by two council members afterwards.

Since the majority of those in community leadership positions who supported an ethics code and complaints process for good reason also support Betro politically, no questions will be raised about the process until it involves a complaint against Councilman Art Gage or Steve Adams or someone else they oppose and that's not really fair to those councilmen anymore than it is fair to give Betro a pass.

After viewing what was provided for evidence, I decided that though it would have been nice if Betro had taken a higher road and apologized for his comments like Councilman Ed Adkison usually does when he loses his temper in public and like Betro ordered police officers to serve as his personal bouncers. As for any action against him, it's probably not going to happen from the new quartet and it would pale next to the reality that Betro put a side of himself on cable television that day that is more politically damaging than any censure by a consensus city council could ever be. And it's interesting how often it is in the political arena that things work out that way. The Betro which used to be above this behavior is apparently a distant memory but often power does change people.

As for the Market Street development, which Press Enterprise reporter Doug Haberman appeared to explain or defend, it would be sensible to keep an eye on any property transactions that come out of that piece of land. Before Betro went retro, the sales of that property were allegedly supposed to be used to restock several other city funds which were never earmarked for developoment expenditures but have been tapped to fund the Riverside Renaissance. One such fund that was used to purchase businesses on Market Street through wide-spread eminent domain was the totally unrelated sewer fund, which alas, didn't have enough funds left after the purchase of those properties to actually be used to well, fund sewers. It makes you wonder if any city funded or invested account is safe from being used in the way it was never intended to be used. If I were in the position where any of that money had been set aside for my benefit, I would want to do an audit of any involved accounts to make sure all the money was still there.

While police union leaders are celebrating a judge's decision to keep the Berkeley Police Commission's hearings closed, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is doing the opposite and urging its disciplinary hearings to be reopened for its Office of Independent Review, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Sheriff, supervisors urge public hearings to be reopened

Baca's request was followed by support provided by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Michael Gennaco who heads the Office of Independent Review and his attorneys on staff have been barred from hearings, which he has said undermines his ability to perform the duties of his office.

(excerpt, article)

County Counsel Raymond G. Fortner Jr. said the California Supreme Court's ruling in Copley Press Inc. vs. Superior Court of San Diego County does not require the closure of commission hearings. He argued that attorneys from Gennaco's office already had "full and complete access" to Sheriff's Department personnel records and were professionally bound to keep such information confidential.

"There is, I respectfully submit, no basis for the exclusion of any attorneys for the county, whose duties and responsibilities involve them in the center of these proceedings," Fortner wrote.

Bob Baker, the president of the Los Angeles Police[Department] League issued the following press release which showed his disagreement with the county's view of Copley.


"On August 31, 2006, the California Supreme Court affirmed that peaceofficer have rights to have their personnel matters adjudicated in confidentiality. Holding open meetings regarding officers' personnel matters violates the statutory and contractual rights of the officers who are compelled to appear publicly at the inquiries. The court responded to convincing arguments on behalf of peace officers.

Peace officers, like other employees, have the right not to have their reputations dragged through the mud unnecessarily. And, as we have seen in the Officer Garcia case, these cases are often heavily politicized. The media and others seem to be compelled to use privatepersonnel information to sit in judgment on officers who have broken no laws or policies.

The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights wrote an article on its blog questioning the merits of the Copley decision.

Copley decision good for cops?


Now, the Police Officers Association wants us to believe that their focus is on maintaining the confidentiality of the police officers, and protecting them from publication of frivolous or unwarranted charges. That is one way to look at. Or one could look at this as a shield for those who continue to abuse their authority.

Are we asking to know the personal details of the officers’ records? No. We are merely asserting that if there are officers who have had disciplinary actions taken against them due to use of excessive force, then we have the right to know the names of these officers.

The debate continues, but even as various boards and commissions have been hit by turmoil in California, up in Tacoma, Washington, a new one was born when that city's council voted to implement its model created through ordinance at its Feb. 13 meeting.

The probe into the dumping of a paraplegic man on skid row in Los Angeles is widening as the city attorney's office begins its own investigation of the incident that shocked people around the world, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

A surveillance video showed representatives of Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center pushing a man on a stretcher at the Midnight Mission where they remained for several minutes before putting the man back in the ambulance. This led the city to believe that the hospital wasn't just leaving patients on skid row but transferring them there, which meant it was potentially violating federal laws.

Probe into dumping of paraplegic man continues

(excerpt, article)

Jeffrey B. Isaacs, head of the Los Angeles city attorney's criminal and special litigation branch, said he believes that the attempt to drop the man off by ambulance at the mission represents a violation of federal law because the patient did not meet basic discharge requirements.

"You cannot transfer a patient to an institution like the Midnight Mission," Isaacs said. "This seems to be a transfer, not a discharge. Based on initial information, he was in no shape to give any authorization."

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