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, July 04, 2008

The summer schedule begins

Mt. Rubidoux was lit on fire by fireworks again on the Fourth of July. Fortunately, the fire was put out and the fireworks show was delayed only about 30 minutes.

The Riverside City Council begins its summer schedule with a meeting taking place this Tuesday on July 8. This week's agenda looks sparse, so the meeting should clock in at under two hours leaving city residents and elected officials with enough time to hit the watering holes and feeding spots.

Unfortunately, the city's site is down in terms of allowing visitors to access the reports on each agenda item. Instead, people are getting error messages stating that the storage capability has been exceeded. That's been a problem during the weekend on other occasions as well. The consequence being that the city residents can't access any information provided by the city about the items its elected officials will be voting on either individually or collectively. Hopefully, someone at City Hall will notice and this problem will be fixed as quickly as possible.

Earlier in the meeting day, the city council will discuss the law suit filed by the family of Terry Rabb, a man who died in police custody in 2005. The police officers had responded to a 911 phone call that Rabb was experiencing a hypoglycemic reaction. The city has settled at least two wrongful death lawsuits and is about to close off on a third. It's likely that the Rabb lawsuits will be settled as well, another in a line of settlements in the midst of exonerated findings for the officers involved in these incidents.

The officers involved in the deaths of Summer Lane, Lee Deante Brown and Douglas Steven Cloud have been or will be exonerated while the city pays out settlements totaling around $1.5 million not counting litigation expenses. As far as settling cases to avoid the expenses and hassles of litigation? It's not likely that any municipality would pay $800,000 (as happened in Cloud) to avoid anything but a higher pay day in court. The Cloud case brought written promise of changes along with the settlement including allegedly using the incident as a way not to do business. If that's so and that's to be done, where are all the exonerated findings (which the CPRC will provide at the end of its process on Cloud) coming from? Are there any issues that are going unaddressed?

The city manager is also undergoing a performance evaluation. And don't be surprised if even in these fiscally difficult times, someone gets a raise. After the brilliant handling of the police department's staffing woes, maybe the city government will think he deserves one.

There's also that job opening in Riverside County to worry about, even though Hudson didn't file a job application by the deadline. Did he file a job application for the city manager job either? His strategy is to wait until the people looking to fill the position come to him and it's not a bad one at that.

More discussion of what's up with the Community Police Review Commission which under the management of City Manager Brad Hudson and his subordinates has not been doing very well. That shouldn't be surprising considering the wealth of experience the staff of the city manager's office have brought to Riverside's form of civilian oversight in terms of directing the panel to run well. This office along with input from the management of the Riverside Police Department, the City Attorney's office and some say, some members of the city council has instituted various changes to the board which have diluted it and rendered it in a state where it can't really do all that much.

The city manager's office never asked the community for input on the process or in terms of any of its changes. In fact that office appears pained whenever that word, "community" is brought up but then again, quite a few of the current commissioners have the same expressions on their faces when that pesky word comes up in comments or discussion. The eight-year-old commission has put such a large barrier between itself and the community it purportedly serves and the communities its members purportedly represent in a rather short span of time.

Rule changes in how meetings are conducted are done without even being placed on the agenda ahead of time for a proper discussion. Instead of putting an agenda item which states something like "discuss meeting proceeding", the commission instead takes a completely unrelated agenda item such as an officer-involved death and uses that item to pass motions which inhibit community members including relatives of the deceased people whose deaths the commission is investigating from being able to participate in a meaningful way.

People attend one meeting and don't come back because the environment is cold, unfriendly and adversarial to them which is interesting because these same comments were often said about the police complaint process in the days and years preceding civilian review. The commissioners ignore them especially those who are new while chatting and joking around with police representatives. Which presents the perception that commissioners are biased in favor of the police department. It's interesting that the commissioners aren't nearly as worried about the perception of such bias that the community might be picking up as they are about any inkling that the police department or city might perceive them as being biased against the department.

Sometimes they don't even stay for the entire meeting. But when you stack a board with people with political connections to elected officials, what do you think you're going to get? A group of people afraid to do or say anything that might jeopardize future aspirations and current positions. The only one who doesn't seem to be afraid, is Jim Ward.

As part of a continuing series, there will be some discussion of the CPRC's powers granted to it first through ordinance in 2000 and the city charter beginning in 2005.

Exercise the power of subpoena to require the attendance of witnesses, including persons employed by the City of Riverside and the production of books and papers pertinent to the investigation and to administer oaths to such witnesses a and to take testimony to the extent permissible by law. Subpoenas shall only be issued by the commission upon the affirmative vote of six commission members.

This is commonly cited as one of the most important “powers” of the CPRC when included in the ordinance and again when the charter was amended to include the CPRC.

According to the City Charter, the city council can assign subpoena powers to any of the boards and commissions as it sees fit. This charter provision was challenged in threatened litigation by the city against the department when one of its officers refused to comply with the full terms of a subpoena issued by the CPRC in the autumn of 2004. The RPOA had alleged that the subpoena was invalid because the CPRC did not have the legal power to issue it but it ultimately backed down.

The issue of whether or not a commission should be granted subpoena power is an old one in Riverside. In the 1980s, the Human Relations Commission created LEPAC which was to serve as an advisory body to the police department mainly on policy issues. However, the commission while chaired by Mary Figueroa wanted to have subpoena power so it went to the City Council which refused to grant it to LEPAC or the HRC. That caused a great deal of frustration on the side of the HRC and the communities, which never really went away. Because it didn’t, that is one reason why the power to issue subpoenas was included in the language drafted to create the original ordinance establishing the CPRC in 2000.

The only language regarding the issue of subpoena power in the charter and the commission’s By-Laws and Policies and Procedures addresses who and what can be subpoenaed by the commission, who ultimately serves it and that a two-thirds majority or greater is required by vote for such issuance. In practical terms, the reality of issuing a subpoena turned out to be more complicated because there was no consideration or discussion about how to proceed with obtaining a statement, voluntary or compelled (to the extent of a subpoena) from a law enforcement officer either as the officer involved in a complaint or officer-involved death.

The one example which exemplified both the strengths and weaknesses of the subpoena power as it had been envisioned occurred during the CPRC’s review of the 2003 fatal officer-involved shooting of Volne Lamont Stokes. That situation was created when it became clear in part through litigation filed by the RPOA against the city in late 2003 (RPOA v the City of Riverside), that Officer Tina Gould did not provide a voluntary statement to the Officer-Involved Shooting Team but had been ordered to report to the Internal Affairs Office to provide a compelled one.

The lack of voluntary statement by Gould left the CPRC in a dilemma while it was attempting to draft a public report on the Stokes shooting. The commissioners said it was difficult to do so without hearing the perspective of one of the officers who shot Stokes. There was a lot of uncertainty about how to go about initiating contact with Gould to get that perspective through a voluntary statement. Should they initiate it in writing? Through a phone call? Who should they contact? And if she did agree to appear, under what circumstances should she provide her perspective?

Gould either didn’t respond or declined the initial requests for her to provide information. The commission ultimately voted 8-0 with one abstention to subpoena Gould to appear before the commission. One issue that arose with the subpoena is that it brought up the issue of voluntary vs. compelled statements and the legal circumstances defining both which are very different.

Gould appeared with the RPOA attorney, Michael Lackie but refused to be sworn in, which meant that she had not complied with the terms of the subpoena, not just in terms of the commission’s interpretation of that but also that of the department and ultimately the City Council.

The city stumbled in a sense further with the police chief ordering Gould to appear or face severe discipline and then saying that these situations involving officers subpoenaed to appear before the commission would be handled on a “case by case” basis. The RPOA then threatened to sue on the validity of the subpoena (which probably wouldn’t have succeeded) and the City Council vowed to go to court to get Gould contempt of court sanctions for not completely complying with the subpoena.

Gould ultimately appeared in December 2004 and was sworn in but with her attorney alongside her, took the Fifth Amendment which she had the right to do for a voluntary statement in a public forum. The subpoena can compel an appearance by a law enforcement officer to appear before an oversight body such as the CPRC but it can’t compel an officer to answer questions because the situations in which that can be done are very limited. In addition, in a public setting giving a voluntary statement, an officer is not protected from self-incrimination in the same matter they would be in an administrative interview so there’s that consideration. When officers are hired, they are informed of what is expected of them if they are compelled to provide a statement as part of an administrative investigation but it’s not clear that they are informed of what is required of them when they are requested or subpoenaed to appear before the CPRC or whether there’s any agreement among the involved parties on how to handle this situation when it does arise.

So it was a stalemate for the CPRC.

This wasn’t the appropriate way to handle this situation which brought many issues to the surface during this process. It wasn’t fair to the commission, the community which was concerned about the Stokes’ case and not to Gould to have to serve as the first “test case” in a process that nobody really appeared to put any real thought into in terms of how it would work out when it stepped off the ordinance and into a real situation.

It would have been much better, more efficient and more useful to have developed a process including a policy for the process of receiving testimony or other information from an officer that is separate of any statements received as part of the department’s own investigations. For one thing, that would reduce the difficulty experienced by all parties involved and another, if you have a particularly aggressive police union leadership in place, it might help limit the threat of civil litigation and other threats. It might also reduce the level of distrust and fear that officers have against the process.

Another complication that occurred was that it’s not clear whether or not there are any agreements or MOUs between the city and the RPOA or the RPAA regarding the issue of how officers are supposed to respond to requests for voluntary appearances and statements and compelled appearances or statements from the CPRC. This might address the questions of whether or not officers could respond to answer questions in substantive ways and if so, in what form and setting. This argument of course is academic at best because the commission in 2008 wouldn't have had the courage to even vote to issue the subpoena that a different commission did in 2004.

These issues and problems have complicated the situation involving subpoena power in other jurisdictions.

The subpoena process for books, documents and forms of electronic media has never been done. Hopefully, there’s a process set in place to follow if that ever takes place.

The subpoena issue came up during another officer-involved death case but after one commissioner said, it was basically no use to do it, it was quickly dropped. I don’t believe that this is a good reason to not pursue this avenue. I do not believe that subpoenas should be sought unless it’s necessary and other avenues have been exhausted but there needs to be a process in place that commissioners have faith in so that their decision whether or not to seek a subpoena is based on whether or not its factually necessary rather than the process itself.

This is one of several examples of a process that appeared to be thought out after or while it was being applied for the first time to a real-life case as well as being communicated to the public in terms of what the process actually was, after or while it was being used for the first time.

It was also the first and only time the City Attorney’s office appointed outside counsel (from Best, Best and Krieger which doesn't seem all that "outside") to represent the commission while the process of subpoenaing Gould was playing out.

From Belo Blog, is information about the funeral arrangements for Rubidoux activist, Eddie Dee Smith. She died last week at the age of 99.

A viewing will be held on July 8 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church which is located at 5476 34th St. in Rubidoux.

The funeral will be held July 9 at 11 a.m. at Park Avenue Baptist Church, 1910 Martin Luther King Boulevard in Riverside. Following the ceremony, Mrs. Smith will be interred at Green Acres Memorial Park in Bloomington, where her husband is buried.

A reception will be held at 2 p.m. at the Eddie Dee Smith Senior Center, 5888 Mission Blvd.

Riverside County is once again showing its extraordinary commitment to public transportation by cutting bus lines.


Many of the failing routes don't attract enough riders because they don't go to the right places or don't offer a timely return trip, said Nick Ventrone, 29, of Temecula. He said many restaurant and retail employees cannot take weekend bus routes because by the time they leave work, there are no buses in service.

"It is impossible for someone working noon to 8 o'clock to use it," Ventrone said. Ventrone, a member of The Transit Coalition, a regional public transportation advocacy group, said Riverside can also improve how it attracts customers.

Weekend service on the 206 commuter bus from Temecula to Riverside is lagging because few people know about the route and don't realize where it goes, Ventrone said. He added the route could be improved by changing its stops, namely moving its southernmost stop to the Pechanga Casino. Some of the bus system's more popular weekend routes go to specific destinations, such as the weekend 202 route to Oceanside, commonly called the beach bus.

"We need to think about the service and maybe placement could improve things," Ventrone said. "I think if it went to the casino, it could do as well as the beach bus."

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