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

Monday, July 14, 2008

Will the CPRC follow the charter in the Pablo case?

Mt. Rubidoux had a fire yesterday that filled the sky with smoke. Now investigators are looking for a man who was seen at the fire.

A federal grand jury has indicted former Marine sergeant and Riverside Police Department officer, Jose Nazario with more charges including involuntary manslaughter. In total, Nazario is charged in the deaths of four Iraqi detainees in Fallujah in 2004.

In total, Nazario is charged in the deaths of four Iraqi detainees in Fallujah in 2004. His trial is currently scheduled for Aug. 19 at the federal courthouse in downtown Riverside.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The case represents one of the rare times the government has tried a veteran in civilian court for crimes alleged to have occurred during war. Nazario's case is being held in federal court because he had completed his military service when the investigation began.

A trial is scheduled in U.S. District Court for Aug. 19.
"The government that's prosecuting him is the one that handed him the M-16," McDermott said.

In the past few months, the prosecution took the case back to the federal grand jury for consideration. The grand jury transcripts have been turned over to the defense but are otherwise sealed.

In Riverside, the Community Police Review Commission is still trying to figure out what to do with itself in the face of a death of a Latino man not long after he was in the custody of Riverside Police Department officers. If this commission were the same as that which existed before the current city management team came to town, the investigator either from Baker Street Group or some other firm would have been contacted and probably out interviewing prospective witnesses by now. But that was then and this is now and now means a commission that's been so watered down by City Hall that it's pretty much nothing more than a shiny public relations tool to "bridge" the police department with the community. That's clearly how City Manager Brad Hudson and his company view it, given their actions during the past several years. It's not like they really want an independent form of oversight over the police department which is doing some things very well and as for others? Not so well. As for the police department, it's never wanted the commission, a sentiment shared by most law enforcement agencies in other places. That sentiment doesn't change overnight, if it changes at all.

There's been assertions made by various bodies that Hudson and company don't allow their department heads to well, act as department heads but that they micromanage every city department under them from the police department to the library to Human Resources. These allegations have been denied by that office and by the city council which is extremely loyal to its direct employee. But in the wake of the city manager's attempts to convert three management positions in the police department to serving "at will" in 2007, the city manager's office creates an environment where it is very difficult to believe that these department heads and their management staffs are independent operators.

But one individual said that Hudson had told him that while DeSantis might run off and do something, he was pretty good at reining his subordinate back in when necessary. City Hall must be a very strange place to be in if this is how things are playing out at all levels. Still, even stories that DeSantis was personally shelving books at the library continued to circulate.

What's this about "old" and "new" promotional lists at even the supervisor level even as promotions are pretty much frozen citywide? In the wake of a complaint filed by police lieutenants Darryl Hurt and Tim Bacon about the role politics and political loyality may play in the promotional process, there should be a great deal of concern over what's going on in this area of employment.

Bringing in a wealth of experience when it comes to dealing with civilian oversight and police departments, Hudson and DeSantis' actions led quickly to the resignations of the last executive manager and most of the commission during a 12 month period. But it didn't end there, commissioners continued to resign including one the summer of 2007. Investigations of two officer-involved shootings by the commission were halted for several months and to this day, the commission is still struggling under its current watch. But you can't blame the city manager's office because the direction it's receiving for its actions involving the CPRC lead straight to the city council. Because after all, you would think the CPRC's management by the city manager would be a mark against the city manager in an evaluation form of his performance. Apparently not. In all probability, it could be viewed as a plus.

Former commissioner Steve Simpson claimed at a CPRC meeting that one city council member pressured him into toeing the line or being forced off the body in June and July last year. That city council member came to me with questions about Simpson's mental competency that were raised by another city council member and a current commissioner. Simpson met at least once for what he called a "counseling" session with Chair Brian Pearcy who also allegedly told him to tone it down. And what was behind Simpson's "mental incompetency" and needing to tone it down? His assertion that the executive manager needed more independence from City Hall and that the commission needed to discuss retaining its own independent counsel. How radical is that?

Too much so for Riverside, it turned out.

City Attorney Greg Priamos barred Simpson from putting the issue of independent counsel on the meeting agenda in July stating that the issue was not "germane" to the commission even though the commission had used a separate counsel in the past during the situation which erupted from its decision to issue a subpoena to former officer Tina Gould in the Volne Lamont Stokes shooting case several years ago. Simpson said that another commissioner had told him that after that meeting, Priamos was on his phone talking with a city council member.

This is how the seventh floor apparently handles dissent on the CPRC. And other commissioners on the body have obviously learned from Simpson's example. Things have been much quieter then. At least on fundamental issues about the CPRC. Commissioners have been squabbling with each other on other topics at public meetings.

So what's going on in the latest episode involving the commission?

On Friday, July 11, Martin Gaspar Pablo, 38, died after being transported to Riverside Community Hospital. Earlier, he had been detained and handcuffed by Riverside Police Department officers as a burglary suspect.

There's very little information on this incident as it received little press coverage. The police department did quickly enough issue its own brief and initial version of events.

Basically what happened is that residents on Bluffwood Drive in Canyon Crest called police because Pablo was banging on a house door. When police arrived nine minutes later, Pablo was sitting down at a nearby residence. He was handcuffed (without much exposition about how this was done) and quickly evaluated not to be a burglary suspect but a man in medical distress. Emergency assistance was called and it was after they arrived that police officers removed the handcuffs from Pablo. Pablo was taken to the hospital, arriving there about 35 minutes after the officers arrived onscene. He died less than an hour later at Riverside Community Hospital.

Pablo had a minor criminal record. A traffic citation and a misdemeanor charge of being under the influence of a substance, both from 1996. He had a misdemeanor warrant for his arrest from the latter case and for failure to appear, according to court records.

Superficially and based on press releases, his case resembles the 2005 incustody death of Terry Rabb. In both cases, scant information was given about them early on. There was no press release on record as having been released by the police department on Rabb but there was some press coverage. Essentially what was told in that case, is that police officers were dispatched on a medical distress call to assist medical personnel, detained and handcuffed Rabb and he went into extreme medical distress and died at the hospital.

It wasn't until much later that it was revealed through both the CPRC's own investigation and the police department's own the extent of the "restraint" of Rabb including an attempted carotid restraint by one of the officers. It didn't come out until the CPRC investigated that there were allegations by witnesses that one of the officers had made comments that Rabb, a Black man looked like he was on drugs, either PCP or crack cocaine. This despite being told by dispatchers that Rabb was experiencing medical symptoms of what turned out to be severe hypoglycemic shock and what's called, "hypoglycemic unawareness". But you have a Black man who's acting disoriented then he must be on drugs. Just ask Lee Deante Brown.

Incidentally, Rabb tested negative for everything except a small level of marijuana. Rabb had no real criminal record either. If Pablo doesn't have one, then even if the incident involving his life and death is investigated by the commission, then there won't be much for several of the members to talk about. But there are issues raised in this sparsely worded press release that should create concern and an interest by the commission to honor its commitment to the city's residents and the city's charter to launch its own investigation into this case. Just as it did for Rabb and the individuals who were fatally shot by police officers.

There are at least some superficial similarities in the case with that of Rabb early on.

Like Rabb, Pablo was handcuffed and remained handcuffed even when experiencing medical distress which would kill him in less than an hour. Rabb's handcuffs were removed only after he went into cardiac arrest at his house. Pablo's handcuffs were removed after the emergency personnel came to render him aid after being called by the police officers. What's not clear so far in Pablo's case is whether or not he provided any physical or emotional resistance to the officers either before or after being handcuffed. It's not clear what level of force if any the officers used to restrain and handcuff him, whether they used any techniques such as carotid restraints or arm bar take downs to do so. It's also not clear what his mental state was beyond the fact that he was reported to be pounding on a door. Rabb, in the throes of his hypoglycemic attack did damage to his residence while his friend was calling 911 for immediate medical aid. Like with Rabb, one issue that will arise with Pablo is the relationship between medical problems and mental behavior.

Here's what was released initially about both incidents that can be found online.

Terry Rabb: CPRC Briefing by police department minutes on Oct. 12, 2005 (no information on the incident in minutes, just that the briefing by former Deputy Chief Dave Dominguez took place)

Martin Gaspar Pablo (initial press release, July 11, 2008)

The problem with Rabb was what came out over the course of investigating was quite different and certainly much more detailed in terms of officer behavior by investigation's end than what was known initially. By being publicly discussed, investigated and reviewed, this incident helped bring to light pervasive issues involving how the police department's officers interfaced with mentally ill and medically impaired individuals. What resulted from all this is a crisis mental health training and operation program that was instituted in 2007 which quickly became not only POST certified, but a nationally renowned program which put the police department on the map in a positive way.

Yesterday, I asked the CPRC executive manager Kevin Rogan, if the CPRC had begun its own investigation of the incident and was told that meetings had taken place discussing whether or not it would even investigate. That is a big disconcerting, because his role as executive manager, is to send the investigator out to being an investigation on behalf of the commission he serves. The role of his boss, the city manager is to provide him with the necessary resources to carry out his responsibility and that of the city's charter and to act in a supportive role. It's not the role of the city manager's office to evaluate whether or not an incident is suitable to be investigated and there shouldn't be an "evaluation" process that is so far undefined and unexplained outside the purview of the commissioners. It's not City Hall's role and it's not the police department's role and it's not the commissioners' role to determine which incustody deaths are investigated and which aren't. It's the role of the city charter provision which was passed by a majority vote in November 2004.

Sec. 810(d) of the city's charter states that the commission is to investigate and review the death of a citizen that arises from the direct or indirect actions of an officer regardless of whether a complaint has been filed or not. This is one of the most important powers of the commission certainly to the community although the city and police department no doubt view it very differently. Why? Because the city doesn't appreciate the liability it creates, as witnessed in several cases including the shootings of Summer Marie Lane in 2004 and Lee Deante Brown in 2006. The police department probably doesn't appreciate the scrutiny and transparency provided by those it views as outsiders.

If the commission relies on the city manager's office, the city council and/or the police department to tell it what to investigate, then it's nothing more than a rubber stamp for one or all of them. What these city departments has been trying to do is if they have to allow the CPRC to investigate incustody deaths involving police officers, better to put off the investigation until the department has completed its own. And there are already signs that this is what the city is trying to do with its first death since the watering down of the CPRC began. And it makes you wonder, why is the city manager's office so intent on protecting one of its departments from outside scrutiny?

It's entirely possible that the police department's officers did nothing wrong, that Pablo would have died anyway and would have done so if left alone on Bluffwood Street. But the message that the city is sending through this latest episode of vague intrigue and back room conversations is that they feel they have a lot to fear. A decision to bar the commission from investigating the Pablo death will only serve to put this fear on blast. The city and department might as well tattoo to their foreheads, we don't want outsiders looking inside at what the department's doing. In bright pink neon.

If the city opts out of investigating the Pablo case then it owes the communities it serves a reason why and this reason should be given in a public forum with all the parties present. Including representatives from the city manager's office, the city attorney's office, the police department, the city council and the city's risk management division.

If the commission and its manager opt out of investigating the Pablo case, then it's up to the commissioners to step up to the plate and assert their desire for the commission to abide by the city's charter and do the investigation. But would that happen? It would require independence and strength and when you stack a commission with political appointments who are always thinking about their next move, then you really don't have either.

Hopefully, Rogan will be announcing soon or Pearcy that the commission will indeed be fulfilling its charter responsibility and investigating this death. Hopefully, the police department will welcome the investigation and transparency into the death of this individual rather than resist it. It would be very disappointing and a sign that more progress with this department is sorely needed if it's already began its resistance to outside scrutiny by the commission. It's not clear why the department still fears an agency which has exonerated officers on complaints about 97.5% of the time this year and has only come up with one sustained finding on an officer-involved death case since 2001. But clearly it still does, because even the watered down version of civilian oversight as shiny public relations tool is much more than either City Hall or the police department are ready to deal with, let alone the real thing.

To be continued...

The civil award given to some Los Angeles Police Department officers who worked Rampart during the scandal has been upheld.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

The jury had awarded $5 million each to LAPD Officer Paul Harper, Sgt. Edward Ortiz and former Sgt. Brian Liddy. With interest and attorney fees, the city is now liable for about $18 million, lawyers for the officers said.

In upholding the verdict, the three-judge panel cited statements by detectives who admitted that they rushed their criminal investigation, and testimony from former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, who said he and his deputies were "hounded" by the LAPD to prosecute officers implicated in the Rampart scandal before the cases were ready. The judges also noted that Rafael Perez, the ex-LAPD-officer-turned-informant, had given shifting accounts of one of the underlying incidents in which the three officers were charged.

It didn't take long but the LAPD has already justified the actions of the officers who were involved in a pursuit which involved the deaths of two pedestrians. So I guess when law enforcement agencies talk about how administrative investigations take months, they must be talking about just the paper walk not the conclusions. If you're familiar with Los Angeles and the LAPD, you know how much controversy there is surrounding the department's pursuit policy and several deaths and severe injuries involving motorists and pedestrians.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

The officer had been pursuing Delgado east on Hollywood Boulevard for about a minute when the suspect ran a red light at Wilcox Avenue and hit two pedestrians in the crosswalk, Hara said.

After the crash, Delgado drove for a block and tried to run away, but he was stopped by Hollywood Division officers, police said.

Some witnesses questioned whether the police pursuit led Delgado to hit the pedestrians.

"Why would you chase someone down a busy boulevard like this?" said Stevie Herrall, 37, who saw the crash. "I'm not blaming the cops . . . [but] they could have backed off."

Herrall, a longtime Hollywood resident, said he saw Delgado's car weaving through traffic on Hollywood Boulevard before it reached Wilcox and struck the pedestrians, who were holding hands.

"I don't think they had time" to move, he said.

The pedestrians -- a man described as a 25-year-old Latino, about 5 feet 4 and a woman in her 30s -- were crossing on a green light in a marked crosswalk on the west side of the intersection at the time of the crash, police said. The officer pursuing Delgado stopped to help the pedestrians, but both were pronounced dead at the scene.

Police were still appealing late Monday for the public's help in identifying them. No relatives had been located, according to Ed Winter of the L.A. County coroner's office.

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