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, August 18, 2008

Court trials and commission tribulations

Jury selection is scheduled to begin at the United States District Court in Riverside in the manslaughter trial of former U.S. Marine sergeant and Riverside Police Department officer, Jose Luis Nazario.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The charges stem from his military service, but the decorated squad leader of the Camp Pendleton-based 3rd Squad, 3rd Platoon, K Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division faces civilian federal charges because he left the service Oct. 11, 2005.

He said he did not want to risk being killed in the war.

"If you go to Iraq enough times, you're going to get hurt or die," Nazario said in a telephone interview from New York state. "It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when."

Ryan Weemer, a member of Nazario's squad, mentioned the killings in a 2006 pre-polygraph interview for a Secret Service job. A Naval Criminal Investigative Service inquiry resulted in Nazario, by then a Riverside Police Department officer, being arrested at the end of his shift and fired on Aug. 7, 2007.

Nazario said he is innocent, but the stress is affecting his family.

"I can take it. I've been through a lot worse in Iraq," he said. "But I don't feel it's fair my family has to suffer for something I didn't do and there's not even proof of me doing."

Nazario and current Marine sergeants, Ryan Weemer and Jermaine Nelson are being prosecuted for killings that they allegedly committed in Fallujah in 2004. Both Nelson and Weemer are currently being held at Camp Pendleton awaiting military trials on murder charges although both have already done stints in jail on contempt of court charges for refusing to testify to a federal grand jury investigating Nazario. They are expected to continue that tradition during Nazario's trial. Part of a code of silence which rivals that in law enforcement making it clear that something happened but what, exactly is behind the wall.

The Fog of War discusses the prosecution of Nazario under a law that was drafted to eliminate a loophole that had existed when soldiers committed war crimes in Vietnam including the My Lai Massacre and could never be prosecuted because many of them were out of the military when the investigations were going on. Some experts say the law was intended to focus on nonmilitary employees serving in war zones including contractors and military personnel committing crimes offduty. Things get more fuzzy when looking at prosecuting military personnel for allegations of war crimes, some say.

The Nazario prosecution is the first of its kind. Next up, is the prosecution of a former Marine who along with other Marines has been charged with raping a 14 year old Iraqi girl and killing her and her entire family. The stakes punitively are higher since the main defendant in this case will face the death penalty. But the evidence presented in that case will most likely be much stronger than that in the case of Nazario and the two other sergeants.

In the Wall Street Journal article, it stated that the Navy Criminal Investigation Division taped Nazario and Nelson having a phone conversation. Nazario talked about both his experiences as a police officer in Riverside and his time as a military sergeant in Iraq.


During his time in Riverside, Navy investigators arranged a surreptitiously taped phone call between Mr. Nelson and Mr. Nazario, during which Mr. Nazario described his work. Saying his job was much like the television show "Cops," he told Mr. Nelson that he regularly would "beat the s- out of" a criminal, finding "a reason to take him to jail" later, according to a transcript of the conversation.

In court filings, prosecutors say the conversation shows the two men discussing the killings in Fallujah. "Who gave us the orders though?" asks Mr. Nelson. Mr. Nazario replies: "I did." But Mr. Nazario then says the order to kill the men came via radio from someone higher up.

On Aug. 7, 2007, Mr. Nazario was finishing night patrol in Riverside, when ordered to return to headquarters. NCIS personnel were there and told him he was under arrest.

Asked in an interview about the statements that led to his arrest, Mr. Nazario says he didn't understand that Mr. Nelson was referring to a particular incident in Fallujah and that he wasn't acknowledging any crime. He defends his record at the Riverside Police Department, and says he may have been drinking during the call; he describes the conversation as "two guys" who were "talking tough" about "untrue stories."

If the federal prosecutors want a conviction, it will have to be based on much more than a phone call no matter how revealing it was. And if the Navy arranged the phone call between the two men, one of them must have known what was going on. Which might be a bit different than a conversation between two men about a potential crime with both of them in the dark that anyone was listening in. If Nelson was involved with the Navy building its case against Nazario, he obviously changed his tune later on given his contempt of court charges for refusing to testify against Nazario in earlier court proceedings. Weemer's spent almost as much time in custody on contempt as Nelson has, a bit of a turnaround from the day that he had been asked during a polygraph test if he had been involved in a serious crime and he mentioned the incident in Fallujah.

And what is the Riverside Police Department's response to these "stories" that Nazario told about being a police officer? The department can't really respond in public because it can't divulge any information about any personnel complaints that were filed or any investigations that were done. Was Nazario caught on tape telling the truth about his stint in the police department or was it foolish bravado like he said after the fact?

And what does the Riverside Police Department's management think after reading the Wall Street Journal article or even the original transcript depicting these alleged comments? Does it believe that it's "talking tough" or is it thinking, maybe we missed something there? How does an officer accumulate a record of using excessive force with only one year on the force, during a time period when one would think that he would be under more intense scrutiny? After all, there's a reason why the 18 months of a police officer's career in the police department is called, "probation" and Nazario would have only been left to his own devices a relatively brief time of his very short tenure with the police department because officers undergo a period of very intensive field training before being trusted to go solo. So if he did do as he claimed to Nelson, who if anyone in the department knew about it? Did it fall through the cracks?

It's strange that a police officer would believe that manufacturing criminal cases to bolster up a beating was a tough story and it's strange that he would brag about it to anyone else. Even under the influence of alcohol. So is this bravado about beating the shit out of people and then arresting them just idle bragging or swapping "untrue stories" or is it something that happened for a period of time under the radar of all the accountability mechanisms of the Riverside Police Department?

Unfortunately for the police department whether these tales are true or not, if it doesn't go back and examine every arrest and case that Nazario ever had made while working there, then that's called being negligent. To do this task, is part and parcel of the model of accountability that the department has laid claim to after a five-year court mandated reform process and if the people there who make the decisions really honor that model they will have started looking into this situation already.

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein takes on the Community Police Review Commission and the cast of characters surrounding it. Including now in the wake of the controversy about whether or not the commission could, should and would investigate the July 11 death of Martin Gaspar Pablo, 38, who was detained and handcuffed by police officers about an hour before he died at Riverside Community Hospital.


The Pablo probe will proceed, in part, because the commish felt it had to assert its right to investigate a (month-old) death. So there.

Even if he didn't bully the commission, Priamos clearly regards it as a second-tier client. He advised the CPRC not to pursue Pablo -- based on "information (that) cannot be shared at this time." Who does he think he is -- a doctor?

Eight years into its young life, the CPRC has withstood a councilman's attempted budget gutting, put up with a meddlesome city manager and received advice from a lawyer who keeps his client in the dark.

Eight years in, the commission (and city) has been lucky. No civilian death "arising out of or in connection with actions of a police officer" has approached the notoriety of RPD's 1998 encounter with Tyisha Miller.

Lucky indeed but if that does happen again, how will the commission be viewed? Will it be viewed differently than how LEPAC was viewed when Miller was killed?

Bernstein names the players very well but then some of them are hard to miss and he enumerates two major points involving the commission.


Two things to keep in mind:

Riverside voters back the charter-protected CPRC.

But the RPD, city manager, city attorney and likely some council members are hardly crestfallen when they see a cranky 8-year-old spend more time obsessing about what it should be doing instead of reviewing what police have done.

Former DeKalb County Sheriff's Department Deputy Derrick Yancey is now facing two murder charges in connection with the shootings of his wife and a day laborer, according to the Atlantic Journal-Constitution.

If you remember, the original story Yancey told was that his wife, Linda (who also worked for the department) was killed during a robbery attempt by Jose Cax Puluc, a Guatemalan day laborer hired to work on the house. Yancey then shot Puluc in self-defense. However, soon after details about domestic violence calls to the Yancey residence began surfacing and suspicions began to grow. Yancey was arrested more than two months after the slayings after being indicted by a grand jury.


Relatives and friends of the young illegal immigrant from Guatemala insisted from the beginning of the investigation that he was not a violent person.

His 30-year-old brother, Jose Cax Puluc, reached by phone Thursday as he painted a house in Florida, paused when told the news.

“That’s good,” he said finally. “My brother did nothing wrong,” Puluc said in Spanish.

Criticism is emerging again in the dual investigations surrounding two women married to former Bolingbrook Police Department sergeant, Drew Peterson.

excerpt, Chicago Tribune)

They are suspicious about the absence of blood residue or a sediment ring on the walls of the tub where she was found, sources said. If she had bled from a head wound while drowning in slowly draining water—as the theory went—why was the tub not stained?

No towels or clothes were in the bathroom where she was discovered, a paramedic noted. Shampoo bottles were in upright positions along the small tub, unlikely if she had suffered a fall, according to a source. Books and papers were spread across her unmade bed and a picture was facedown on the floor near the nightstand, according to Illinois State Police reports also obtained by the Tribune.

Although a state police crime-scene technician had covered Savio's hands with bags to preserve evidence—a procedure that typically precedes a homicide investigation—the statements of police that night indicated no evidence of trauma or foul play, according to the deputy coroner's report.

The problematic handling of both Savio's murder case and the disappearance of Peterson's current wife, Stacey is groups are trying to push for the appointment of a medical examiner on the November ballot.

But they suffered a setback when the Will County Board of Supervisors voted the proposal down.

(excerpt, Chicago Sun-Times)

Nearly a dozen friends and relatives of Stacy Peterson attended the county hearing in support of the referendum, arguing the mistake they attributed at least partly to the coroner’s office contributed to Peterson’s disappearance.

“I believe in my heart that had Kathleen Savio’s case been properly handled, my sister would most likely be alive today,” Peterson’s sister, Cassandra Cales, told county board members. “I cannot help thinking about that on a regular basis and believe that no family member should suffer the emotional roller-coaster that I have been on the last 10 months.”

Several county board members who backed the referendum also cited that case, contending it showed the coroner’s system needs to be replaced.

“Clearly, something went wrong four or five years ago,” said Republican board member Kathleen Konicki, referring to the Savio case. “I can’t get away with telling my citizens we have a great system. It failed.”

A former Collin County Sheriff's Department deputy was charged with helping out a drug cartel in Mexico

(excerpt, Dallas Morning News)

Robert Benavidez, whose career as a North Texas peace officer dates back almost a dozen years, was arrested July 8 on six counts of abuse of official capacity. He is accused of helping his cousin, Sergio Maldonado, who was believed to have been the North Texas "cell leader" for the Zetas, the ruthless enforcement arm of Mexico's Gulf Cartel drug smuggling operation.

Mr. Maldonado was among 30 people arrested last year during a massive federal drug sweep known as Operation Puma. Mr. Maldonado pleaded guilty earlier this year to drug trafficking and money laundering-related charges.

Beginning in 2004, while working as a deputy constable, Mr. Benavidez would periodically check law enforcement databases to determine whether Mr. Maldonado or his wife had any outstanding arrest warrants, according to arrest affidavits. Mr. Benavidez would also check the registration and ownership of suspected law enforcement surveillance vehicles, according to the arrest documents. In return, Mr. Benavidez was given several grams of cocaine, Mr. Maldonado told federal agents.

Mr. Benavidez, 41, is being held in Collin County Jail in lieu of $1.5 million bail. He declined to be interviewed.

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