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, August 13, 2008

Martin Gaspar Pablo and the CPRC: Now we shall investigate

"It doesn't just have the power. It has the duty."

----ACLU attorney, Peter Bibring about whether or not the commission is allowed to investigate the Pablo death under the city charter, during the Aug. 13 CPRC meeting.

At its special meeting on Aug. 13, the Community Police Review Commission voted 5-3 to initiate a "preliminary" investigation into the July 11 death of Martin Gaspar Pablo, 38, and will send an investigator to canvass for witnesses and otherwise "preserve evidence. This vote came more than a month after the death of Pablo and about three weeks after City Attorney Gregory Priamos warned the commissioners that if they initiated an investigation, they would be in violation of the city charter and could face $1,000 and/or six months in county jail.

The motion which was made by Commissioner Chani Beeman and seconded by John Brandriff also attracted the votes of Jim Ward, Art Santore and Chair Brian Pearcy. Dissenting were Peter Hubbard, Ken Rotker and Sheri Corral. Linda Soubirous was absent during the public session.

Attending the meeting were a dozen people including members of the Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability and Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein. The large conference room on the fifth floor felt a bit cramped. The proceedings were interrupted periodically by blackouts induced by the city's electricial system after hours. One commissioner said he didn't remember having sat through as many of these mini-blackouts (not to be confused with the very real blackout ) and another reminded him that this meeting was probably the longest in recent history.

But perhaps that was fitting for a meeting that made history.

The passage of this motion to investigate came after nearly 2 1/2 hours of discussion among the commissioners, input from members of the public and two attorney opinions.

Say what?

Yes, two attorneys.

As you may recall, Priamos already provided his legal opinion on whether or not the commission could investigate the Pablo incident. But attending this meeting was Peter Bibring, a police practices attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union and after reviewing the material pertaining to the July 23 meeting and researching issues including Charter section 810 (d) he provided a different legal perspective on the issue. The antics of the city involving the CPRC in recent weeks had attracted the attention of the civil rights organization's office in Los Angeles.

The commission was interested enough after listening to him for several minutes to vote to waive the five-minute limitation on his speaking and both listened to him present his argument and points of authority as well as ask him questions about the analysis and information he had provided. And they sat and listened as he outlined a legal argument that was someone different from the law laid out by Priamos.

Bibring told the commissioners that he was very concerned about the stance taken by the city attorney's office, because he believed based on his research that the decision to investigate would be made by the commission itself not the city attorney. Not only was there the right to initiate an investigation, he said, but it was very clear that there was also a duty to do so. And that duty arose in part because it wasn't just the commission's role to determine if misconduct happened but also to advise the city in areas of policy and procedure involving the department and just as importantly, whether there was a need for policy improvement.

"Arising from and in connection with doesn't necessitate a cause," Bibring said.

After all, if the legislative body (as opposed to the attorney who authors a charter provision) had intended for the CPRC to investigate only those deaths caused by the actions of a police officer, it would have used the word "caused" in its language. It chose the language it did because it intended the investigations of incustody deaths to be done before the cause was known. In part because the "cause" is only part of the equation of what the CPRC was intended to do under 810 (d).

Bibring disagreed that the coroner's report was a litmus test for whether or not the commission could investigate a death, because coroners were trained to determine medical causes of deaths and weren't trained to determine whether or not police actions or behavior contributed to those deaths.

As for comments made by Priamos (who was absent during this meeting) about how initiating an investigation into the Pablo incident was akin to violating the city charter, Bibring said that this claim was "absolutely outrageous". If it wasn't intended to intimidate commissioners, that might still be its effect, he said.

Priamos' substitute Deputy City Attorney Susan Wilson's response to Bibring's opinion was that he had raised some very serious issues and that she needed to take it back to her boss, Priamos who would review his information and come back with a response. She spent some time on the Blackberry during the meeting.

Some commissioners like Hubbard (who spoke more in this meeting than during the rest of his meetings on the commission put together) and Brandriff (who had raised the questions to the city attorney that lit off the firestorm with the city attorney's response) said that they weren't intimidated by Priamos and that they didn't perceive what he had said at the earlier meeting as a threat. But Brandiff did say that he disagreed with Priamos' opinion that the commission couldn't investigate.

Others like Beeman said they felt bullied by a city attorney who had picked a fight with them. She added that she had a $1,000 in a bank account to pay the fine if charged with a misdemeanor charter violation. The commission needed to move forward and do what the community entrusted it to do which was to investigate Pablo. Anything else was a "corruption of the process".

Hubbard, a manager with American Medical Response, the ambulance service which contracts with the city and had transported Pablo to Riverside Community Hospital, said he felt that the commission was "jumping the gun" and that any investigation (in which some of his employees will be witnesses) was "grossly premature". Through its contract with the city, it would be interesting indeed to know exactly who AMR's attorney is when it gets sued.

Ward said that during a meeting he, Pearcy and CPRC Executive Manager Kevin Rogan had that Pearcy had come out strongly that he wanted the process with Pablo to continue and be placed on the agenda for the next meeting. He thought that Rogan's rationale that he was basing his recommendation not to investigate on past precedent made no sense.

"We never had a case delayed," Ward said, "It sets a precedent but it sets a dangerous precedent."

Ward pressed Rogan several times on whether or not Rogan had received confidential information on the case from other sources, information not shared with the commissioners. But each time, Rogan sidestepped and raised "hypothetically speaking" examples, never answering Ward's question. Then again through his choice of language, maybe he did. After all, it wouldn't be the first time that someone used a "hypothetical example" to answer a question in a non-direct fashion. The rest of the meeting he spent claiming responsibility for actions that other individuals had attributed to city staff.

However, at the beginning there was confusion about the wording of the agenda item which was intended to be a continuation of the discussion of the earlier meeting and specifically tailored in part to the Pablo case. Yet, when the final agenda was circulated and posted, there was no mention of Pablo on it.

This led Beeman to question who approved the agendas, a question which was directed at Pearcy Rogan, and after some hemming and hawing, the answers were that Priamos evaluated it for Brown Act compliance and that personnel from the city manager's office (aka as "Kevin's boss") who reviewed it to make sure there was no impropriety involved. Given the history of how some agenda items have been reworded or even fallen by the wayside, a better descriptor might be controversial. After all, an agenda item to discuss independent counsel was vetoed at least once, even before it allegedly became a charter violation.

Wilson, said that the commission's own internal rules allowed them to set its agendas but in reality, that's clearly not the case if they have to be proofed by so many outside parties. Then she went back to the Blackberry.

At about this point, Beeman proposed a single motion which was to invite Riverside Police Department Chief Russ Leach to brief the commission on the Pablo incident at a future meeting and to initiate an independent investigation of Pablo's death. The rationale for inviting Leach which became a bone of contention between some commissioners was that at several recent community forums and meetings, Leach had pledged to be the one to brief the commission in all future cases of officer-involved deaths. Why? Because during two earlier occasions, information provided by his management personnel proved to be incorrect. People at the meetings were impressed when he pledged his commitment to doing the briefings.

If Leach opted not to attend, he should send the commission in writing an explanation as to why not. It will be interesting to see how he'll respond if he does respond.

Some commissioners like Rotker said that if Leach or another department representative had not pulled a no-show and actually briefed the commission on the case, then all this fuss might have been avoided. But his view appeared to be that it should be the department which made the decision whether or not the CPRC could investigate its own behavior, an observation made by Brandriff. Rotker did wonder out loud whether someone had simply told the police department not to show up.

He's not the only one wondering about that.

Corral said she wasn't ready to vote on any such motion, saying it wasn't the time to make a judgment call without hearing from the coroner. She didn't seem inclined to even vote in favor of receiving a briefing from Leach on the incident.

Beeman then split the motion and said that the CPRC should vote whether or not to initiate a preliminary investigation. The commission voted 5 to 3 to be briefed by Leach, through a motion made by Beeman and seconded by Brandriff. Also voting in support were Ward, Rotker and Pearcy. It was opposed by Santore, Hubbard and Corral. The motion effectively placed the ball in Leach's court in terms of whether or not he'll do a briefing before the panel.

Santore and Rotker swapped votes on the "preliminary investigation" motion and so began the CPRC's probe into the Pablo incident just over a month after it happened. But it was as Pearcy said, if the commission didn't play the role of making its own decisions then it's a body which has its decisions made by someone else. And has been known for a while, there's a lot of cooks hovering over the pot which is the CPRC. What will they be stirring next? That remains to be seen.

At the Aug. 12 city council meeting, Councilman Andrew Melendrez said that he would recommend that the issue comes up for presentation and discussion at a future meeting of the Public Safety Committee. The commission will continue to take up that discussion as well while it hopefully investigates.

One of the heroines of historic building preservation said that more care needs to be taken in deciding which buildings which were part of a mid-20th century period should be saved.

At least one elected official offered his opinions on the issue.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

She will have a tough time converting Councilman Mike Gardner to her point of view. His ward includes Downtown.

"I do not appreciate the architecture of the library," Gardner said. "My personal preference would be to change the look. I know there are those who like it, but they are a clear minority."

Gardner said the downtown fire station has "interesting lines" and the architecture in the Brockton Arcade could be the basis for revitalizing that neighborhood.

But of all the midcentury modern buildings that Sorrell and Lech pointed to, Gardner said the circular Marcy Library strikes him as having the strongest appeal.

It could be converted into a small performing arts center and gallery, he said.

"I think that one's worth saving," Gardner said.

Modern Riverside, a blog, provides more information on historic preservation in this city. It provides a breakdown by neighborhood.

San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus has a harsh response to members of the board of supervisors trying to probe into allegations that he used illegal drugs.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

n a four-paragraph e-mail sent Monday evening to The Press-Enterprise, Postmus said Chairman Paul Biane's calls for the assessor to refute allegations of illegal drug use, or resign, amount to personal attacks.

"On Chair Biane's statements, it is obvious that this is the genesis of a political coup d'etat," Postmus wrote. "It is also a shame that he continues to level personal attacks against an individual who is on a medical leave of absence."

On Friday, Biane released a statement calling on Postmus to explain himself. Supervisors Josie Gonzales and Dennis Hansberger have since joined Biane in seeking details from the assessor.

Sources close to Postmus have said the assessor spent at least two stints in drug rehabilitation and has battled problems with methamphetamine.

Postmus should resign if he cannot refute the allegations about meth use, Biane said.

In response, Postmus said Biane was the politician who attempted to "secretly initiate a criminal inquiry into my office for self-serving political gain."

"It is apparent Supervisor Biane is engaged in a campaign to destroy me politically," Postmus said.

The leadership of Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians wants law enforcement training for his tribal members so they can provide their own security. Parolees living on the reservation won't be forced to move.

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