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

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Officer-involved shootings here and there

"They were unarmed,"

---Former Lance Corporal Cory Carlisle in response to Asst. U.S. Attorney Jerry Behnke's question about why he didn't shoot the Iraqi detainees during an alleged incident in Fallujah when he was asked to do so.

Another day, another off-duty shooting by a Los Angeles Police Department officer. This shooting took place in Corona after the officer shot and killed a motorist he pursued into a parking lot.

(excerpt, Associated Press)

The man, who was driving a Toyota Tundra, sideswiped the officer, who was driving an H2 Hummer, Franchville said. A 1-year-old child was in the officer's car, Franchville said, but he declined to identify the child.

The officer chased the man at speeds of up 100 mph on northbound I-15 until the truck exited at Weirick Road and stopped in the parking lot of a convenience store in the 20400 south Temescal Canyon Road, Franchville said.

Franchville said no weapon was found other than the officer's gun. The officer and a passenger in the Tundra were detained, he said. Police declined to identify the officer, the dead man or the truck passenger. The officer, who was not under arrest, was technically free to leave, Franchville said.

The officer shot the man from 15 to 30 feet away. Franchville said.

There are already a lot of readers' comments on this breaking story. The majority of those written so far are asking why the officer didn't respond to the crime by calling in the license plate and the description of the vehicle to the police department with jurisdiction instead of taking off at 100 mph on a pursuit with a baby in the car. And did the motorist who the officer pursued realize that he was being pursued by a police officer in a hummer or did he think that he was being pursued by someone in a hummer with a bad case of road rage? Might he not think that if he doesn't drive fast enough to escape, the other driver could ram him off the road, pull a gun out and shoot him or commit other violence? If the guy was scared of the man in the hummer, his fear was well placed because he was ultimately shot and killed by someone he may or may not have ever known was a police officer.

As to whether the officer contacted any other law enforcement agencies for backup while this incident was unfolding, that information has not been released at this time. It would be assumed he did, because a well-trained and clear thinking police officer would realize that engaging in a vehicle pursuit by himself is not a good or safe situation.

What makes it appear that this officer had put aside his judgment and run off on his emotions was the fact that he took such potentially reckless actions with a young child in the car and chased a man in a car at high speed who could have fleeing what he thought was an irate motorist potentially armed who was out to harm him not arrest and detain him. As a police officer, he would have known that vehicle pursuits are one of the most dangerous aspects of his job, given that the number one or two cause of death for police officers annually are vehicle accidents. As an LAPD officer, he should have been especially aware given how much discussion, debate and revision went into that department's vehicle pursuit policy in recent years. As a father who was a police officer, he would not have put his own child at the bottom of his list of priorities. Police officers don't have a tendency to put children in a dangerous situation when they are thinking about how to handle a situation that arises. They take actions to ensure the safety of those in their vicinity when they do act rather than react.

When they are simply reacting to something that happens based on emotions, that might not be the case. It's not even clear how much the fact that this man was a police officer had to do with his response in this situation and whether or not it was the determining factor for his response in the situation.

However, another version of the incident stated that the collision occurred, the two sides were exchanging information and then the man tried to steal the officer's child out of the car before the officer shot him. One would think if that were the case then the shooting must have taken place at closer than the 15-20 foot distance cited.

The Los Angeles Times which initially had been one of the media outlets to state that the man had tried to abduct the officer's child backpeddled a bit in later versions of the story saying that the officer shot the man while they exchanged information after a traffic collision and that there was no evidence of an abduction attempt.

Yet another version provided by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department didn't mention a high-speed pursuit at all but said that the collision occurred, the two cars pulled into a parking lot and then the man "aggressively approached" the officer before the officer shot and killed him.

An even later version identified the officer and provided some information that matched earlier versions and some that conflicted.

(excerpt, Belo Blog)

According to investigators, Mendez was driving along Interstate 15 on Monday afternoon in a white H2 Hummer with his 13-month-old son in the backseat when he was sideswiped by a Toyota Tundra. A witness to the accident called the California Highway Patrol and reported that the two vehicles continued down the freeway at about 100 mph, said Riverside County Sheriff's Investigator Jerry Franchville.

The two vehicles continued northbound on the I-15 and exited the freeway at Weirick Road, said Franchville. They parked at a convenience store and the motorists exchanged words, added Franchville.

The 50-year-old driver of the Tundra advanced toward the officer, who then shot the man once in the chest, Franchville said. The man did not have a weapon, Franchville said.

The man was transported to Corona Regional Hospital where he was pronounced dead. As of Tuesday afternoon, investigators had not released the man's identity because his family had not been identified.

Officials are continuing to interview witnesses to determine whether Mendez identified himself as a police officer and whether the other man threatened him before the shooting. The incident took place just before 4 p.m. There were several witnesses, including a passenger in the Toyota Tundra, said Franchville.

Hopefully, the investigators will get the facts all sorted out or at least help the officer come up with a good and solid account of the events which took place. In the meantime, the investigators say they are looking for more witnesses to what they are now calling an "altercation". So if you are a witness, you're supposed to contact the Riverside County Sheriff's Department to provide your account of events. If your version agrees with that provided by the police officer or officers including the one or ones who did the shooting, then everything's cool and you can be anyone at all from any background. As long as you agree with what the officers said happened. In fact if you agree, your accounts will be recounted in the media by department representatives as factual accounts of the incident which took place. What's interesting about this is that often later it turns out that the witnesses didn't agree in their accounts of an incident but provided conflicting accounts. Only those who agreed with the department's version weren't rendered invisible by that department when responding to the media.

After all, it's very rare when investigators say the witnesses disagreed with the officers' versions of events, in part because there might not be any disagreement but this also applies in cases where there is considerable differences in the accounts.

If your story conflicts with the account provided by the police officer, you'll find yourself in a similar situation as would a rape victim in that you have to be a model person in all ways and even that might not be enough if you're telling the truth. You can't be poor, you can't be homeless, you can't live in a high-crime area or be Black or Latino and lord forbid, you can't reside in a motel in Riverside. If you fall in any of these categories and an investigator for an officer-involved shooting comes up to you for your account, you're just as much a viable witness in that investigation if you tell the investigator, thanks but no thanks and tell them to talk to that nicely dressed White business man on the corner instead.

Police officers might and have said that people aren't in a position to judge their actions if they aren't them, meaning that only officers can judge other officers. Yet, in situations where that happens certainly in the cases more out in the open, the officers doing the judging or what may be called "tattling" or "snitching", are often punished through ostracism, harassment or worse. If the culture truly allowed officers to report misconduct in their ranks, this type of behavior wouldn't happen and if it did, those engaging in it would themselves be shunned. But who indeed is shunned? The officers committing the misconduct or those who tell on them?

In some cases all of us outside the profession's blue wall get to watch how these individuals are treated by their colleagues when they break the code of silence. And after that, we get to pay out through tax dollars in settlements and verdicts in civil litigation tied to this form of whistle blowing because most of the time, it's very expensive.

And often times, it's the internal mechanisms which are supposed to investigate the allegations of misconduct shared by whistle blowers who are dispatched to reopen old cases of complaints against those who report.

As for criminal charges being filed against this officer even if it was "road rage", don't count on it. The Riverside County District Attorney's office in the vast majority of officer-involved shootings gives the officer the benefit of the doubt. If you're a law enforcement officer and you shoot someone even if it's out of rage, you couldn't pick a better county than this one which has only seen one "road rage" shooting case involving an investigator in the District Attorney's office prosecuted, in that case by the state attorney general's office. The only reason there was an indictment in the case of that investigator, Daniel Riter was because the decision whether or not to prosecute charges was made by a grand jury.

Testimony continued in the federal trial of former U.S. Marine sergeant and Riverside Police Department officer Jose Luis Nazario, jr. who faces manslaughter charges in relation to the killings of Iraqi detainees in Fallujah in 2004. The other two Marine sergeants, Jermaine Nelson and Ryan Weemer have refused to testify in this case but other squad members have been called to the stand to provide eye witness accounts.

(excerpt, Belo Blog)

Carlisle went on to say he recalled that as the worst day of his life because of the shootings in the house and the death of his squad member earlier that day after the squad entered the city.

Nazario, a former Riverside Police officer, is accused of voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of the four detainees. Nazario is the first veteran to be tried in civilian court for his actions in the service. He is being tried in civilian court because he left the service before being charged.

Fellow squad member James Prentice took the stand afterward, testifying that when he went in the house, he saw the four men on the floor with their hands raised.

Prentice said that after Sgt. Ryan Weemer took one detainee in the kitchen, he heard a gunshot. He saw Nazario take another detainee in another room and heard a gunshot. As he left the house, he heard two more gunshots, Prentice testified.

The testimony by these two men linked Nazario to the men who were killed.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

Carlisle, 26, who is now a college student in Salt Lake City, told jurors that he was part of the squad that entered the house and came upon four unarmed Iraqi men. He said the Marines captured the men, and he and others went on to search the house.

During the search, he said, he overheard Nazario asking another Marine to help him kill the Iraqis. He said he heard the other Marine refuse to do so.

Carlisle said he then came upon the Marine with whom Nazario had been talking -- Lance Cpl. James Prentice. Prentice, he said, had already been shaken by the death of a friend a few hours earlier.

"I tried to calm Prentice down. I told him, 'We don't want to be part of this,' " Carlisle said of what was going on in the house. "I tried to find us an exit."

Not long after, as he continued to search the house, he said, he heard a shot fired and found Sgt. Ryan Weemer standing with his 9-millimeter handgun in his hand over one of the Iraqi men, who was dead.

Soon after, he heard a second shot and found Nazario, holding his M-16, standing over another dead Iraqi prisoner. The dead man was lying on his back, shot in the head. The two remaining Iraqi prisoners stood terrified nearby, Carlisle testified.

"It's something I won't forget, the dread on their faces," he said. "That's the face I saw on both men -- dread."

At that point, Carlisle told jurors, he wanted out of the house. As he left, he said, he heard two more gunshots -- presumably signaling the last two prisoners had been shot.

Squad member, Samuel Severtsgaard encountered Carlisle and the man's demeanor was of such that he went into the residence where he found the four bodies of the men who had been shot to death. He came back and found Carlisle but all he would say was, "It wasn't me".

The testimony reported seems very disturbing and along with the comments that Nazario allegedly made about his days with the Riverside Police Department where excessive force and lying about it were the norm of his actions, it makes one wonder how he got to the police department in the first place.

Moreno Valley is set to continue with the use of Eminent Domain to gain easements for a numger of properties during a renovation of Day Street.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"Negotiations have not been successfully completed with all of the property owners, and it is therefore necessary to proceed with eminent domain to acquire the easements necessary for the project to allow the work to commence on or about December 2008," Senior Real Property Agent Monica Adamee wrote in a report to council.

The owners of the nine properties include individuals, a family trust, a loan company and a bank.

Joe Teague, one of the individual property owners, said he has reached an agreement with city officials for use of his property, but he declined to say how much he would receive in compensation. The biggest sticking point was that city officials had wanted to put a culvert through his property, he said.

"I would have fought that tooth and nail," Teague said by phone. "I want to develop that lot."

A Lake Elsinore man running for an elected position this autumn found his vehicle on fire.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

On Saturday night, Richard Knapp, a candidate for the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District board, was at his home in Lake Elsinore when someone burned his minivan parked outside.

"It's obvious that it was a torch job," Knapp said.

It's the second arson this month impacting Knapp and his vehicles.

More on the decision of a San Bernardino County supervisor to give the job to head his staff to a former colleague of county assessor, Bill Postmus. Never a dull moment in San Bernardino politics.

Upcoming Meetings:

Governmental Affairs Committee meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 3, at 3 p.m. in the Mayor's Ceremonial Room at City Hall. According to advertisements run by the city, this is the date that this committee is supposed to do its annual discussion and evaluation of the city's ethics code and complaint system. Any recommendations for action would go back before the city council at its Sept. 16 meeting. If there are any ways to further nullify the complaint process, this committee will find a way to do so.

Councilman Andrew Melendrez's meeting of the Eastside Forum will be held on Thursday, Sept. 4 at 5:30 p.m at the Caesar Chavez Community Center. The topic is "Decentralizing Community Policing" and the presenter will be Lt. Larry Gonzalez who is the East Neighborhood Policing Center commander.

The latest ad-hoc committee with the Community Police Review Commission will be meeting on Thursday, Sept. 4 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall to further discuss creating policies and procedures for the investigation of officer-involved deaths by the commission.

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