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 19, 2008

The Trial of Jose Luis Nazario, jr. : A jury of his peers?

"My nightmare is 12 soccer moms [on a jury] trying to understand rules of engagement, 'hostile-intent' and all the other things that confront a Marine in combat."

---Kevin McDermott, one of Jose Luis Nazario's lawyers.

Jury selection's began in the federal trial of former U.S. Marine sergeant and Riverside Police Department officer, Jose Luis Nazario, jr. who's been indicted for voluntary manslaughter in connection with the killings of four Iraqi detainees in Fallujah during the autumn of 2004. According to Belo Blog, the panel size is about 100 prospective jurors and they will have to pick a final jury and alternates from that pool to make the final 12 who will hold the fate of Nazario and the interpretation of the federal law which brought Nazario to them in their hands.

Nazario's being tried as a civilian for alleged war crimes because he had left the Marines to become a police officer in Riverside after he finished his tour. One day while at work he was called in to the station to sign a performance evaluation and as he did so, he was grabbed from behind by other police officers and handed off to Navy criminal investigators. Being a probational officer at the time of his arrest, Nazario was soon fired from the department.

There's been a lot of discussion about whether Nazario is at an advantage compared to two other Marine sergeants who are being tried on murder charges in the military courts because he will be tried by a jury of civilians. Some say not, that a civilian jury could never understand the rules of engagement in a war and would punish him out of their ignorance. Some say it's precisely that reason why a civilian jury might be more sympathetic towards Nazario than military personnel placed in the position of judging him. Some like McDermott make derogatory and sexist comments about the nightmare of a jury stacked with "soccer moms". Any jury should be diverse, a slice of the populace its jurisdiction represents but his choice of who would be his "nightmare" may not even be accurate. After all, more than a few "soccer moms" have sons and daughters in the military including Iraq so that could work out in his client's favor. In unchartered waters, it's hard to pick an outcome through stereotypes.

In the next two weeks, court watchers and analysts might find out who's right when the civilian jury delivers its decision. And the jury has been picked with opening arguments to start on Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal has been blogging on the case and published this major article which detailed the case and the unprecedented use of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act . The act was passed by Congress several years ago and so far has been used mainly against nonmilitary contract employees and military personnel involved in "off-duty" crimes like drug smuggling. The Nazario trial will be the first of its kind where a defendant is being tried on alleged crimes while on active duty.

In the article of this nationally distributed publication, the writer detailed a phone call that had taken place between Nazario and Marine Sgt. Jermaine Nelson before the indictments. Unbeknowest to at least Nazario, the phone call was being recorded by the Navy's criminal investigation unit. Nazario apparently made comments about his days in the Riverside Police Department to Nelson. He told him that he "beat the shit out of criminals" and then went to finding a reason to take them to jail after the fact. Nazario told the Wall Street Journal that these statements were simply "untrue stories" from two guys "talking tough". But that guise seemed to also cover the discussion among the two of the incident in Fallujah which has put them on trial in different venues.

The police department didn't have much to say about the matter of one of its former police officers talking about what kind of policing he did while under its employment and just said through a representative that it couldn't discuss officers' personnel records. But what it should be doing is reviewing Nazario's arrest and detention records while he was employed there anyway. If it hasn't done so already. After all, these were his own comments.

It will be a trial of no bodies, no forensics, no ballistics and scant eyewitness testimony if any of those who allegedly participated in the crimes involved in the indictments even agree to testify at all. All the participants are adamant at least at this point that the incident didn't happen at all or if it did, it happened enough so that one particular snapshot of it can't be singled out or remembered.

But before Nelson and Marine Sgt. Ryan Weemer retreated behind the wall of silence, they talked about the incident and they seemed to point the finger at Nazario. Weemer was the one who broke the news during a polygraph exam he was taking in hopes of joining the Secret Service. When asked what was the most serious crime he ever committed, Weemer began talking about Fallujah.

The story that's been related in the media was that four Iraqis were detained inside a residence. That two were shot to death by Nazario and one apiece by Nelson and Weemer. Weemer and Nelson were told to do so by Nazario who was their team leader and Nazario was told by an unnamed lieutenant who's identity if he exists remains unknown. Only the three men know what happened although at least one other Marine allegedly saw blood and pieces of brain on Nazario's rifle and his boots.

There are two sections in the Nazario camp. Those who believe the incident never happened and was a figment of Weemer's imagination. Although if Weemer did make it up, he probably regrets it now because he's been indicted for murder. Others say, it did take place but it's part of the rules of engagement in war zones and shouldn't be examined any further. That's despite the reality that very little is still known about this incident and everyone who talked about it has since retracted their stories and refused to testify in criminal proceedings, even serving jail stints on contempt charges. But then again when they talked, did they have lawyers?

Babylon Beyond, a Los Angeles Times blog debates the question of whether civilian jurors can hear a case involving actions taken by military personnel.

The indictment against Nazario by the United States is here.

One chronology of the case is here.

The Riverside Chinese Cultural Preservation Committee has nixed the current proposal involving the medical building that was set to be erected on top of what was once Chinatown.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"I did exactly what they requested," Jacobs said by phone.

City planners, who support the new design, said in a recent staff report that the building reflects a "modern architecture that conveys a Chinese inspired design aesthetic."

The exterior lighting fixtures, for instance, "are reminiscent of a paper lantern."

But members of the cultural preservation committee say they are unmoved.

"I can't tell any distinct Chinese features," Cindy Li, committee co-chairwoman, said in a phone interview. "I can't tell what style it is."

A community group wants one with more Chinese features.
The committee's other concern -- the building's location -- has been ignored, said James Lu, the committee's chairman.

The committee wants the building's footprint moved away from the corner so as not to disturb artifacts believed to be buried there.

The Planning Commission will be voting on the project this Thursday. Members of the cultural committee also planned to attend the Board of Education meeting on Wednesday to ask it to contribute extra land to facilitate the moving of the building away from the corner section.

Both meetings probably will be very well attended.

Activists involved in promoting Riverside's arts are upset because the city government doesn't want to receive their input into the development of the Fox Theater into a performing arts center. Old story, new venue as it appears that most often these days community members and groups who advocate for the arts, the parks and the cultural institutions which define this city have to push for a place at the discussion table.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Daniel Olson, board secretary of the Riverside Lyric Opera, said the city until recently had a posture of excluding local groups from discussions about the Fox.

"The powers that be haven't let us give the correct input for what we'd like this to be," said Kathie Westley, board member of the California Riverside Ballet.

The city convened the meeting to take questions, comments and suggestions from the groups about use of the Fox by community arts groups, fees the city would charge them and the needs of those groups in terms of scheduling, technical services, storage and marketing support.

More than 40 people attended the two-hour meeting at City Hall.

Councilman Mike Gardner and Jonathan Yorba, the city's arts and cultural affairs manager, ran the meeting.

Gardner said the city wants to work with the groups on the Fox.

"It belongs to the people of Riverside," he said.

Indeed it does. Just like the parks, the libraries, the museums and yes, even the understaffed police department belong to the people of Riverside. All these things and many more matter but the city often doesn't view the people that employ its staff and elected representatives as stakeholders in the process until very late in the game. The only exception to this unfortunate rule, is an election year. And there's one up on the horizon.

But that's all the more reason to stay involved in the things that you care about in this city.

The Riverside County officials responsible for setting the property taxes for home owners offer their explanation on why your taxes might not be going down with the value of your home.

The San Bernardino County treasurer, Dick Larson has been pushing for all county officials to be drug tested. Then he went and got tested himself. All this is due to the publishing of allegations of illegal drug use involving County Assessor Bill Postmus who's currently on a 10 week medical leave from his position.

Lying on the witness stand by a Los Angeles Police Department detective led to the dismissal of a murder case, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Still the prosecutor stood by his officer and blamed the testimony on "faulty recollections" and poor documentation.


Michael Yglecias, the head deputy district attorney involved in the decision to seek the dismissal, said he did not believe Friedrich had intentionally lied on the stand. He attributed the contradictions to "faulty recollections" and the officer's poor documentation of the incident -- documentation that omitted crucial details.

"I believe this officer did the best he could, but unfortunately mistakes were made and we lacked confidence in the persuasiveness of our case," Yglecias said. "We still have a belief in Eady's guilt, which made for an agonizing decision."

Greg Apt, Eady's attorney, was far more critical, accusing Friedrich in court of lying on the stand.

"I expect that there will be shades of the truth told in a trial," Apt said in an interview. "But we rely on certain foundational things -- that someone is not going to tell a straight-out lie. This is very frustrating and disturbing."

A retired Pasadena Police Department officer was arrested in connection with a bank robbery and may actually be the "Polite Bandit" who's been linked to a series of heists.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

Vincent Cantu, 44, of Whittier was arrested Friday after police spotted him driving away from the Banco Popular at 401 E. Whittier Blvd. that had just been robbed at 11:15 a.m., said La Habra police spokeswoman Cindy Knapp. Cantu's car, a silver Toyota FJ Cruiser, fit a description of the robber's vehicle, Knapp said.

It was unclear whether cash was recovered from Cantu's car, Knapp said. No one was injured during the robbery and arrest, she said.

Cantu was arrested on suspicion of robbery, taken to an Orange County jail and released Saturday after posting bond, a sheriff's spokeswoman said. She did not know the bond amount.

Knapp would not say whether evidence or witness interviews connect Friday's incident to previous Polite Bandit robberies, referring questions to the FBI.

"The indications were that he was polite and he did have a gun," she said of the suspect in Friday's robbery.

Settling a law suit on the eve of trial were a group of day laborers and the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

Buffalo, New York will be getting its very own police monitor.

(excerpt, Buffalo News)

Our job as outlined in the charter is to ask questions,” he said. “What’s more important than public safety?”

The panel could review issues ranging from the effectiveness of a new police crackdown on quality-of- life offenses, to concerns raised by residents, Franczyk said. He cited as one example the recent expiration of a 2002 agreement involving the federal government’s oversight of reforms within the Police Department.

Community activists like Samuel Radford III of the Millions More Movement insist that while some improvements have been made, the Police Department is still in need of oversight. Radford thinks having a Council panel that will seek citizens’ input on policing is a positive step.

“This is not an attack on the Police Department,” said Radford. “It’s just another tool we’ll have to address any problems.”

Franczyk agreed.

“The more openness you have, the better it is for everybody,” he said.

Mayor Byron W. Brown’s communications director said the administration has no objections to the plan.

“This administration has always sought greater transparency and accountability within the Buffalo Police Department,” Peter K. Cutler said Thursday, citing as one example police officials’ regular appearances at CitiStat meetings.

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