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 20, 2008

Trials and tests

"In many ways, the civilian prosecution of Sergeant Jose Luis Nazario Jr. is reminiscent of the government's response to the April 2004 Abu Ghraib prison scandal. Numerous low-level enlisted soldiers were tried and convicted for abusing detainees. No high-ranking officers were ever put behind bars."

----Journalist Aaron Glantz

An establish Federal jurisdiction over offenses committed outside the United States by persons employed by or accompanying the Armed Forces, or by members of the Armed Forces who are released or separated from active duty prior to being identified and prosecuted for the commission of such offenses, and for other purposes.

---Text of law establishing federal jurisdiction for Nazario's prosecution and trial

If you want to comment on the controversy about Riverside's City Hall not taking input from local arts groups on the Fox Theater, here's one place to do so. Some organizations dedicated to the pursuit and promotion of the fine arts feel left out in the cold when it comes to City Hall receiving feedback on its renovation of the Fox Theater into the fine arts center in the newly adorned City of the Arts.

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein revisits the days of one of Mayor Ron Loveridge's first task forces to address making the city more user friendly to students of the University of California, Riverside. Of course, some view UCR as Riverside's favorite charity. The city through loans subsidized an entertainment, dining and shopping mall for them calling it the "west campus" of the university. But alas the University Village has struggled to hold onto its vendors and business tenants and was the scene of the most recent officer-involved shooting within city boundaries.

But under Loveridge's toolage, Riverside has become the City of the Task Forces, which are panels that represent community input but that are often staffed with many of the same people. It's like being on a jury. If you listen to what most prospective jurors say about their jury experience, many of the people who wind up on a jury will say they've served on at least one jury and in some cases more than that. So it is with Riverside's task forces. In some cases, they've been excellent like the Mayor's Use of Force Panel established in response to the fatal officer-involved shooting of Tyisha Miller. Some like that involving issues with Charter Communications went nowhere. But turning the city into one big amusement park for the university students? I don't think that's one pursuit that should be revisited.

But at least one student from UCR is saying, it's not just here for our entertainment. So there's hope after all.

Speaking of the University Village, an officer-involved shooting in Riverside near the University Village by a CHP officer who had pulled over a motorist then heard shots being fired near Denny's restaurant and after confronting the man firing his gun, said the man pointed the gun at the officer. There was one last year as well when Officer Paul Stucker shot and wounded a man holding a replica gun, a bystander and also struck a passing vehicle. There's also been shootings during gatherings at the Village's parking lots after the local night clubs shut their doors.

Former U.S. Marine sergeant and Riverside Police Department officer, Jose Luis Nazario is going to trial on federal court on manslaughter charges stemming from a 2004 incident that allegedly happened while he was on active duty in Fallujah, Iraq. On Aug. 21, attorneys for both sides of the case will be making their opening arguments to the jury that's just been selected. A jury of civilians but whether or not that will make a difference or not remains to be seen at the trial's end.

The case which is the first to be taken to trial in a civilian court even though it involves criminal allegations that occurred during military duty has attracted attention from around the world.

One journalist called Nazario the Fallujah Fall Guy as he detailed how the alleged incident where Nazario and two other Marine sergeants executed Iraqi detainees took place in front of the backdrop of what he called the fiercest military operation during the war in Iraq.

(excerpt, Foreign Policy in Focus)

"Fallujah was declared a ‘free-fire zone' in November 2004 and we told the civilian population that they had to leave because the entire city was going to be deemed hostile territory," explains Zollie Goodman, a former U.S. Navy petty officer who served in Fallujah and doesn't know Nazario. "Some of them left. They carried TVs or food and sat outside the city and waited for the firefight to be over so they could go home."

But, Goodman said, "some of them didn't leave," leading to many innocent civilian casualties.

"We would just leave the dead Iraqis in the streets and they piled up," Goodman said. "It was disgusting. We ended up sighting in our weapons on these dead bodies. We'd been trained to keep our weapons 'on point.' You always want your weapon to be sighted in. So when we didn't have a target to shoot we sighted our weapons on dead people and dead animals. That happened a lot at the tail end of Operation Phantom Fury."

What author and journalist Aaron Glantz focuses his analysis on is the disparate handling of the rank and file Marines who were involved in controversial incidents in Fallujah and the Abu Ghraib prison and their leadership. Most of the time when the scandals broke and were put on blast all over the world, it was those at the bottom rungs of the military's ladder who were placed front and center and disciplined or in some cases even prosecuted for their involvement. Yet, in most cases the military leaders who supervised and directed these military personnel were either given a slap on the wrist or even awarded and/or promoted.

In the incident in Fallujah which has brought Nazario to the U.S. District Courts in downtown Riverside to be tried for something he allegedly did thousands of miles and in a different country, there's only one mention of any supervisor that was in the vicinity either physically or by radio. Allegedly, the order given by Nazario to sergeants, Jermaine Nelson and Ryan Weemer to kill the detainees was first given to Nazario through his radio by an unnamed lieutenant. But even as the names of those detainees killed has never been released to the public nor is it clear they've ever been identified by names at all, the name of this lieutenant that told three men to execute detainees has never been named, let alone surfaced.

Does this lieutenant exist? Where is he or she at this moment? Where was he or she back then?

Needless to say, he or she is not facing criminal charges either in a military court-marshal proceeding or in civilian court.

But what will happen at this trial? It's unlikely that Nelson or Weemer will testify against Nazario. Both refused to do so at a recent federal grand jury proceeding that focused on Nazario.

(excerpt, Defend Our Marines)

“It shows the solidarity of these Marines,” McDermott says.

Perhaps. But what it might also show is that the code of silence that is part and parcel of many police departments may have its counterpart in the armed forces as well. And when is the code of silence most noticeable? When officers are assured that they are doing their job right? No, most often it rears its head when they know that something's wrong, they know they are under scrutiny but they won't tell on each other.

Although at least with Weemer and Nelson ,that wasn't always the case.

Weemer talked about the alleged incident while being given a polygraph as part of applying for a post-military position in the Secret Service. Nelson chatted with Nazario on the phone knowing full well that the conversation was being taped. Apparently, Nelson had his own Navy criminal investigator coaching him as well. That's when Nazario allegedly talked about his days as a police officer (including comments which should have made his employing agency a bit nervous) and not a general incident in Fallujah but a more specific one.

But now, the solidarity that McDermott calls it comes to play. But what's most likely is that neither Weemer nor Nelson want to testify at Nazario's trial because they don't want their own words to come back and haunt them during their respective proceedings.

Nazario has his own Wikipedia page here.

A wish list is being put together for the next Riverside Unified School District superintendent.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The consultants working on the superintendent search, Rudy Castruita and Carolyn McKennan of Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, got 248 responses to a questionnaire that was posted on the district's Web site.

They also met with 76 people during a forum and interviews held in late July.

Some people who spoke to the consultants also filled out a questionnaire, but not all of them did, McKennan said.

Communication with employees, parents and students was among the most commonly cited concern. The report also cited a need to strengthen relationships with the city and county, community organizations and businesses.

In an interview, the president of the teachers union said communication with Rainey and other top district administrators improved over the past few years, but it has been a problem since well before Rainey's 10-year tenure.

"They made decisions without collaboration and input from teachers on many things," Riverside City Teachers Association President Mark Lawrence said.

RUSD Search Profile Report is the compilation of the public input.

A scam involving charging fees for county services has been circulating through the mail.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The mailers offer to obtain new county assessments on homes as well as homeowners' tax exemptions at fees ranging from $39 to $95.

But the counties provide these services at no charge and readily supply the required forms along with assistance filling them out, said Riverside County Assessor Larry Ward.

Heads of two such companies said they are aiding people who lack the time or specialized knowledge to file paperwork on their own. The letters include disclaimers that the senders are not government agencies.

But Ward said the companies may be taking advantage of less savvy homeowners.

"It's a fine line between charging people for a service they need and pulling the wool over their eyes and charging them for something they either don't need or could easily do themselves for free," said Frit Swain, Riverside County's assistant assessor for valuation. "We hate to see people paying for a service they don't need."

More than 1,000 San Bernardino County homeowners have called the assessor's office in the past year with questions after receiving such mailers, the office's spokesman Ted Lehrer said.

One of the San Bernardino County supervisors said let's move on from the controversy about mandatory drug testing for public officials.

The controversy began when the county treasurer said that in the wake of allegations that county assessor, Bill Postmus was using illegal drugs the practice needed to be instituted. However, the county counsel said it was unconstitutional. Regardless several elected officials went out and were tested anyway.

What do people think of all this impromptu drug testing? It's had its supporters and its critics.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

I never heard anything like this before," said Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, which studies ethics. "It just feels like a... publicity stunt."

Several supervisors agreed.

"My feeling was 'This is getting silly,' " said 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt. "It's not too much to ask our elected leaders to lead by example, but I think (the drug tests) distracted from the main issue."

At the heart of that issue is county Assessor Bill Postmus, county authorities said. On Wednesday, several supervisors and high-ranking county managers sought to shift the focus back onto the allegations of drug addiction and political corruption circling Postmus.

"(The drug tests are) not going to solve the problem," said Mark Kirk, chief of staff for 4th District Supervisor Gary Ovitt. Kirk also took a drug test, he said, and tested clean.

"The questions are about the assessor," Kirk said. "The majority of the concerns that this board has faced about ethical behavior, at the end of the day, is rooted in one individual."

Assessor's office spokesman Ted Lehrer said Postmus had "no comment on this matter at this time."

In trouble, is a San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department deputy who allegedly assaulted a truck driver while off-duty.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The tow truck driver had seen a big rig fire on I-10 near Eagle Mountain Road, a remote area between Indio and Blythe. He pulled his truck into the right lane to block traffic about 250 feet behind the burning truck, according to a CHP declaration in support of an arrest warrant.

While using his cell phone to report the fire to CHP dispatch, the tow truck driver saw a red Dodge pickup pull next to him. The man inside, later identified as Heverly, flashed his badge and said, "Deputy sheriff, get off the ... phone!" the report said.

The man then grabbed the phone from the driver and pulled him from the truck, improperly cuffing his right hand and causing injuries, the declaration said. Before cuffing his other hand and leading him to the back of the truck, the deputy pulled his .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol and placed it in the driver's ear, the report said.

" 'I have a gun in your ear, and I will kill you,' " Heverly said, according to the declaration, pressing down and twisting the gun barrel, causing bruising.

Richard Charles Heverly now faces four felonies including assault under the color of authority.

Will Lake Elsinore pass a ban on pan handling?

Moss Point, Mississippi will have to wait longer for its civilian review. The current administration has rejected it. Undeterred, the city residents fighting for its implementation promised the sitting council that they would respond through their votes at election time.

(excerpt, Gulf Live)

A group of about 30 members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People stood up and left immediately after the motion died, some calling the city's leadership "crooked." One member chanted on his way out "May 0-9"--- referring to the date of elections for local officials.

Tensions continued to simmer outside as NAACP members talked amongst themselves.

"We spoke, but we were not heard," Annette McCorvey told fellow supporters of the citizen review board.

McCorvey is the sister of Alvin McCorvey, who is pursuing simple assault charges against a Moss Point officer.

"We're going to vote them out of office, because they're not properly representing the citizens of Moss Point," said Curley Clark, president of the Jackson County NAACP, after the group left the meeting room.

Boston's form of oversight is displeased with how that city's police department has been handling investigations of complaints. It sent at least five of them back for further work.

(excerpt, Boston Globe)

The panel said it found instances in which investigators drew conclusions without facts to support them, did not try hard enough to contact potential witnesses, and, in many instances, used leading questions while interviewing complainants or officers. It said the other 14 cases were handled appropriately.

What's interesting is that if you go to this page and read through the annual reports by the Riverside Community Police Review Commission, you will find the same observations about complaint investigations in the "trends and patterns" sections.

An attack of road rage hit two New York City Police Department officers while off-duty in the Bronx.

(excerpt, New York Daily News)

NYPD Officers Michelle Anglin, 37, and Koleen Robinson, 24, were charged with assault, gang assault and criminal possession of a weapon for the Williamsbridge beatdown.

It took 25 staples to close the gash in Marlon Smith's head, authorities said.

Smith, 35, had pulled up alongside Robinson's black Suburban with his driver's side car door wide open as the two cars sat near E. 218th St. and White Plains Road at 5p.m. Friday.

"Close the door, you f------ a------!" one of the two off-duty transit cops yelled as Smith came perilously close to scraping Robinson's SUV.

Smith proceeded to make a big mistake: He yelled at one of the officers, "You are a f------ b----!"

And then it was on.

Robinson jumped out of the driver's seat and Anglin got out of the passenger's side, authorities said.

Smith tried to close his car door but Anglin, a cop since January 2005, was too quick and squirted pepper spray in his face, court records say.

When Smith tried to grab Anglin, Robinson, who joined the NYPD in January 2006, punched him, the records stated.

A witness who tried to break up the brawl heard one or both of the women warn Smith, "Do you know who you are f------ with? We are the police!"

One officer beat Smith with her baton, the other with a gun. Now they're facing gang assault charges in court.

Genuine Risk (1977-2008)

Rest in Peace, old girl.

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