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

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Will Officer Jose Luis Nazaro be wearing blue again in Riverside?

If you haven't heard or read the news by now, former U.S. Marine sergeant and Riverside Police Department officer, Jose Luis Nazario, jr. was acquitted by a jury of manslaughter charges in federal court. Afterward, at least one juror was effusive in her emotional response to the case.

(excerpt, Associated Press)

It's been a long, hard year for my family," Nazario said outside the courtroom. "I need a moment to catch my breath and try to get my life back together."

Thursday's verdict marks the first time a civilian jury has determined whether the alleged actions of a former military service member in combat violated the law of war.

The jury forewoman, Ingrid Wicken, hugged Nazario's sobbing mother, Sandra Montanez, without speaking after the verdict was read. "I watched her all week. She was being tortured every day," Wicken said later.

"I thanked her, God blessed her," Montanez said. "I told her she gave me my son back. It was something I needed to say."

Wicken said the panel acquitted Nazario because there was not enough evidence against him.

"I think you don't know what goes on in combat until you are in combat," she said.

What's next for Nazario? His lawyer said getting his job back with the Riverside Police Department. One article placed him as walking to the Orange Street station to get his job back. The jury made the only decision it could have made considering the dearth of evidence presented in part due to the witnesses taking the 5th amendment. What exactly happened couldn't be proven within a reasonable doubt.

Now there's a next step.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

Cheers erupted in the court from Nazario's family members and a small group of ex-Marines and off-duty Riverside police officers when the verdict was read. After the defendant was charged in the case, the Riverside Police Department fired him. His lawyer said he planned to petition the department for reinstatement.

What's interesting about that and troubling at the same time is that just last week, the Wall Street Journal, one of the nation's most circulated newspapers, published this article about the Nazario case.

Included in the article were statements allegedly made by Nazario while he was talking on the phone to Marine Sgt. Jermaine Nelson, a conversation taped by the Navy Criminal Investigation division. While talking with Nelson, Nazario shared some of his sentiments about working as a probational officer for the Riverside Police Department.


In a recent interview, Mr. Nazario said he went to Riverside to raise a family and "protect the people there," which was "a natural extension from my work in the Marines."

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.

So, is he basically saying that he regularly used excessive force on individuals and then came up with a legal justification to do so after the fact? If so, is that the truth and is that what the Riverside Police Department wants its officers to do while patrolling the city's streets? It's made great efforts to express to communities that this is definitely not what it wants.

Different people had different reactions to news that Nazario had tried to get his job back just minutes after his acquittal. Some people that would never happen because it was the Riverside Police Department. Others said it would because it was the Riverside Police Department. Even in the decade since the fatal officer-involved shooting of Tyisha Miller, the image that is perceived of the police department remains very polarized depending on who is sharing it. And in several months when people share their feelings about the department when the 10th anniversary of that shooting passes, these sentiments likely will define what people say. Possibly, this episode will cross their lips when evaluating where the department was in 1998 and where it is a decade later. after spending much of that time period undergoing reforms mandated by former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

When Nazario was asked about these statements about beatings and construing excuses to explain them in an interview by a reporter, he attributed what he said to two men "talking tough" about "untrue stories" but it's difficult to unring the bell. It's just as difficult to do that as it is to figure out which time he was truthful and which time he wasn't.

When a representative of the police department was asked to comment on the statements, he or she simply said that they were unable to talk about the personnel records of officers in the agency and that there were no other pending criminal charges filed against Nazario. The department didn't include in its issued statement that it was even looking into the alleged statements to determine whether there was any factual basis to them, meaning if Nazario actually did what he told Nelson he did while he was a police officer in Riverside and if so, who he did it to.

When it was asked by one reporter to respond to whether or not Nazario could be rehired, it declined to comment but this is an issue that it will have to eventually face in terms of deciding the fate of the officer it had fired and how an officer who made such statements fits into its fabric. But whether or not the police department looked into the allegations and into Nazario's past contacts with individuals during his year at the department, that might never be known outside of the department.

Many a law enforcement agency which prided itself on its improved accountability would be dismayed or even horrified to find out that one of the nation's largest newspapers was writing about a former officer talking about misconduct that he apparently said that he did while employed there according to the Wall Street Journal.

Hopefully, the department's silence on the manner doesn't mean that it's doing nothing. Hopefully, it's remembering how far it's come and what it took to get there and investigating what Nazario did during his nearly one year spent at the police department. Hopefully, it will evaluate what exactly Nazario did mean when he made those statements while evaluating whether or not to accept his lawyer's petition to readmit him into the police department's fold.

Will it rehire him and defend its decision to do so?

On one level, his acquittal of the manslaughter charges opens up that door to do so, but that decision can't be made separately from the comments that he made about his stint there. So would another argument be used to justify rehiring Nazario instead?

The rationale being, that the public doesn't understand what it means to be a police officer so it shouldn't have an opinion, yet by saying that, what that individual or individuals is really saying is that yes, we beat up people, yes we lie about it but don't judge us, because you don't walk in our shoes. Yet, if this stance is taken and it's one possible one to choose from, then perhaps the next step is to explain why if this is so there are administrators and investigators say that this isn't going on. Because it can't be defended by drawing the blue wall around it while at the same time saying it doesn't exist at all.

Will the department say to Nazario thanks but no thanks because we are very concerned about hiring or rehiring officers who make comments even in jest about using force against individuals that might be in violation of administrative policy and potentially illegal and lying in any context about that use whatsoever. There's no room for that in the Riverside Police Department today in August 2008 or so the public's been told time and time again.

The department would have to be the one to let him back in because being probational, Nazario was an "at will" employee meaning that he could be fired without cause. He also doesn't have the option of taking his firing to arbitration in an attempt to get reinstated that way. So if he's back in uniform by the end of the month or the year, it will be by invitation only by the department or the city.

But it's not very likely that it will even be up to the police department. More than likely several key players in the arena that's City Hall will make their views on the subject known and they will be looking at various factors including any civil liability or risk management issues associated or surrounding Nazario's return. They'll have to answer questions like what will happen if Nazario and the city get sued for excessive force allegations or even the use of lethal force? Will plaintiff attorneys use the statements made by Nazario in that phone conversation to up the dollars paid out in settlements or in trial verdicts? Will the city want to take that risk, given that it's currently in the midst of settling law suits filed for wrongful death and it's not even clear that the money being used to pay off any of these lawsuits is coming from outside the general fund?

The marriage between the police department and risk management seems to be a long-lasting one with a rich history.

At any rate, whether or not the police department or the city rehires or reinstates Nazario, its decision will certainly serve as commentary and as testimony to what its identity is now and what it will be in the future. If it rehires him without examining how he defined himself as an officer, then it will be telling communities what it expects out of its officers. And that will be beating the shit out of people and then lying about it to back it up. Its actions will speak louder than any words it could use to define itself as anything but an agency that advocates that kind of policing. And people who believe that this is how the department operates anyway will have some proof.

After nearly a decade from the day the shots were fired that were heard around the world, that would be a shame, a huge step backwards and not a very good legacy built on reform and rebuilding trust at that. But the decision it makes in this case will be one opportunity to see how much the department has changed and grown for the better or for the worse. At any rate, it's the department or the city that runs it which will make the decision and maybe it'll be forthcoming about it and maybe it won't, but this situation will provide a very useful litmus test of the department as it stands in 2008.

What's past doesn't necessarily have to be prologue but it may very well be.

Anatomy of the Jose Nazario case

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein dishes on the downtown office building wars including the proposed new headquarters for the Riverside County District Attorney's office.


Riverside's downtown mall is getting a redo (Ladies in heels: Beware the Personal Injury Pavers!) for $10 million.

But everything's relative. RivCo may spend $128 mill on a 10-story edifice for DA Rod Pacheco -- much less than the $216 million Rod Mahal that Pacheco pitched last year.

His new building will be taller than the county building (but he shudda held out for Morongo Pacheco) and topped by a dome (a Pacheco Chamber). Look for an IT floor (Injunction Technology); Backlog Bay, where felony cases will be properly aged; Misdemeanor Mezzanine (filings 24/7!); a mock Family Law court converted to try felonies; a penthouse telescope to make sure judges ride the bench on Fridays; and a 10-story outdoor Conviction Rate thermometer.

You think a $10 million mall job and a $128 million DA Dome are big boppers?

The former treasurer of Redlands admitted forging at least one record during his tenure. He was pleading guilty on corruption charges filed against him.

A police officer in San Diego charged with leaving his canine in his car on a hot day killing it entered a no contest plea.

He was ordered by the judge to pay restitution costs, do 100 hours of community service and spend three years on probation.

One of New York City's most revered veteran police officers also turned out to be so-called "bling bandit".

(excerpt, New York Daily News)

Several former colleagues were shocked this fearless lawman could take such a turn.

"Dear God, he was a hero cop! He was an amazing undercover. He worked the Joint Terror Task Force with the FBI. How this happened is incredible," a police source said. " ... Anyone who knows him, and sees the video, knows it's him."

Wearing dark shades and a baseball hat, Kelson, who drives a Porsche, walked into banks and wrote his demands on the backs of deposit slips. After patiently waiting in line, he handed the note to the teller, requesting the loot be stuffed in an envelope.

Twice, he flashed a semi-automatic handgun during his heists, police said.

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