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

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The iceberg cometh...

"The source known as Deep Throat provided a kind of road map through the scandal. His one consistent message was that the Watergate burglary was just the tip of the iceberg. "

---Bob Woodward

"Now we're through the looking glass here, people. White is black, and black is white."


Dozens protested the fatal officer-involved shooting of Fernando Sanchez, 30, near Arlanza in Riverside yesterday. It was the first protest of an officer-involved death in several years.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The protesters started in Bryant Park and moved to the corner of Wells Avenue and Van Buren Boulevard where they held up signs that read "Stop the killing" and chanted "don't shoot to kill."

Sanchez's family called for police to use less-than-lethal methods of subduing suspects.

"With so many things they can do today, they don't have to kill them," said Sanchez's mother, Ida Sanchez, 61, citing Tasers and beanbag guns.

Fernando Sanchez was the second Riverside resident police shot to death this month. A pair of officers shot Carlos David Quinonez, 48, in La Sierra on Sept. 1 when he pointed a shotgun at them.

John DeLaRosa, assistant chief of the Riverside police, said he would not comment during the department's internal investigation into the shooting.

An officer chased down Sanchez, 30, after Sanchez ran from a gas station convenience store when the officer tried to speak to him, police have said.

The officer, whose name hasn't been released, struggled with Sanchez and the officer felt a gun in Sanchez's pocket, according to police.

Sanchez wouldn't take his hands out of his pocket and the officer, fearing for his safety, shot Sanchez several times, police said.

Sanchez had no outstanding warrants, police said. Police said in a news release that a handgun was found on Sanchez.

As is usual in cases like this, there are comments on this article. One commenter provided me with an interesting case of deja vu but at least he's learned how to better behave himself. The commenters who have justified the shooting based on what the Press Enterprise and the police department have said about it (which is very little so far) may be right, but it seems that if the city and police department were really all that confident that the last three incustody deaths, all involving Latino men, were as justified as they appeared to be, then the attitude from both parties would be the following.

Bring us your outside and independent investigations, because we welcome any outside scrutiny by any party because we stand behind the conduct of our police officers when they use lethal force. We welcome these outside probes including by a commission of civilian volunteers from the city we serve because we believe that our officers' actions can withstand such scrutiny and doing this will promote accountability, transparency and trust in the city towards its police department. We've got nothing to hide, certainly nothing that would cause us to obstruct the evolution of the public's trust in our agency's services.

Now, has the city or police department said anything like this, lately? What exactly have the mayor, city council members (at least the three who will comment publicly), city manager, city attorney and police department said? Is it anything remotely similar to the above?

I didn't think so.

You would think with nearly 10 years after the shooting death of Tyisha Miller (including five years spent under a consent decree) and over $22 million spent, that the city and department would have reached this level in the process. At least they should have done so. Actually, in the case of incustody deaths, the department did do this for just over seven years. Even during years when they had more fatal shootings like 2003 with three fatal shootings (out of about seven shootings total for that year), the city and department allowed the investigations to continue. But even though there were more shootings during 2002-03, very few of them resulted in civil litigation. Only one of them, the November 2002 shooting of Anastacio Munoz resulted in a lawsuit being filed.

But in 2008, that pattern of unencumbered investigations by the CPRC came to an end. And curiously enough, that happened after the city had paid out money on lawsuits filed in three fatal incidents. So given this, is it really that surprising that the city government changed its attitude and the rules on these investigations, hiding behind a rationale it never expressed concern about until just recently?

Look what they have done and said instead in the past several months. They've placed restrictions on the Community Police Review Commission's ability to carry out its charter mandate to investigate officer-involved deaths in any meaningful way. They suddenly decided to do this after eight years of remaining relatively quiet on the issue and how the commission was handling these cases. They've changed their practices during a time period of an increase in officer-involved deaths and an increase in lawsuits filed in relation to earlier deaths that the city either has settled or is in the process of settling totaling about $1.5 million so far.

The impression that it's left people is that the city fears and doesn't trust its own police department. Pretty vividly. What the city hasn't done is explain why this is the perception that it is sending through essentially muzzling the civilian oversight in this city in the area of officer-involved deaths. Whatever faith it had in the police department that led to at least 10 unencumbered investigations of officer-involved deaths by the commission without city interference is clearly gone without any explanation why. And that's attracted attention even from people who haven't been following what's been going on with the CPRC. The sudden actions of the city manager, city attorney and now three council members have caused people to sit and take notice that something problematic was taking place.

What's interesting is the amount of words that at least of the city council members will expend on defending their direct employees actions against the CPRC is much, much greater than that expended by them to address concerns with hiring and staffing issues in the police department including the freezing of supervisory positions. When the city froze a sizable portion of the new officer positions that it had created over the past several years, the city council including the three members who wrote the opinion piece not only didn't write any articles on this issue, they didn't really talk about it in any public forum.

The police department plans to brief the barely-there Community Police Review Commission on the Sanchez shooting on Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall in its council chambers (which is in the adjacent building). Just as it will finally give a briefing on the death of Martin Gaspar Pablo over two months after it happened.

But since the commission pretty much had its abilities to do a meaningful and timely investigation shut down by the city and you have elected officials shielding concerns about civil liability around the so-called integrity of criminal investigations and the city attorney did the same thing except he used his new interpretation of the city charter to mask concern about the same civic liability.

How do we know this? Because from 2001-2008, neither the city council including Frank Schiavone, Steve Adams and Nancy Hart nor City Attorney Gregory Priamos ever contested the initiation of an investigation into about 12 incustody deaths and if their rationale for doing so now was solid, they would have complained about it or placed these restrictions on these investigations much sooner. The difference between allowing 12 incustody death investigations by the CPRC to move forward and not allowing them to do so now is the sheer magnitude of civil litigation filed alleging wrongful death and civil rights violations filed in recent years compared to the dearth of lawsuits filed between 2000-05.

And what's most interesting about the article written by three elected officials was how the commission *worked* for years until just recently and they believed that restricting how it investigates incustody deaths was the way to get it back working again. However, during the period it "worked" (which was between 2000-08), it was actually beginning its investigations of these incidents within days of the incidents. During the time it didn't work (as defined in the article), it had the ability to do so restricted. This leaves the three elected officials essentially contradicting their own argument.

It's entirely possible that while discussing behind closed doors whether or not to pay out on yet another settlement, the city government said, no more! We can't handle another lawsuit so let's remove anything that we perceive places us at risk of being sued for wrongful death.

What you see now involving the handling of the CPRC by various entities in the city is similar to situations involving icebergs. Just as in most cases, only about 10% of an iceberg is visible above the surface of the ocean, so it will very much likely be with this latest round of actions involving the CPRC.

And in the weeks and months ahead, what you will see here is more information about the other 90% of Riverside's latest "iceberg".

Deaf Awareness Week began and there's a week's worth of activities planned. The percentage of deaf people in Riverside is about 17% which is higher than the national average.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The week of events kicks off today with a picnic at Fairmount Park and ends with a softball game Saturday pitting the Riverside Police Department against the deaf community.

Other activities include an open house at California School for the Deaf Riverside, American Sign Language storytelling at the Arlington Library and a performance by Wild Zappers, an all-deaf male dance company.

"We have to do more and more to expose people to the deaf community," said Burstein, chairman of the city's Model Deaf Community, which works to build quality of life for the deaf and hard of hearing. "Deaf people can be invisible because you can't tell we are deaf."

This is Riverside's ninth annual Deaf Awareness Week. The Model Deaf Community organizes the week.

The city of Menifee is still trying to figure out how to be a city.

The Riverside County District Attorney's office is set to release a report on officer-involved shootings by sheriff deputies at the Soboba reservation, something it rarely does.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Last month, sheriff's investigators turned over a package of information that included witness statements, autopsy results and other evidence to prosecutors, who will determine whether to file criminal charges against the deputies.

Pacheco said investigators are still waiting for transcripts to be completed and can't say when the findings will be released. He said he plans to model his report after those produced by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

That office has been generating public reports on all its officer-involved shooting cases for 30 years, said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman.

"The public has the right to know the facts of a shooting and the rationale of why criminal charges aren't filed," she said.

Very few law enforcement officers end up being criminally charged, she said.

"You have to show a crime was committed. That's extremely hard to do."

The San Bernardino County district attorney's office started issuing public reports on a few high-profile officer-involved shooting cases in 1999. In 2003, the office decided to produce reports on all of its officer-involved shooting cases, said Susan Mickey, a spokeswoman.

"We recognized that the public has a lot of interest in those cases and how we reach our decision," Mickey said. "We didn't want the public to think it was a flip decision."

In the wake of the future ouster of its current police chief, the city of San Bernardino's decided it might be a good time for an examination of the police department's policies.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"I think you'll see some movement in the next few weeks or so, and maybe something on our next council agenda," Councilwoman Wendy McCammack said.

"I can tell you that it's the consensus of the council to bring in some kind of labor negotiator, and if Chief Billdt stays until March, maybe that person can help us search for a new chief," she said.

On Thursday, Mayor Pat Morris announced that police Chief Mike Billdt would retire in March.

The announcement came two weeks after the police union approved a resolution of no confidence against the chief by a 3-to-1 margin.

City Councilwoman Esther Estrada said she would like to hire a consultant soon.

"In the minds of the officers, the department's problems are not getting taken care of," she said.

"In my mind, the sooner this is taken care of, the better."

So does this mean that San Bernardino's interested in improving the practices of its troubled law enforcement agency? But at least if there are issues, this city's government is trying to deal with though in this case is it a sign of too little, too late?

While the city grapples with its police department, San Bernardino County is grappling with reining in its ethics abuses.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise editorial)

The county spurned the grand jury's approach, saying that severance packages are negotiated pacts that need to settle all potential legal claims. Constraining those agreements could leave the county vulnerable to costly lawsuits, the county said.

Taxpayers might first wonder just what county practices would create the need to settle legal claims at costs so far out of proportion to employees' work history. But beyond that, the county's lawyerly response offers no safeguards to prevent future abuses, despite clear evidence of the need.

The county does make a plausible case that current technology cannot prevent political use of the county e-mail system, another breach in Postmus' office. Still, officials failed to explain just how the county will enforce its existing ban against such activity.

The county needs a better ethical strategy than relying on existing policies that have failed to deter misconduct, and finding fault with others' proposed solutions. Supervisors seem unaware that the county has a deficit of public trust -- a gap that political posturing alone can never fill.

Officers in the Chicago Police Department which has been in the news a lot lately are clashing with their chief.

(excerpt, Associated Press)

"People are doing just what they need to get through" their shifts, said Lt. Robert Weisskopf, president of the Chicago police lieutenants union, "and not any extra."

In addition to making fewer arrests, police are seizing fewer guns and frisking gang members less often than they did before Superintendent Jody Weis was brought in to clean up a department embarrassed by a string of brutality cases, according to interviews, statistics provided by police and an internal document obtained by The Associated Press.

Department spokeswoman Monique Bond disputed the notion of any deliberate slowdown by police, saying, "There is nothing that we have to prove or support a theory like that."

She suggested instead that the drop in arrests means officers are focusing on serious crimes instead of such offenses as disorderly conduct and public drinking.

But some members of the police department, both publicly and privately, blame low morale and fear of investigation by Weis, a former FBI agent who took over in February.

"If I see a crime happening, I take action," said an officer who has more than 25 years on the force and spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. "But I don't go out of my way to stop someone on a hunch or if they look suspicious. I don't want to be accused of racial profiling and run afoul of this guy who we know won't back us up."

In Dallas, police officers there are up in arms about a survey on sexuality being given out to those attending a diversity training course.

Facing criminal charges are two New York City Police Department officers for an off-duty assault of a fireman.

excerpt, Newsday)

Long Beach authorities say the NYPD officers - both assigned to the 101st Precinct in nearby Far Rockaway - punched the off-duty Long Beach firefighter and kicked him as his 22-year-old sister watched Saturday morning around 4 a.m., City Manager Charles T. Theofan said.

When the firefighter, Brian McNamara, 32, ran from the attack on West Beech Street and Virginia Avenue, the assailants followed him across the street and beat him again, Theofan said.

Theofan said police don't know the identity of the third man, who is still at large, or whether he is a police officer. There were originally four to five people in the group but only three participated in the assault, Theofan said.

At one point, a bystander, Andrew Romanelli, 27, of Long Beach, went to help McNamara, Theofan said. It was unclear whether he was injured.

Long Beach cops later found the assailants, with the sister's assistance, a few blocks away from where the beatings took place, Theofan said. They were covered in blood, he said.

The two officers - Douglas Rome, 25, and Jason Ragoo, 26 - surrendered yesterday to be fingerprinted, photographed, and charged with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, Theofan said.

A police officer in Louisville, Kentucky allowed his son to handcuff people who had been arrested. Needless to say, that created quite a few problems.

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