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, September 02, 2008

If you add more water to the Ethics Code complaint process, will it disappear?

The man shot by Riverside Police Department officers in La Sierra Hills has died. This means that this incident will not only be investigated by the police department but will also be under investigation by the Community Police Review Commission which is already either investigating and/or reviewing three cases going back to autumn 2006. Even though the still unidentified man, 48, died one hour after being shot, police officials did not release the news until 1:47 p.m. the next day. It's not clear whether the CPRC has sent out its own investigator to begin its process but its executive manager, Kevin Rogan was quoted in the article as saying that the commission has begun its own independent investigation in accordance with the city charter.

It's also not clear when or if the department plans to address the CPRC with a briefing but then again, the commission is still waiting for the department to do so in the death of Martin Gaspar Pablo, 38, who died nearly two months ago after being handcuffed and detained by police officers. The commission met some resistance in determining whether or not it would even investigate that death from Rogan, from City Attorney Gregory Priamos and even some of its own members. Ultimately, the commission voted 5 to 3 in early August to investigate. It also voted 5 to 3 to invite Police Chief Russ Leach to brief the commission on the Pablo incident but it's not clear whether the department responded any more to this invitation than it didn't to an earlier one that was issued by CPRC Chair Brian Pearcy.

According to the police department, its officers who remain unidentified were dispatched out on an assault call and confronted the man who was armed with a shot gun. After he refused to lower it, they shot him multiple times. Even though the department had released the names of officers involved in two earlier nonfatal shootings upon reviewing a legal opinion on the issue submitted by State Attorney General Jerry Brown some months ago, it hasn't done so in this case so far.

A discussion of the shooting is happening here. It's interesting all around but someone after all this time still can't spell "quarterback" correctly.

The ever elusive Governmental Affairs Committee is set to meet at 3p.m. in the Mayor's Ceremonial Room at City Hall in Riverside. Elusive, because this once industrious committee has only met three times this year. But there's never been a shortage of drama and intrigue with each meeting even as they have become fewer and farther in between.

The planned annual evaluation of the city's ethics code and complaint process will be taking place at the meeting today. There's not much in terms of a written report so it's anyone's guess what will happen at this meeting. Not producing a public report provides the committee's members with opportunities to spring something on those who attend the meeting or it could mean that they haven't decided what action to take in terms of making any recommendations to the full city council. Still, the process has been watered down so much since the code's inception that there's not much left to do to it short of eliminating what is basically a failed experiment. It's much more difficult to actually apply an ethics accountability process to governmental officials than to think about it. Not to mention that an interesting study of applications was put on display showing the huge conflict of interest which arises when you have elected officials policing the behavior of other elected officials. They can't do it on the dais, why would they be able to do so during an ethics process?

Examples take place regularly when elected official #A calls a member of the public a "liar" or "classless" while the rest of the elected officials on the dais remain silent in a way they don't if member of the public #A were to call an elected official a "liar" or said that elected official had no class.

A study was done by a hired professional consultant of the dynamics expressed by Colton's behavior towards city residents who attend its meetings. In his report, the consultant stated that the relationship between the elected officials and the public it served was "dysfunctional" and then listed the behaviors he picked up upon watching which explained why. There wasn't a behavior listed even including facial expressions like eye rolling that he noted in Colton that hasn't been reported in Riverside. Despite all its political turmoil including a scandal here and there, Colton's city government pledged to work harder to improve its interactions with its constituents in public meetings.

Riverside in 2006 and last year orders its police officers at city council meetings to eject or escort elderly women out of the meeting chambers.

Some frequently asked questions and answers about the ethics code and complaint process are located on the city's own Web site here and provide some assistance towards trying to understand it. What's interesting to note is that the process of filing a complaint and the process which handles them is explained in this document.

For elected officials, the instructions clearly state that the City Clerk's office is to receive the complaint and forward it to the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee "for review and resolution". However with every single complaint except for one that has been filed against an elected official, the complaints were instead forwarded to the City Attorney's office for legal "evaluation" and in all of these cases except one, the complainant received a letter from that office disqualifying their complaint without it ever crossing paths with the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee which was encharged with the review process.

There's nothing written in the FAQ that the city provides for the public that even mentions the City Attorney's office let alone that it even has a role in the process. Still, the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee which was entrusted to handle this process has opted instead to use its city attorney to serve as a bouncer at the door so it doesn't have to deal with the admittedly unpleasant task of actually hearing and deciding upon ethics complaints involving potential allies on the city council. A barrier between the public including those who file ethics complaints and the committee that was designated to hear them, that's what now defines how this process is handled.

All the best intentions in the world were present among those on the Charter Review Committee when they passed the recommendation to place an initiative on the ballot. And the best intentions in the world were present among the 73% of the voters who passed Measure DD in November 2004. People in this city clearly believe an ethics code and complaint process is absolutely necessary in this city for whatever reason.

But what was intended by these voters was probably not what was ultimately implemented.

Indeed the Ethics Code was passed by voters in 2004 and after an ad hoc committee was appointed to research it (which also had great intentions) and the city council passed it, it was installed in the city's charter. Since then, it's been diluted and watered down with only complaint that was ever filed against a city official ever reaching the hearing and review process in front of the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee. The meeting is still available on CD which you can purchase from the city council's office on the seventh floor at City Hall. Listen to it, and you might never even want to file a complaint because it lets you know exactly how well elected officials hold each other accountable and what happens with complainants during the hearing process.

When an elected official acts out on the dais, the other elected representatives never say anything about it, but still have assigned themselves the task of holding each other accountable in the ethics complaint process? There's no realistic expectation that this is ever going to happen and until it does, the occasional complaint which trickles on down from the City Attorney's office will wind up in a hearing process with the complainant being put on trial.

Then again, it really doesn't have to work as an accountability mechanism if you look back at the city's recent political history and the relationship between ethics complaints and the political careers of elected officials who received most of the complaints. Those who received complaints had difficulties getting reelected to office or couldn't get reelected whether the complaints were handled properly through the process outlined in the FAQs or not.

That was what took place during Election 2007.

The number one recipient of complaints was former Ward One Councilman Dom Betro and he narrowly lost reelection last November. The second highest recipient of complaints was Ward Seven Councilman Steve Adams (a member of the current Governmental Affairs Committee) who barely won his reelection by a handful of votes.

What Riverside's voters have shown is that the city council members who act out are the ones who have a hard time getting reelected or don't get reelected at all. This should be no surprise to those who talk to the city's voters especially when it comes to how they view the council members' conduct at public meetings. The elected officials who behave themselves are duly praised and remembered for doing so. The ones who don't? They may face an uphill reelection journey if recent history is any precedent. And often times, they are the last to figure this out if they even do after losing or nearly losing the election.

Even when these council members try to compete for political positions in other venues, they don't typically win the elections. In fact, they don't even get that many votes. One important reason why might because as the number of constituents increases, so does the pressure cookers of government decision making and politics and those with quick tempers and even quicker tongues aren't viewed as having the qualities needed to handle the additional pressures and challenges of these seats. In fact, they might be viewed as not being able to handle it or themselves in those situations.

And throwing money at candidates and spending huge campaign chests doesn't necessarily change this. Neither does diluting what ethics process the city has at the moment.

So to no surprise, the election process might prove to be a more effective accountability mechanism for the ethics of elected officials than a watered down process that serves as mainly a a prop or public relations tool for appearances sake. And has been demonstrated in recent months, it's harder to manipulate the election process even when governmental officials try. Precisely because they are dealing with the same voters.

"Contagious Fire" is a major focus of the investigation into Inglewood's most recent fatal officer involved shooting, according to the Los Angeles Times.


The death of Eddie Felix Franco, 56, was the fourth fatal officer-involved shooting in Inglewood in four months. City officials have repeatedly declined to answer questions about what prompted the shooting, which came occurred about five minutes after officers first confronted Franco. Officials have said he had a fake gun but not whether he displayed it at any point during the incident.

Investigators are looking at the possibility that the shooting was a case of "contagious fire" -- a phenomenon in which an officer opens fire after he hears other officers shooting and misinterprets the shots as being an attack against himself.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing, said officials are also trying to determine whether the officers were appropriately positioned to avoid firing on civilians.

The shooting occurred near the busy intersection of La Brea Avenue and Market Street, next to a barbecue restaurant filled with patrons. One of the rounds grazed the head of a motorist driving by, and bullet marks could be seen on a wall near the shooting site. Officers also fatally shot a dog belonging either to Franco or another homeless man.

The federal judge presiding over the corruption case of former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona issued a ruling that Carona's girlfriend can't be referred to as his mistress.

A police officer in Yonkers, New York plead not guilty to charges that he slammed a woman around.

(excerpt, Newsday)

The attorney spoke after the defendant, Yonkers Officer Wayne Simoes, pleaded not guilty in federal court.

"While the tape shows part of the story, what it cannot show is Officer Simoes' intent," said defense lawyer Andrew Quinn. "There was no intent to injure."

He predicted a trial in 2009.

The incident occurred March 3, 2007, at a restaurant where Irma Marquez's niece had been hit with a bottle. The video shows Simoes grabbing Marquez by the waist, lifting her and slamming her face first onto the tile floor. Her jaw was broken and she was knocked unconscious.

Authorities said at the time that the officer was trying to keep the woman from interfering with emergency medical technicians.

Marquez was handcuffed and arrested, but later acquitted of an obstruction charge. She is suing the Yonkers police force for $11 million.

In Pittsburgh, the police chief is standing by the officers who tased a man.

(excerpt, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Jason Schmidt, 29, remained in Allegheny General Hospital yesterday but was being eased out of his medically induced coma. His father, Bill Schmidt said last night that his son reacted to his presence by sitting up, staring ahead though he still has not spoken.

He was charged with criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in the incident at his friend Andrew Balint's Brighton Heights home. Mr. Schmidt had a seizure and was acting wildly, according to Mr. Balint and a criminal complaint, apparently from a drug overdose.

Three police officers responded to a 911 call from Mr. Balint and officers Kim Stanley and Holly Murphy stunned him a total of four times.

"Our officers did act appropriately," Chief Harper said. "And what appears to be overlooked is the fact that the actor was still very combative at the hospital, and it took eight staff members to restrain him. His coma was not the direct result of being hit with the Taser."

A police officer in Indiana is in trouble in the wake of evidence just disappearing after he's handled it.

(excerpt, The Indy Channel)

City leaders met Wednesday evening to discuss what action might be taken in the case, but those discussions were not made public.

The Indiana State Police are heading up the investigation, which involves evidence missing from the department's evidence room, police said.

"There are lockers and keys, and that will be part of the investigation as to who got into the lockers and what type of evidence," said ISP Sgt. Mike Burns. "We'll probably have to look at the case reports going back quite a ways and what evidence was turned in with those case reports and compare the total number that was turned in with what they have at the station now."

Burns declined to say why the officer's name was being withheld if he is the focus of a criminal investigation.

Can being arrested be lethal?

After being acquitted in federal court of war crimes, Jose Luis Nazario, jr. walked to the Orange Street Station of the Riverside Police Department to get his job back. And as it turns out, the department might be perfectly willing to do so...even as his comments about his first stint there that were written about in the Wall Street Journal go unaddressed.

To be continued...

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