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 13, 2008

September gloom?

The clouds and fog have really moved into Riverside each morning like it's June.

The Governmental Affairs Committee meeting, take two met on Sept. 12 to more properly conduct an evaluation of the current ethics code and complaint process, this time with more people in attendance.

About a dozen city residents and the heads of four boards and commissions attended as well as Mayor Ron Loveridge who last week, said that he had not been notified that the Governmental Affairs Committee would be conducting its annual evaluation. However, that past meeting held on Sept. 3 had been in violation of the city council resolution #21560, part III (6). This provision that wasn't followed stated the following:

"Annually the mayor, the city manager, the city attorney and the chairs of all boards and commissions shall meet with the Governmental Affairs Committee of the city council to assess the effectiveness of this code and its application. They shall present a report to the city council which may include for the inclusion of new values and procedures."

Of course, none of these people attended the meeting and participated in this process because none of them were invited to do so or even informed that the initial meeting was going to take place. The discussion of the ethics code and complaint process by the Governmental Affairs Committee last week took about three minutes.

The Group's chair, Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely spoke who had chaired the ethics committee offered some recommendations to the councilmen including increasing public outreach, creating an annual report and having complaints against elected officials heard by an outside body perhaps a panel of three retired judges.

Save-Riverside's Kevin Dawson spoke on his own experience after being denied due process while filing a complaint of misconduct against former Councilman Dom Betro in 2007. According to the resolution pt. III(3), the following is what should have been done.

"Complaints regarding elected officials shall be made in writing and presented to the chairperson of the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee through the city clerk.the complaint shall be forwarded to the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee for review and resolution."

Of course, naturally that's what wasn't done. What happened instead is that Dawson didn't receive any response from anyone at City Hall until he received a letter by Priamos turning his complaint down. After his complaint was essentially voided by Priamos, there was a discussion to include a provision in the code about only applying it to elected officials carrying out their job responsibilities. Dawson said that when former Councilman Dom Betro attacked him near the Fox Theater, he had told him that he'd better pray that he wouldn't get reelected. At the time, Betro was just about to arrive at a function at the Fox Theater where he would be giving a speech as a councilman in the ward where the theater sits. Betro of course, was never reelected and his attitude was cited as one major reason why.

Dawson asked when and where this discussion took place and whether or not it complied with the Brown Act. The city attorney was in violation, he said.

"Kevin, you're in violation now," Schiavone said.

If an elected official or more of them have expanded the scope of Priamos' powers in the past several months, this is one place to look.

Yolanda Garland said that people who are ethical act ethically and it's the people who don't and who are "arrogant bullies" who needed to be dealt with. She also noted how quiet the dais gets when the one or two councilmen who misbehave during meetings act out.

"No one speaks for their voiceless victims," Garland said.

Schiavone let speakers talk as long as they needed to until just after Priamos left his seat, walked over to him and whispered something in his ear. Then he started telling people that their three minutes was up.

After the public speaking was done, the elected officials spoke up. Councilman Steve Adams proposed that complaints come to the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee for processing and resolution which is where they were always supposed to go. Priamos bristled a bit in his chair at the words probably wondering if he was going to be left to flap in the wind by the elected officials, but other council members agreed with Adams' proposal.

An unintentional bit of humor occurred when Councilman Rusty Bailey asked if there was language in the municipal code that allowed the committee to hear complaints or whether it had to be amended.

Not so, said the city's legal eagle.

"It's already reflected there," Priamos said.

Yes, indeed it is as city residents who've read it have already pointed out. The proper procedure outlined in one of the city's own codes just wasn't being followed by the city government including its Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee. Amazing isn't it, that there can be an ethics process in place yet City Hall didn't even follow the proper procedure. But then look at the handling of the language in a much stronger document, the city's charter involving the Community Police Review Commission and it's not difficult to see what's going on there.

There's more coverage of the review of this process here. The city council will be discussing this issue at its Oct. 7 meeting.

Here's an update on the most recent fatal officer-involved shooting that took place in the Arlington area on Sept. 11.

According to the police department's press release by Sgt. Mark Rossi, the unidentified officer was checking out a vehicle at a gas station when a Latino man, tentatively identified as Fernando Sanchez, left the store, exchanged words with him and then fled. The officer followed and there was a struggle before he shot the man who was armed.

The vehicle that was the subject of the officer's interest fled the scene but was later apprehended.

Another article stated that the officer had struggled with the man and felt a gun in his pocket before he shot him. This is the version presented by the Homicide/Robbery unit sergeant in the initial days of an investigation which the department often says lasts months or even over one year. In fact, one member of the Community Police Review Commission said that the commission wouldn't even get the casebook for the fatal shooting of Carlos Quinonez, Sr. until next April at the earliest.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Police said Friday the incident unfolded at about 8:40 p.m. when the officer, whose identity has not been released, was checking a compact car at a gas station at Van Buren and Wells.

"There was something about the vehicle that didn't look right," Riverside police Sgt. Mark Rossi said, but he said he wasn't sure whether the vehicle or its occupants raised the officer's suspicion.

As the officer checked the car, a man came out of the gas station store and ran when the officer tried to speak with him, Rossi said.

When the man ran west on Wells Avenue, the officer followed and a struggle ensued.

"During the struggle the officer . . . was able to feel that there was a gun in the suspect's pocket," Rossi said. "The suspect refused to comply with his orders to remove his hands from his pockets, and obviously fearing for his safety, shots were fired."

So the department has its narrative and the involved officer has his or her spokesperson from the same division that's currently investigating him or her (as noted in the word choice used by the sergeant including the word, "obviously"). Sometimes these narratives have been given by the police department when all the eyewitnesses agree with them and there have been other times when they've been given out when not only do the civilian witnesses not agree with the officers but the officers might not even agree with each other. It remains to be seen if any alternatives appear in the form of eyewitness narratives. At any rate, the city has acted to ensure that any knowledge of that outside the department will be months or years away. And it's comments like the one quoted in the article which has led to such support for the CPRC in the first place including its power to investigate officer-involved deaths.

The CPRC commissioners themselves had different views of the latest incident. One was concerned. Another said the city would help them.


"I am terribly concerned that we have two shootings within two weeks," Beeman said. "Right now the commission has five officer-involved deaths in its jurisdiction that we're working on, and it's very troubling."

But Beeman said a recent city directive makes it unclear whether the commission will be able to launch an investigation.

The city manager's office said earlier this month it will no longer fund the commission's reviews until law enforcement's investigation of a case is complete, a process that sometimes takes months.

Commissioner Sheri Corral said she is sure the commission will investigate the most recent shooting.

"I believe that the city will fully cooperate with us, and I believe that (the) Riverside (Police Department) will fully cooperate with us as they have done in the past," Corral said.

What's interesting about the comments made about cooperation by the city is that they were made after the city manager's office essentially reacted to the commission voting to investigate the Martin Gaspar Pablo death case and an initiation of an investigation into the Quinonez shooting by the commission by essentially shutting them down for months or years. When the commission formed an ad hoc committee to create guidelines for investigating officer-involved deaths in a public forum, the city manager's office reacted by essentially nullifying that process as well. So it's interesting indeed that there would be mention of cooperation in an environment where there's been none, certainly not by the city council's direct staff who probably are just following somebody's orders.

There is a discussion of the shooting here. One individual said the officer had sounded "young" and it's true that given the skewing of the department towards youth and inexperience during the past few years, the probability is highest that a younger officer would be involved. The department hires young and promotes young and it knows or should know that this increases the necessity of assigning an appropriate number of experienced supervisors. However, right now it appears to be going in the opposite direction, with sergeant vacancies beween 5-6 positions and two lieutenant retirements and others on personal leave. If any problems emerge within the department and the communities, they'll probably trace back to this issue as they did in the 1990s. The lack of voiced concern from those sitting on the dais in a public forum at this point and time matches that shown by their predecessors back then as well.

You know how Riverside was going to raise its sewer rates? Now, it's changed its mind and decided to lower them at least for some customers at least right now. Is this shades of the roller coaster ride that occurred the last two years with the city's fluctuating electricity rates? Stay tuned but keep your Dramamine handy.

There will be a public hearing on the issue at the Sept. 23 city council meeting.

It used to stand proudly in front of City Hall in Riverside. Then it disappeared and wasn't seen again. Until it was unveiled in front of a fire station. Yes, the curious looking red sculpture, an exercise in interpretive art is back.

Lake Elsinore's city government denies any association between errors made with its budget and proposed employee layoffs. Any apparent relationship between the two must surely be a coincidence.

More political intrigue coming out of the office of Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco. Taxpayers from this county just learned that about $500,000 of their money was spent each year on a special executive committee created by Pacheco that included his old Republican friends from his days as an elected official in Sacramento.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Some government watchdogs question such a staff because it raises issues of favoritism that elected leaders should be careful to avoid.

"It comes down to one of the most basic themes in ethics, which is fairness," said Judy Nadler, a senior fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

Anytime there is an impression that a person has been granted special treatment due to his or her connections, it leads the public to question whether the person is qualified, Nadler said.

"The appearance is very damaging to the public's trust," said Nadler, a former Santa Clara mayor. "The public already, unfortunately, is predisposed to believe government is an insider's deal."

The county's prosecution office claims this hiring is on the up and up but denied a public records' act request made by the Press Enterprise to release the resumes of those hired to serve on this executive staff.

There's some interesting comments on this article, including by individuals still upset by his endorsement of current Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff, which wasn't mentioned in this article but the process which led to his appointment last year obviously has left some lingering impressions.

Another Orange County Sheriff's Department deputy has left the agency in connection with beatings of inmates in the jail.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

Deputy Sonja Moreno was placed on administrative leave five months ago after allegedly admitting that she had lied under oath during the grand jury investigation into the beating death of inmate John Derek Chamberlain at Theo Lacy Jail in Orange. Chamberlain, a Mission Viejo resident, was allegedly beaten to death by a throng of inmates. Moreno initially testified that she had not discussed any of her testimony with friends or subjects of the investigation, but she later recanted and admitted she had discussed her testimony with others, in violation of grand jury policy.

Her last day with the department was Thursday, said sheriff's Lt. Brent Giudice. He declined to say whether she resigned or was fired by the department, citing a state law that restricts the release of peace officer disciplinary records.

Speaking of that case, taxpayers in Orange County paid nearly $125,000 in salaries for the sheriff deputies suspended in the jail beating case.

An Irvine Police Department detective has been charged in an off-duty assault of a security guard.

Drama at the Business Press.

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