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, September 10, 2008

What's past is prologue: The ship keeps sinking

The Community Police Review Commission continued its decline at its special meeting on Sept. 10 but as usual, there were plenty of fireworks including a motion by Commissioner Jim Ward to initiate an investigation on the fatal shooting of Carlos Quinonez, Sr. and if the city forbade them from doing so, to take the city to court.

The motion was symbolic because in order to sue the city, the CPRC would have to ask the city's attorney for permission to get funding first under the new edict by City Manager Brad Hudson's office, a request that is almost certainly going to be denied. Ward said that they should go forward even if the money had to come out of their pockets. A few people next to him on the dais blanched at that remark.

Ward was unique in that he appeared to be the only commissioner in attendance who truly understood what Charter Section 810(d) stood for. His philosophy was that if the city was blocking the charter's responsibility to investigate then it was up for a judge to settle the dispute between the two parties purportedly represented by the same attorney.

Not surprisingly, that motion failed to get a second even from those who had unloaded quite a few strongly voiced opinions off of their chests only moments earlier. But then one thing about Ward is that he at least backs up his words with some action and he's not thinking ahead politically. If I do anything, will this come back to haunt me later, is not foremost in his mind when making decisions on what actions to propose.

Others wanted to inform the city council about the commissioners' concerns apparently unaware that the city council does have some clue what's going on given that Councilman Mike Gardner was quoted in this article regarding his opinion on the latest situation. Councilman Frank Schiavone made his comments rubberstamping Hudson's edict at the Sept. 9 city council meeting and sent his legislative aide to the CPRC meeting the next day. Just because the rest of the city government has been silent on this subject doesn't make it ignorant or uninformed. In fact, if there are any behind-the-scenes hijinks going on at City Hall, then many or most of them probably are more aware of the nature of any such activity that the public would be.

What happened is one elected official who historically has opposed the CPRC and civilian oversight and has been financially backed by those who do sent his aide to attend the meeting and he was the only elected official to do so.

Sitting in the audience watching all this play out along with a dozen city residents, were City Attorney Gregory Priamos, Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis, Administrative Analyst Mario Lara and the legislative aide working for Ward Four Councilman Frank Schiavone who pretty much showed his hand during public comment at a city council meeting the previous evening by rubber stamping what Hudson's edict stated. But at least he commented, the rest of the city council sat there like a long line of statues. That's how these city council members act knowing that several among them aren't doing so when it comes to behind the scenes machinisms involving the CPRC. Watching more of the behind-the-scene behavior involving the CPRC inch further and further out into the public venue has and will continue to provide an interesting education in municipal politics.

From the police department, attended Asst. Chief John DeLaRosa, Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel and Lt. Mike Perea but no Chief Russ Leach who's not been very visible lately anyway for over a year. This has fed more speculation that the day to day operations of the police department has been left to the two management personnel in Leach's staff.

The nearly dozen city employees in attendance was striking but not surprising given what has been taking place during the last month. DeSantis had not appeared in the past few months, obviously satisfied that his executive manager, Kevin Rogan would be holding down the fort. But maybe DeSantis got wind that members of the ad hoc committee that met twice to try to amend the bylaws and policies and procedures involving the investigation of officer-involved deaths were trying to dilute Rogan's power (and thus Hudson's and DeSantis') over the process by literally removing language related to his position from the documents. For whatever reason, he attended the meeting along with Lara, who works under him and despite no experience in the field, served as interim manager of the commission for nearly six months last year.

The meeting which was to last nearly three hours opened with a simple briefing on the officer-involved death which shut the whole process down indefinitely. A shooting involving a man allegedly with a gun. which doesn't come to mind as being all that controversial really. At least you'd think.

DeLaRosa went to the podium and gave a preliminary briefing on the Quinonez shooting after warning the commissioners he probably couldn't answer any questions. He gave it in lieu of Chief Russ Leach who had promised that he would personally brief the commission on all future officer-involved deaths but didn't appear. It was kind of hard to hear the presentation and DeLaRosa is a bit of a soft speaker so the briefing didn't carry well to the back of the city council chambers in City Hall (which is where the meeting was moved from inside City Hall) but this is what appeared to have been said as again, despite Leach's assertation at public meetings that the department would be more attuned to answering questions, that part of the briefing essentially remained the same.

So far, this is what has been disclosed publicly so far. Pay attention to it because it will probably be a long time before this shooting is allowed to come up from below the radar again.

Officers Munoz and Hayden (?) were called out on a 911 call in La Sierra Hills involving the possible assault of a woman. They parked their cars a distance away and approached the residence. The officers said they both saw Quinonez approach them with a long blue bag under his right arm. He took his shot gun out and the officers asked him to drop it. He didn't comply and both officers shot him. Emergency assistance was called.

When clarification was asked about the name of the officers, Vice-Chair Sheri Corral said it was Munoz and Hayden(?) . There is currently only one officer named Munoz who's been there since about 2001 and that is Juan, who has worked on and off for the department the past seven years since being hired. The other, James Hayden(?) was hired in 2007.

When asked if it was Juan Munoz, no one sitting in the city's section of the chambers would respond affirmatively or negatively, though someone said they saw DeSantis nodding his head. The two representatives of the department certainly didn't deny it or offer any further information.

If it's indeed Munoz, it would add a slightly different dimension to this officer-involved death than others in the past seven years. If it is Munoz, the commissioners will be given the task of trying to determine his veracity without knowing his employment history unless they noticed the two agenda items last year that were devoted to the case of Juan Munoz v the City of Riverside.

If you recall, a grievance was discussed by the city council in closed session including on April 10,2007 which was filed by Munoz and another officer who were allegedly fired for an unspecified form of misconduct the same year that the Press Enterprise wrote an article that included information about the firing of two police officers in relation to serious misconduct. The two officers were rehired after they won their arbitration and the city council ultimately voted 7-0 to reinstate them in 2007 after initially voting 6-1 not to do so at an earlier meeting. With that, any reference to the terminations of employment were erased at least from the city's fabric.

Munoz had one prior shooting in April 2003 of a homeless man near the Mission Inn Hotel and about two years later testified at a trial of a man who served as his own attorney and was acquitted of a battery of an officer charge associated with Munoz after a rather short period of deliberation. Jurors said afterward that they just didn't believe his testimony that a man lying on his back with another officer on top of him would have even been able to see him enough to kick him on purpose. Meaning that even though Munoz had testified that he believed the man had kicked him on purpose that it's hard for someone to do so if they can't see that other person or know that he or she is there which was how jurors apparently saw it.

If Munoz was indeed involved in the shooting, does it make it less justified. No, if the facts of the shooting hold up then it appears to have been a justified action within policy but it does present a dilemma for the CPRC when the entire history of a police officer is not provided to them so they can make an informed decision about credibility of statements given. Not that the department really has the option of doing anything in this case because anything that happened to Munoz was apparently expunged after the council voted for his reinstatement on April 10, 2007. The issue can really only be addressed through ballot initiative or through the state legislature. Regardless, if the department is too powerless at this point to even confirm information that it has already given out during a briefing then that's definitely not a good place for it to be. Maybe it's up to the city manager's office to answer for it.

At any rate, there's an ongoing investigation being done by the criminal investigators at the department and an administrative review being done by the Internal Affairs Division. The CPRC had actually tried to dispatch its investigator to initiate an investigation only one day before Hudson released his edict and thus blocked the investigator from doing anything.

Given that not enough commissioners remember their responsibility to the community enough to push forward with carrying out their charter responsibility to do the investigation, it won't have to worry about this for months or even a year given that the case book is tentatively scheduled to be delivered by the police department to the commission next April at the earliest. Unless the commission signs Rogan's pay checks, it's clear that the directives of Hudson and DeSantis are always going to dictate what he does or can do.

Commissioner Chani Beeman did a pretty good job cross-examining Rogan who's proving more and more that he's exactly the executive manager that Hudson and DeSantis wanted. She ended the conversation pretty frustrated but wasn't prepared to take the extra step like Ward, one of the very few commissioners on the dais who's not White.

Also appearing was former Commissioner Steve Simpson who was forced off the commission by what he called the "Seventh Floor" after he uttered two unspeakable words together, "independent counsel" while trying to get an item on the agenda to discuss whether or not the commission should retain legal counsel. He reminded the commissioners that they didn't work for Priamos or Hudson. About Priamos, Simpson said, "he's good at sending threatening letters."

"I've gotten one," Simpson said.

So have numerous people who've disagreed with city council members at weekly meetings but that's a different story.

He said that as much as the ACLU makes him cringe that perhaps it should serve in an ex officio position of providing legal advice to the commission.

ACLU attorney, Peter Bibring sat in the audience and spoke later about the importance of the investigations in terms of building trust within the communities. He said that in his opinion, the city manager was exceeding the limits of his authority and the edict was a transparent attempt to do just that.

The original chair of the CPRC, retired police chief Bill Howe said that the commission needed to do its investigations in an independent and timely matter and told its members that the edict was just to "tie your hands". And indeed that's correct, as this plan had been in the works since probably before the depature or ouster (depending on how you call it) of former executive manager, Pedro Payne several years ago.

Peter Hubbard was forthcoming with his opinion of the situation and his opinions of those in the audience yet didn't disclose that he manages a company, America Medical Response, which contracts out of the city manager's office. Talk about a conflict of interest! Even if he were so inclined, how long do you think Hubbard would remain manager if he said anything that was deemed critical of law enforcement and/or the city which contracts with his employers? Even if he were inclined to say anything critical of the department or the city, it wouldn't take long for the city to pass that information along to the owners of the company it contracts with if it were unhappy with anything he said and no doubt, Hubbard would wind up hearing about it from upstairs.

The appointment of an employee of an independent contractor with the city has got to be one of the greatest oversight in board and commission history.

There's much more to come but suffice it, that even if the community is not getting the CPRC that it wants, City Hall most definitely is. It's sad to watch it make the same mistakes that it did in the past most notably through LEPAC (which preceded the CPRC) but apparently the city hasn't learned much certainly not those currently at its helm.

From the police department, finally some explanation though little in the way of public forums on the restructuring of community services under the different neighborhood centers which one individual said, would actually enhance staffing by placing the POPs officers under the lieutenants at each neighborhood center.

At any rate, there are more retirements at the sergeant and lieutenant level. Here are some of the ones which are planned or will take place by the end of the year.

Lt. Ken Carpenter

Lt. Paul Villanueva

Sgt. Kevin Stanton

Sgt. Don Tauli

Sgt. Randy Eggleston

Tauli worked in Internal Affairs but will finish out his department career in the patrol division. Sgt. Frank Assuma has replaced him in Internal Affairs, after spending years heading the department's gang unit and being heavily involved in Riverside County's Gang Task Force which is now helmed by Sgt. Gary Toussaint for this region of the county.

Other sergeant vacancies are from Sgt. Leon Philips (audit and compliance panel) being promoted to fill Carpenter's position and the transfer of Sgt. Lisa Williams into a newly created position in Communications.

Despite concerns about the budget, the Temecula City Council voted to build themselves some new digs.

Not nearly as happy was Lake Elsinore which may have to lay off more employees.

Will an Atlanta Police Department officer be charged with murder? Four years have passed since the incident but no decision made yet.

A police officer in Vancouver, Washington settled his racial discrimination case for $1.65 million.

Facing an audit will be the Memphis Police Department. The decision to have this audit done was made by the city council.

Speaking of the current round of blood letting at the Press Enterprise, this blogger published this list of those who took the recent round of buyouts offered by Belo Enterprises.

Check out this blog It is must reading if you want to know what's been going on with the dailies in this region especially the PE.

Here's a page to comment on those who have departed.

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