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, October 11, 2008

Canary in the Mine: A commission or Survivor Island?

"We don't paint pretty pictures with our plays."

---Cradle will Rock

"Doesn't matter what they say. It's just games people play..."


"I can't go back to yesterday - because I was a different person then."

---Lewis Carroll

"Be careful..."

---City Manager Brad Hudson and Asst. City Manager Brad Hudson to the Riverside Police Department lieutenants according to a claim for damages filed by two of them. They filed a lawsuit in federal court last week.

The city held its multicultural family festival and it was great, with dancing, art and as always, great food. Indian curry and rice, Thai pork and chai tea. Collard greens and cornbread. Tacos and tamales. Lots of music and dancing. Lots of really nice people having a good time during these difficult times.

A local artist who's really good, Richard Espinoza gave me a signed lithograph of the Mission Inn Hotel where my grandparents were married back in 1924.

Lots of people asking questions and commenting about what's been written in the Press Enterprise, including the latest round of attempts to both weaken the Police Review Commission and stifle the expression of several of its members. Questions that have often been asked both in Riverside and from outside of it as well. It's been hard to miss what's been happening to the commission during the past several months as it's become front and center among issues affecting the city, a trend which could carry over into next year's elections. Something few people would have seen a year ago but these are different times.

The so-called letters of rebuke authored by Councilman Frank Schiavone stemmed from comments made by two commissioners in this news article and a letter of complaint from Commissioner Sheri Corral. The resulting discussion in the Press Enterprise has elicited some interesting comments so far.


"You would think a shrewd player like Schiavone would realize an act like this looks mighty fishy."

"Another useless Riverside committee formed to investigate the investigators who investigate the shootings."

The first statement was one repeated in various forms since the announcement of sorts was made to the public that those letters had indeed been sent to commissioners. After all, challenging the right of board and commissions members to express themselves is something that's been criticized in the past and not just involving members of the PRC but other boards and commissions as well. Riversiders often don't like being told by other people what to say, imagine that.

Ironically, no one should know the difference in how you might be treated better than Corral who's been on both sides of the divide and has clearly learned which side can create the most heartache. No other commissioner even comes close when it comes to experiencing harassment and retaliation for positions she's taken in the past. Like Beeman and Brandriff, she too has been targeted for ouster by individuals inside and outside of City Hall for words that she's spoken. In fact, Chief Russ Leach made some pretty strong statements about supporting her ouster along with what he called "my police association" in a deposition that he gave to Attorney Michael Lackie for the lawsuit, Ryan Wilson v the City of Riverside. Corral was incidentally aware of what Leach had said about her not really all that long ago.

Being a police officer albeit with another local department while serving on a police commission (which by nature, most law enforcement officers loathe) can't be easy and that difficulty shouldn't be underestimated. At any moment, officers could tell Corral that they're unhappy enough with her membership on the commission that they won't provide backup if and when she needs it. They can shun her from their ranks. They can make every day she goes to work more miserable than the previous day in a million different ways. How an active police officer can be treated if he or she is perceived as being a traitor by those in their department or their profession is much different than members of other professions, retired people, even retired police officers. And in law enforcement, there's nothing worse and nothing more dangerous than being labeled a turncoat or a traitor, precisely because it's a profession where there are often life and death situations where officers depend on each other to be there for them.

Yet in many lawsuits filed by officers who whistle blow on their brothers and sisters, alongside the allegations of ostracism and isolation (in a profession as one officer told me, known for perfecting that) lie threats of not responding to calls for backup. Whether that's reality or just a threat, it can have a devastating impact on its target, as many officers facing this leave work one day and don't come back because they no longer feel safe. And there's one thing that no one should forget and that's the more turbulent conditions are involving the PRC, the more tension there is between it and the city and/or the police department, the more difficult things become for her above the others precisely because of her profession in this city.

Still, Corral's own experience is why one would think that she would be the last person to turn around and do the same thing to a fellow commissioner. If she was tough enough and determined enough to remain on the commission through some pretty intense years, then she's more than enough to do so now because there's nothing any community members have likely said to her that's close to what's been done by her own brothers under the badge because she's a commissioner. She's been admired for everything she's done in this city and on the commission during a lot of tough times, but it's difficult for many community members to understand her recent actions. Not the positions she's taken as a commissioner on matters under its jurisdiction but these latest actions towards other commissioners that she's been a staunch and vocal supporter of when they've needed it. Commissioners who have supported her when she's needed that support.

And that's just what she had done, supported other commissioners when they've needed it. Until recently, she was known for doing it and she made a difference in helping others to remain as commissioners when their resolve has weakened. At least one told me that words she told them to hang in there, made a tremendous difference in their decision to stick with it.

Community members upon hearing that she was the source of Schiavone's letters were absolutely astonished because they never saw it coming. But it's been an eventful year for the commission where many things have changed. And more than one fence has been switched. Sometimes you have to ask, is this a commission or is it Survivor Island?

Two things struck me about Corral's letter, after reading it in terms of its text. The first, was one statement about ACLU attorney Peter Bibring who after reading about the restrictions the city attorney and city manager had placed on the PRC regarding its investigations of incustody deaths in the newspaper came out to Riverside to speak at a meeting on the issue. During his presentation, he offered a legal opinion on the section of the city's charter that governs its investigations of officer-involved deaths that differed from that offered by City Attorney Gregory Priamos.

Yet, Corral in her letter to Schiavone stated that in her opinion, that he provided the impression that the city was "corrupt and deceiving". If simply offering a difference of legal opinion is engaging in that behavior, then the residents of this city really need to pay a lot more attention to what's going on a police commission where even differing or questioning from the city's position is equated it as calling it corrupt. No where did Bibring say that he believed the city was corrupt. What he did offer was an alternative interpretation of 810(d) which anyone is entitled to do. Why is that so threatening to some people including commissioners?

It's a concern that any commissioner would read being exposed to an alternative view to a charter provision than that offered by a city attorney as being so offensive. But then it's clear that some commissioners currently serving view the idea of having to investigate officer-involved deaths to be offensive. Take Peter Hubbard (who manages a company, American Medical Response which has a public safety contract with the city manager's office) who lectured some audience members that their concern about officer-involved deaths was misplaced and they should be instead focusing on seat belt laws and child seat laws if they valued human life.

He might have believed he was serving as a public service announcement but what he showed is how little he valued fulfilling a responsibility that was assigned to him as a commissioner under the city's charter. Incidentally, I wish he'd given me that lecture, because I've long been concerned about and advocated for vehicle safety laws, pedestrian safety and still have enough room to be concerned about many other issues including the investigations of officer-involved deaths. The message that he was not really concerned with investigating officer-involved deaths read very loud and clearly.

Right now, what you have are six commissioners who don't ask any questions at all, questions that several of them would have asked a year or so ago and you have three who thankfully do. But the climate was different back then than it's now where if you differ from the city or criticize it, you can be removed even though that's not a standard of behavior that's officially included in the criteria for removing commissioners from their positions of service.

But if you're on the commission and you disagree with the city, is it tantamount to some form of civic treason? It appears to be that way. But what it sounds like is a bad case of the vapors.

Smelling salts, anyone? Someone should go fetch some and then a copy of the charter where someone can point out where it states that criticizing a city official and/or city employee is an impeachable offense? Happy hunting! Someone's clearly making up new rules as they are going along and that's not exactly included in the charter either.

But what struck me even more were comments made about the public in general and one member, in particular who was the mother of a young man who was shot and killed by police officers in 2006. It's become clearly to many community members of the cold, aloof and even hostile sentiments towards them by commissioners, especially among those who attend meetings for the first time. They quickly pick up how commissioners won't even look at them let alone say anything to them yet they are so friendly and talkative to law enforcement officers who also attend. In fact, often they'll walk past community members while busy chatting and laughing with police officers. This is one reason (another being that most commissioners don't speak loudly enough to be heard during meetings) why city residents only attend a single meeting. Why should we come back, they've said, when we're not really wanted? After all, the only comments many of them receive from commissioners is from whoever is chairing the meeting, who says, "your time is up" after they've spoken for five minutes.

What's ironic is that the three commissioners who have made the biggest effort and in some cases only effort to meet newcomers are the same ones who've been the subject of emails and letters as being hostile to the city and even having a vendetta against it. And that's a very telling sign of the direction the CPRC has been heading in since it's once again attracted interest from City Hall. That taking that extra effort to welcome city residents to a meeting of a commission of city residents for city residents is akin to being biased against the police department and having a vendetta against the city.

To even suggest that Commissioners Chani Beeman and John Brandriff have some sort of "vendetta" against the city and elected officials is just really strange. Beeman's son is an officer in the Riverside Police Department and you'd think if she really hated that department and the city, she would be upset rather than honored and proud that her son is employed there. Beeman's been fairly well liked by city officials past and present including Schiavone who's praised her time and time again. In fact, the only concerns he ever expressed about Beeman serving on the commission was the impact it might have on her son's treatment by other officers in the police department. But ultimately after the appointment of Commissioner Linda Soubirous went through, he changed his vote during the next selection process (after the resignation of Commissioner Steve Simpson which is a whole different story) and supported the appointment Beeman saying his sole concerns had been essentially alleviated.

Brandriff attends many city-related and police-related functions, even being involved in community relations with the court system. He was appointed by Councilman Steve Adams to serve on the PRC straight off from his stint on the Human Relations Commission and has always asked pointed questions about process and on several occasions, has been critical. At no time did anyone talk to him in a meeting and say, hey you're being a bit boisterous or what's with this vendetta you have against the city? No, besides glaring at each other like small children, there's not much of any sharing going on between commissioners.

Whether you agree with them or disagree with Beeman and Brandriff (and I have disagreed with both sharply many a time), you can't really question the fact that both of them are very supportive of the police department and City Hall and that having a "vendetta" against the city is no more possible and probable than an elephant sprouting wings and flying while blowing a tuba with his trunk.

But the letters have had their effect on both commissioners. Brandriff either hasn't attended meetings or has been much more quiet during them and Beeman sat and watched as commission chair, Brian Pearcy essentially took control of chairing the outreach committee meeting even though she's actually the chair of that committee. If they were intended to have that chilling effect on their targets, then they have accomplished that.

As for the public being "angry and frustrated", that goes with the territory for all commissioners and they know that or should know that going into the job. Often, critical incidents in particular create emotions in people, either family members, friends or even other city residents. They come to the commission because it's a place for them to express themselves and sometimes, anger, frustration and even tears flow. They come because they've been told that the commission is a place for them to express themselves on community and police issues. Unfortunately, too often what they are finding out instead is that this is not the case and when commissioners act "cold", "aloof" and even "hostile" to them, there's no city officials who will write letters of concern on their behalf. Because after all, any concern only flows in one direction.

Those commissioners who have problems with that or feel intimidated by community members doing such things should go back and read the charter where it states the power and responsibility which is listed first and foremost, and that's to serve as an adviser to the mayor and city council on all community and police relations and until our commissioners realize this involves a lot more than attending city-sponsored events and law enforcement appreciation dinners, then they will feel frustrated and angry at these community members and the process. They will think that what these community members are saying about their own perceptions and experiences are somehow all about criticizing them even when it has nothing to do with them. They will never really be able to hear people's concerns and because of that, they will not be able to fulfill the requirement of advising the city government on all police and community relations. It's no accident that of all the powers in the charter, this is the most underutilized of them all.

Why? Because even the subpoena power's been used once.

If these commissioners are going to complain about a grieving mother "lashing out" about the shooting death of her son at a meeting of commissioners who are on a body assigned the task of investigating it (pre-July 2008) and reviewing it, then yes, maybe they should rethink their service and whether or not this is the place for them to be. Better yet, maybe they could take a couple seconds of their time and put themselves in her shoes and try to see where she's coming from and realize that her comments aren't about them personally but many different things. Even better yet, maybe they should walk up to her and introduce themselves, something some of them have yet to do even after all this time. But it's never too late to start but they have to want to do so. The city will not do anything to prod them in this direction, only to rein them in if it believes that commissioners are too critical towards it or the police department.

If these commissioners actually bothered to attend more community meetings rather than waiting to be told to go to them, then they might actually have established communication with many of these residents outside the sphere of when critical incidents within those neighborhoods have emotions churning and being expressed. Then they wouldn't feel as intimidated and threatened by what they are saying at meetings, feeling like they were coming under personal attack. They would understand that people feel, think and respond to many situations just like they do.

The same thing is true with the police department, if it didn't work with communities and neighborhoods in between, before and after critical incidents in what's called community policing. It's the bridges that are built during times in between that help with addressing the incidents themselves. The commissioners haven't built these bridges and in fact, don't seem to even care enough to bother doing so except of course for the ones who have been receiving the complaints. The police department's made more effort than they have.

The discussions about all this activity involving the PRC are taking place offline as well, including at the multicultural event and they will likely continue. Some people were bemused that the use of the "ovaries" could give any elected officials the vapors, necessitating someone to run off and bring back some smelling salts!

At some point, the talk naturally progressed to talking about the importance of registering voters for the upcoming election as well as the city's own exercise in that democratic process next year. The consensus seems to be that many people want change in government which might be a sign that the fervor that defined Election 2007 may not have abated as of yet. Some people were shocked and disappointed at Schiavone's actions and others shook their heads and tsked, tsked, what's being done to the commission now. But the latest actions although unfortunate have reaped one dividend which is to get more and more people in Riverside excited about the upcoming city council elections.

The people upset about what's been done to the commission share that in common with the people in neighborhoods who haven't in several years because of the March Joint Powers Commission's deal with DHL Express. They will have something in common with people upset about the latest bombshell about the future location of the museum that came out during a recent Developmental Committee. These and other situations in the past several years have created an enthusiastic and probably very active population of people looking for change in the way things are done. And the thirst for change always makes for exciting election cycles, which in turn increase voters' registration which is great for increasing public participation in an important process and thus promotes democracy.

Some of the discussions yesterday about the CPRC centered around comparisons of tactics being used now and tactics used back when city council members chastised a former councilman for his own attempts to weaken the CPRC.

Someone said that they had been really upset years ago when then Councilman Art Gage had tried to push a motion to defund the commission's annual budget by up to 90% but at least he made his motion out in the open. You have seven city council members and a mayor who are signing on to the directive of a city manager which states that the PRC can't spend any money without the city attorney's approval.

This is a slightly less than public way of potentially taking funds away from the commission. At this moment in time, about $50,000 sits in the commission's "professional services" category of its budget according to the city's preliminary budget for 2008-09. Makes you wonder now that investigations of officer-involved deaths have essentially been shut down (and they have as the directive essentially switched the commission's actions from investigating and reviewing these deaths to simply reviewing them by robbing them of their timeliness which is a death knell for any effective investigation), how long that money will be sitting in that fund until it's diverted to pay off other expenses?

Speaking of expenses, this next topic has much to do with f potentially spending a lot of money down the road.

On the city's labor front, there's also been some eruptions lately including just this past week.

Two more code enforcement officers have filed lawsuits against the city alleging in this case sexual harassment and age discrimination, not to mention retaliation. They join three other officers who sued earlier this year. More information is provided on their experiences while working for the city in this article.

In the Inland Empire Weekly article, David Silva talks about "union busting" allegedly being done by and at Riverside's City Hall.


The officers were all members of Service Employees Union International Local 1997, the union representing 869 Riverside city employees. The officer who was terminated was an SEIU shop steward, fired—sources say—after being accused of insubordination for repeatedly asking to see his personnel file. According to Gregory Hagans, head of Local 1997 and a member of its executive board, the steward was targeted for removal by Riverside City Manager Brad Hudson because, Hagans says, Hudson “came from the county and the county doesn’t believe in shop stewards.” The other two officers were targeted for speaking out on union issues, he said.

“This is how they tried to say (the shop steward) was insubordinate: In our Memorandum of Understanding with the city, it states our employees can ask their supervisor or the HR director to look at their personnel files. This employee asked his supervisor several times both verbally and in writing to see his file, and nothing happened. The last time he asked, he sent a copy of his request to HR, which contacted his supervisor and told them to write him up for insubordination because he violated the chain of command. In fact, following the chain of command was exactly what he did. They put him on paid administrative leave and ultimately fired him. The case is in arbitration now, but it’s just offensive.”

Hagans says the treatment of the code enforcement officer was just another example of anti-union sentiment held by Hudson, who became city manager in 2005 after serving as assistant county executive officer for Riverside County’s Economic Development Agency. Since taking office, Hagans says, Hudson has fired at least 16 dues-paying city employees and repeatedly violated the terms of its contract with the union.

As a result, Hagans says, the union has filed three complaints against the city with the state Public Employees Relations Board since last year. One of the complaints arose when Hudson stopped granting employees flexible work hours without first “meeting and conferring with the union, as required under its contract, Hagans says. The complaints were resolved, he added, when “the dates for arbitration approached and the city suddenly decided they needed to negotiate with us.”

“It took one year before the city manager even came and introduced himself to the troops,” Hagans added. “He’s out there doing these firings and chopping heads off, and they didn’t even know what he looked like. He’s out of touch with the community and he’s out of touch with his workers. You’ve got a city management that shows no dignity or respect for its employees. Now, we have a dignity-and-respect article in our contract, but they don’t seem to care about that. To them, we are just fodder.”

But the labor pains haven't stopped there. Just this week, another allegation of "union busting" was raised in a lawsuit filed by two Riverside Police Department lieutenants in U.S. District Court. The lawsuit stems from earlier allegations by Lt. Darryl Hurt and Lt. Tim Bacon that they were targeted for retaliation by employees in the city manager's office and two councilmen for their involvement in the Riverside Police Administrators' Association.

Among the allegations raised in the original claims for damages include the following:

*In 2006, the RPAA filed a lawsuit against the city alleging unfair labor practices. City Manager Brad Hudson and Asst. City Manager asked for a list of RPAA members who supported the lawsuit.

*The two men told the lieutenants to "be careful".

*Two elected officials, Councilmen Frank Schiavone and Steve Adams engaged in "negative and retaliatory" comments. Schiavone allegedly told an officer to not associate with Hurt or Bacon if he wanted to get promoted. Adams allegedly told another officer he wouldn't be promoted if he supported a candidate running against him for office.

So members of the RPAA join in with the SEIU General Unit and are alleging "union busting" and there are members of both who clearly believe that the city's management and by extension its city government might not be union friendly. If this is true, then it's very serious and any retaliation against employees for union activity by management whether department heads or those at the top of the ladder is a very serious situation. And what happens when city employees are told to "be careful" by other city employees especially those up higher on the organizational chart than they are? Is there an investigative process for these situations within the city?

You have to ask when these allegations were made, were there any investigations conducted and if so, by whom? It's very likely that there were not and that the plaintiffs in this case weren't given much of an avenue for their allegations to be investigated and deliberated in a fair, professional and thorough process. It's hard to take the claim for damages process seriously because the vast majority seem to be stamped, return to sender even on cases where the city winds out paying sizable sums of money to the plaintiffs.

Hopefully, the federal courts will allow all sides to present their evidence hopefully in front of a jury and the truth of the situation will become fully known.

Upon hearing this latest news about the lawsuits involving both code enforcement and police officers, several people have asked me including a pair yesterday the following question.

Why do so many of the city's unions donate money to city election candidates who support a city manager who doesn't like unions?

That's an interesting question and one that can't readily be answered and if it could, the answers would likely be very different depending on who provided them. The unions must have their reasons because their Political Action Committees do support them, in fact one city union pretty much endorses incumbents. In the past several elections, the unions have varied in terms of how successfully their endorsed candidates for city and county seats have fared. Will these successes and losses impact any strategizing for future elections? That is something which remain to be seen.

It's not clear what the city's response to the claim for damages was but it's probably been stamped, denied by City Attorney Gregory Priamos. And he'll probably say that the lawsuit has no merit and will be vigorously defended by the city. That's too bad, because this complaint should have been settled between the parties while it was still a confidential claim for damages rather than a lawsuit to be argued, heard and perhaps some day tried in U.S. District Court, a public venue. There's some very compelling reasons as to why this lawsuit could cost the city a fortune down the road regardless of whether or not the allegations are the truth unless the city settles it fairly quickly and quietly. But of course, it won't be settled soon.

Still, if it went to trial, who would testify? What would they testify to? What will be the outcome and how much?

Now it's official! Riverside has its first sister city from the African continent. It's Obuasi, Ghana. The final papers were signed in that city just about a month ago.

Norco buries former city councilman Hal H. Clark, who died Sept. 30 at the age of 66.

Press Enterprise
Columnist Cassie MacDuff has some words for returning San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus.


The Board of Supervisors asked County Counsel Ruth Stringer to explain on July 15 the process for removing an elected county official.

The process turns out to be so onerous that by the time it was complete, Postmus' term in office might be over.

Stringer told the board it would need to appoint an independent special counsel to undertake the proceeding.

Postmus would have to receive a written statement of the alleged factual grounds for removal, and the grounds would have to be specific enough for him to mount a defense.

Oh, and the county would have to pay for his defense lawyer.

Removal could be appealed to the Superior Court, appeals court and state Supreme Court, Stringer said. In all, it could take two years and cost the county more than $750,000.

The only other option was to persuade him to fulfill his duties honestly and faithfully.

The San Bernardino Police Department union is taking its case against embattled Chief Michael Billdt to the public, in an unprecendanted move after its latest "no confidence" vote.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

A former Rialto officer who helped turn back efforts to disband that city's Police Department in 2006 says it's essential to win public support in such struggles, a view seconded by a spokesman for a national association of police unions.

But former San Bernardino City Administrator Shauna Clark predicts that a campaign could feed public perceptions of a union that can never be satisfied. And former San Bernardino Police Chief Ben Gonzales, who weathered his own no-confidence vote over training and promotion issues two decades ago, said some veteran officers are concerned.

"Chief Billdt's already said he's leaving in March. I don't see how another couple months is going to make a difference, and I've heard that from some officers, too," Gonzales said. "There's a concern about going public so much with this political stuff."

Union President Rich Law- head said he'll keep pressing. Union officials accuse Billdt of misusing department discipline to harass critics and reward supporters. The public appeal fits San Bernardino's blue-collar, pro-union traditions, Lawhead said.

"People understand that when people stand together, it's very difficult for (management) to break you," he said. "In this effort, we really need the public's support."

So it goes to a debate among City Hall and city residents which is actually a good sign. Here in Riverside, doing so hasn't officially banned yet but give it time.

Have you checked your voter's registration lately?

Some people in the Inland Empire have found that their party affiliation has been switched without their knowledge. This mess is currently under investigation.

Will this CPRC finding be the most expensive one in Riverside history and if so, what impact will it have on the future of this already barely there commission?

Stay tuned.

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