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, October 08, 2008

Canary in the Mine: The CPRC's anniversary gift

After hearing advertisements on the radio about a fundraiser being done by Moreno Valley's Cops and Clergy, it reminded me that one of the shining examples of community policing in action, Cops and Clergy, Riverside style was apparently disbanded some months ago and no longer holds quarterly meetings. That's a real shame that a program like that couldn't thrive in an environment that purports to be one that embraces community policing philosophy. Maybe it's just been placed on ice indefinitely like the citizens' academy which is advertised as still accepting applicants for a future class here though it was suspended some time ago due to budget cuts on personnel overtime.

But Cops and Clergy is definitely worth bringing back. These partnerships between police officers and religious leaders and ministers are very important and should not be put on ice for any reason. Hopefully, some folks with real vision from both sides can get it back on its feet again.

The barely there Police Review Commission showed that its handling of the now-defunct ad hoc committee on officer-involved death investigation protocol at the last meeting was no fluke when it jumped the gun so to speak and voted to exonerate the two officers involved in the fatal shooting of Douglas Cloud despite the agenda item stating that they were beginning deliberations. Not only did they do so but they chose to do this on the second anniversary of his death. The motion proposed by Commissioner Peter Hubbard (whose company, American Medical Response, contracts with the city manager's office and was involved in this case after the shooting) and seconded by Commissioner Art Santore was passed 7-0 with Jim Ward and John Brandriff being absent.

It's hard to believe that's accidental that it was done in the absence of these two commissioners although Brandriff's been awfully quiet since receiving his missive from Councilman Frank Schiavone which will be discussed later in this posting.

Not that the vote really mattered in the scheme of things, given that the city paid out the second largest settlement in recent history when it settled the Cloud shooting case for $800,000. Not that it mattered because Cloud was one of the faster settling cases in recent history. In fact, this lawsuit settled faster than that involving the 1998 Tyisha Miller shooting case, one which was obviously plagued by problems which ultimately led to investigations which resulted in the department being sued by the state attorney general's office.

Not that it mattered because by settling this case so quickly despite its pledge to fight, the city essentially blamed Officers Dave Johansen and Nicholas Vazquez and the police department that employed them even though it never officially accepted responsibility for the shooting. If these officers were truly operating as they should have been, wouldn't they be entitled to the most vigorous defense by the city even if it took years? One would certainly think and hope so. But that didn't happen here.

But the size of the settlement and where it places it in the record books makes it clear that this is exactly what the city did behind closed doors which was to move towards bringing this shooting case to a federal jury. The city council did its part by authorizing the settlement of the Cloud lawsuit in closed session.

It doesn't help the city's case that when this lawsuit was first filed like all others, the city attorney's office issued a statement that the litigation initiated against the city had no merit and would be challenged vigorously. Did that happen in Cloud? Given the relatively short span of this lawsuit, not likely. The case had just passed the deposition phase when the settlement was announced.

Here's where the settlement price on the Cloud case stands in terms of similar payouts in recent history.

1) Tyisha Miller, 1998, $3 million

2) Douglas Steven Cloud, 2006, $800,000

3)Hector Islas, 1997, $790,000

4) Derek Hayward, 1994, $715,000 federal jury verdict for excessive force in 1999

5) Jose Martinez, 1997, $550,000

Also included: Summer Marie Lane, 2004, $390,000

What's interesting is that in the Cloud case, the police department and now the commission have exonerated the officers for the force that they used despite the city's settlement. The statute of limitations for disciplining any officers in connection with the Cloud case likely expired on the day the civil lawsuit settled if that litigation was claimed as an exemption against G.C. 3304(d) so the commission's actions even if it had decided the shooting was out of policy would have no legal bearing. But it says as much about how these entities operate when conducting their own investigations and reviews as it does about the city's decision to settle this case quickly.

During the settlement process, the city's attorney had apparently promised Cloud's mother, Teresa, that the police department would improve its hiring and training procedures and use this critical incident as an example of how officers should not handle a similar situation. Not that the $800,000 settlement didn't send that message already, but if it was a problematic shooting and the city was trying to fix a bad situation caused by training issues, then the city would be doing the responsible thing for both the city's residents and its police department officers. Because if you recall, 2006 which saw three fatal shootings of unarmed individuals wasn't exactly the police department's best year and after the dissolution of its stipulated judgment earlier that year, its performance levels dropped off for a while. This was detailed in an audit given in 2007 by a consultant hired by the city manager's office.

The department did improve its performance somewhat and addressed the problems noted by the audit including during the time period preceding the audit. The number of officer-involved shootings fatal and otherwise dropped off.

But if the city promised to fix the problems itself, did it keep those promises?

The written notification that she received included vague language which was brought up in discussions by several commissioners and it's not clear that the city ever intended to follow through on those promises. Hopefully it did and is just not talking about it because as several commissioners pointed out, the events leading up to the Cloud shooting presented risks to the officers as it did Cloud because of tactics they utilized. Because the scary thing is that if the department doesn't do this, it will likely see more incidents like this one putting civilians and officers at risk. And the really scary thing is that we have a city government and direct employees of that city government who are making decisions which may increase the probability of trouble ahead for the department including officer-involved shootings. These include cutting staffing levels of officers to numbers not seen since the 1980s and not filling supervisor vacancies. This is such a road map to trouble that when the election comes up next year, the department's staffing levels should be a primary issue.

Personnel and training go hand in hand, in fact they share a division named just that. Another disturbing issue is that if personnel is being cut on shifts and outgoing supervisors aren't being replaced, what is happening to the department's training? Because if there are serious cuts in staffing, is it likely that training might be impacted as well? Because if the city isn't smart enough to understand why staffing levels like the current ones could be dangerous, then it probably doesn't understand how that also applies to officers' training.

Elements of the Cloud shooting were clearly disturbing.

Some people thought it was difficult to rationalize the lethal cover officer putting his gun in his holster if he believed he was in mortal danger and maybe the city had that problem in discussions on this case after the lawsuit was filed as well. The commissioners for the most part failed to address this issue.

The city paid out $800,000 for a reason and no, it was probably not to spare the tax payers the cost of litigation. After all, the 17 Black city employees who sued for racism in the workplace waited 10 years for a settlement and Black Police Officer Roger Sutton waited five years to go to trial with the city fighting tooth and nail against him the whole way until he won his trial verdict of $1.64 million. That's very typical for the city when it's sued, that it throws a lot of paper at the other side and fights hard to get cases thrown out.

But the city's history also shows that it settles cases quickly when it doesn't think it can win and/or it wants to keep the details of those lawsuits out of the public eye.

What stuck me and other people is that the people who vocalized the most in favor of exoneration have criticized other commissioners for being biased against the department and the city when they themselves never walked up to Mrs. Cloud and said, hi, how are you. I'm a commissioner who volunteered to do this process, do you have any questions to ask me? It's really quite sad how little interaction there's between the majority of the commissioners and the public whether they represent the families of those whose deaths are being investigated or whether they are just checking it out because they are curious about its operations. They laugh, chat and joke with the police officers who attend the meeting while pretty much ignoring members of the public except to tell them their time is up when they're speaking at the podium.

Through it all, Teresa Cloud has handled herself with grace and dignity attending every meeting involving the discussion of the death of her son. Even while being cut off mid-sentence while speaking by whoever's chairing the meeting because she's exceeded the five-minute time limit. Even while having to speak on the item involving her son before she's even been updated on what's going on in the case. Even as commissioners have made it clear that they can't be bothered to say anything to her or address her concerns or answer her questions. Even as commissioners laugh and joke while discussing someone's death with the person's relative in their presence. Even while they fail to grasp that pushing a vote forward ahead of its time may have a more negative impact on a family member on the anniversary of Cloud's death. Yet it's unlikely that any city official will write a letter on her behalf telling commissioners that she too has the right to be respected at meetings. In fact, it's a given that no city official will ever do anything like that to show respect for a community member.

Still, apparently one city council member, Frank Schiavone doesn't think the CPRC has been neutered enough because he spent some time behind the scenes sending letters to Commissioners Chani Beeman and John Brandriff admonishing them. The letters were prompted by complaints against them and Jim Ward by another commissioner. And irony of ironies, this commissioner was once a target of a thinly veiled attempt by Schiavone to placate his campaign supporters from the Riverside Police Officers' Association to be expelled when if he really cared about police officers, he would use his power as an elected officials to fix the staffing problems in the department. How many public statements has Schiavone made about addressing staffing issues in the police department including supervisory vacancies.

How about none? Obviously these issues don't matter as much as ensuring that commissioners don't dare criticize the actions of the city manager or city attorney.

How quickly things and sides change in this city's political arena that the CPRC remains a popular football in play and what an interesting and very telling two years it has been.

It's not the first time that the finger has been pointed at Schiavone for this type of behavior because it's highly doubtful that he tipped off the Press Enterprise about his letter writing campaign. In fact, he didn't.

During the summer of 2007 former commissioner, Steve Simpson alleged that Schiavone had actually contacted him and told him to shape up if he wanted to stay on the commission. Simpson resigned not long after that.

This time around, it was Beeman and Brandriff who received the notification to shape up or potentially ship out. But the reasons given are rather silly, especially the one about invoking "ovaries" especially given the free rein in which men including elected officials in many places are able to talk about "grabbing [insert something] by the balls" and a person "having balls enough" or being "ballsy". This just sounds like a ridiculous example of thinly veiled sexism, invoking a standard against a woman that would earn a man membership into a club. It's an incident that a lot of women's organizations and publications could poke some fun at, putting Riverside on the map once again. It also brings back memories of Schiavone's threat during his first stint as mayor pro tem to sue the producers of the show O.C. because of its portrayal of Riverside, an action which drove up the show's ratings.

The consternation by Schiavone over the "ovaries" comment was the best laugh I had all day. It's just so silly to thinly threaten someone with removal for "lack of respect" over something like that and it probably betrays an even deeper agenda involving the CPRC. It's too bad because there was a time, he really was a great councilman with vision who would be above all this but it's clear that time in his political tenure is a distant memory. That's really too bad for a councilman who started off one of the most promising probably in recent history but his poor showing in his own ward during the county supervisor election kind of shows what voters think of his shifts during the past several years.

The bias being exercised against these two individuals for expressing opinions is absolutely incredible but fortunately to most thinking people, very transparent as well. And the article does a very good job at making this point because Schiavone does come off as interfering with the free expression of commissioners and that just makes him look like he's been micromanaging the CPRC all along whether or not that's the case.

Schiavone's actions also make it clear that Beeman and Brandriff were probably among the least at risk on the commission for stepping out of line so to speak. If Hubbard were so inclined to actually question anything, could you imagine what Schiavone and the city staff could do with him given that he manages a company that is directly contracted with City Manager Brad Hudson's office? One reason why very little credence could be given to a person who's the best example on the commission of exactly what a conflict of interest is and he acts the part accordingly. One reason to ask yourself, if any other commissioner with say, ovaries has ever been placed in that unenviable position.

Below is where the article gets interesting.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

In his letter to Beeman, Schiavone said he was troubled about Beeman being quoted as saying she was concerned that the city had two officer-involved shootings within two weeks and that she made a comment about "having the ovaries to challenge the city attorney."

In the letters, he said the concerns did not amount to an ethics violation but that a lack of respect would be grounds for removal.

"It's OK to disagree," Schiavone said by phone. "It's not OK to disrespect."

According to the commission's by-laws, the City Council can vote someone off the commission if they are absent from three consecutive meetings without permission, "incompetence, malfeasance, misfeasance, nonfeasance, neglect of duty or conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude," refusal to resign when they are no longer qualified to serve and failure to comply with confidentiality requirements.

Brandriff said he was surprised by the letter and thought he was able to express his opinion. He spoke to Schiavone after receiving the letter and was told the commissioners were not to question the city manager.

It's easy to laugh at the actions of a councilman today to stamp out the word "ovaries" from the vernacular of the much beleaguered commission and I'm sure that many people including women will.

Tomorrow morning, it's off to email this article to the National Organization of Women, the Feminist Majority and other women's organizations and women's magazines like Ms, Glamour and Marie Claire (which has a special section for inanely sexist complaints like this) who will find a lot to chuckle at albeit in a rueful manner.

But this isn't really just about being petty and silly, it's what Brandriff said in the last line in the article that Schiavone said to him about not being allowed to question the city manager. There's no place in the city charter including section 810 that prohibits the commissioners from criticizing city staff and even elected officials, let alone states that they can be expelled for it. This is about a city councilman threatening to penalize commissioners for breaking rules that aren't set in writing but are made up as the city and all its players go along. It's a way to stop them from expressing opinions that elected officials disagree with.

Here is the text to all the correspondence that's been taking place. If there are any city officials reading this who are cognizant of the ethics complaint process, could you please explain to Schiavone that complaints involving members of boards and commissions go first to the chair of those bodies and then to the city clerk for resolution before going to the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee? They do not go straight to this committee for review. Also, there's no provision in the current Ethics Code and Complaint process passed by the city's voters for elected officials filing ethics complaints against board and commission members.

Perhaps, it's time for the city council (who according to his letters, Schiavone spoke for) to have some refresher training on this process. Thank you.

As stated earlier, the Riverside Police Department has opened up eight officer level positions which were vacated through attrition created by firings, failures to make probation, resignations and retirements.

Two individuals in this discussion forum discussed whether or not to show up for the Physical Assessment Test scheduled for this month. They both also applied to Riverside County Sheriff's Department and besides that, have something else in common in terms of how they fared during one particular phase of their testing process there.

Rescue Temecula has set the California Fair Political Practices Commission on elected officials there to investigate them for conflict of interest violations.

One sheriff says no on evictions of tenants whose landlords are facing foreclosure.

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