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

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Is City Hall trying to gag the speech of community organizations?

The Group in Riverside heard a presentation on the Community Police Review Commission delivered by the Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability Chair Deborah Wong. She did a really good job including being cross-examined by the commission's executive manager, Kevin Rogan (who's a bar-certified attorney) who had her on the witness stand for a while, repeating that mantra straight out of Perry Mason "Isn't it true....about such and such" while a flabbergasted audience sat and watched him pretty much try to derail her presentation.

The emphasis of course, is on the word, try. But what Rogan did instead was masterfully prove the twin adages that to show is much better than to tell and that one picture is indeed worth a thousand words. A few of us were walking out of the Coffee Depot at meeting's end and talking about how Rogan's behavior had shown just how off the beaten path the CPRC has gone in the past year or so. Not to mention, showing the extent of the tug of war over its function and its future that's been taking place in Riverside just four years after the city's voting population voted to place it in the city's charter. A struggle that's attracted the attention of the Los Angeles office of the Department of Justice which intended to send two representatives to the Group meeting on the CPRC before having to cancel out at the last minute.

One interesting observation about Rogan, who's very intelligent and personable is that when he speaks, he either identifies himself as a former captain at Pomona's police department (i.e. "in my experience as a police officer") or on fewer occasions, as a licensed attorney. But what you hardly ever see him do is offer his perspective as the executive manager of the CPRC. He might say, I'm the executive manager of the CPRC but whereas both Don Williams and Pedro Payne, two completely different types of directors did so when discussing tasks under the commission, Rogan actually rarely does this at least in public. But Payne never had a law enforcement background and Williams had served a stint involving civilian oversight in San Diego County after a career in the Houston Police Department that took place some years earlier. In contrast, Rogan had retired from his prior job as a police officer about two weeks before taking the job in Riverside so his constant references to his law enforcement background as executive manager of the CPRC shouldn't be all that surprising.

Perry Mason had nothing on this guy (who once fielded a job offer from a well-known police defense firm in Upland), who became the first executive manager or director of the CPRC who's ever defended the city manager's position at a public meeting. But then before Hudson, city managers allowed the commission and its director to perform their duties assigned first to them through an ordinance and then the charter without trying to micromanage their operations to the point that the CPRC can't even place an item on the agenda for discussion without having it vetted by an assembly line of city employees first. But then liability has become a factor with the city paying out settlements of $390,000 and $800,000 on lawsuits connected with fatal shootings. Not to mention that one of the CPRC's rare sustained findings on excessive force also relates to an incident which resulted in a federal lawsuit with an alleged settlement offer of $500,000.

Watching Rogan for 20 minutes, I finally really understand once again why his predecessor, Payne had quit. Some people really want to be their own person and Rogan's clearly reciting his marching orders from City Manager Brad Hudson who sits in his office and issues the memos.

And while Perry Mason was an independent contractor, Rogan clearly is not.

By the way, Rogan's only technically full-time. His PERs retirement from the Pomona Police Department limits the number of hours he can work a week, though the city and CPRC Chair Brian Pearcy are a bit evasive on how many hours that their own executive manager puts in. But then both Rogan and the other top finalist, Ray Martinelli both apparently specified limits in the number of hours they could work at this position. Rogan's appeared to be based on his pension at least according to Pearcy who sat one of the panels conducting oral interviews of the CPRC management candidates while Martinelli's service would have been limited by his commitment to his Temecula-based business.

Rogan offered up an interesting if somewhat revisionist view of the history of the CPRC and its pattern and practice of investigating officer-involved shooting deaths and incustody deaths. For one thing, the directive was actually a response to the commission's decision to attempt to initiate an investigation into the fatal shooting of Carlos Quinonez, sr. That investigation was to be initiated but was halted by Hudson's directive. Pearcy as chair of the commission had formulated the ad hoc committee to be chaired by Chani Beeman to work on officer-involved death protocol especially pertaining to deaths that didn't involve the intention to use the highest level of force. That was after Rogan and the city manager's office conveniently forgot about the Terry Rabb case, the one incustody death so far that hasn't involved a discharge of gunshots.

The city waxed and wheedled through its handling of the Martin Gaspar Pablo case which merely backed the police department's own findings which means that as an investigation, the CPRC's preliminary look at the Pablo incident did as it was meant to do in the best circumstances which was to closely mirror the police department's own investigations into the incident. But when the task moved back to handling what were labeled, more clear-cut, black and white deaths meaning fatal shootings, the city proved that its handling of the Pablo case wasn't an anomaly at all but just the beginning of a protocol change which Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis had hoped to accomplish in early 2007, only community outcry and thankfully a drought in fatal incidents put those plans on ice for over a year.

Watching Rogan at one of the ad hoc meetings apparently admit that he didn't know a uniformed officer's presence constituted level one of the department's use of force policy was a bit surprising considering that even outside of fatal incidents, the commission handles allegations of less than lethal excessive force by officers. I wasn't actually clear how familiar he was with the policy's language pertaining to the different levels of force on the continuum.

And there's been a lot of talk about the city council's actions which could have implications heading into next year's round of city council elections, given that some incumbents may face difficult reelection campaigns.

The most vocal city council member who's been involved in most of the upheaval involving the CPRC has been the representative from Ward Four, Frank Schiavone. For one who has proclaimed quite loudly to be a keen supporter of civilian oversight, he's been quite busy writing opinion pieces on redefining the protocol for officer-involved deaths and writing stern letters telling two of the commissioners to essentially shut up on criticizing the city or ship out even thought the city's charter is intentionally very narrow in scope when it comes to establishing criteria for ejecting board and commission members. These letters have been fully distributed, thanks to the Press Enterprise and fully discussed among people who are rethinking whether or not it's worth serving on the city's boards and commissions if they have to get permission from the city council just to open their mouths if they're not praising the city all the time.

One commissioner who received his very own custom titled and no doubt autographed missive, John Brandriff stated that he had essentially been told he was forbidden to criticize the city manager as if his free speech ended the day he took his position on the CPRC. But what happened to him is potentially a violation of two U.S. Constitutional amendments, the first and the 14th. The first one may appear obvious in nature but the 14th Amendment also applies because while commissioners are forbidden from criticizing the city officials and two direct city employees, they are completely welcome to criticize the community members who attend as Commissioner (and manager of American Medical Response, a contracting company with the city manager's office) Peter Hubbard did when he attacked former commissioner Steve Simpson and sharply criticized two individuals saying they were essentially wasting their time being concerned about the loss of life in officer-involved deaths and should be spending their time pushing for seat belt laws. But what Hubbard really seemed to be saying was how little concern he thought should be paid to the task that he as a commissioner had been assigned to do.

Since Hubbard's criticism of city residents who attend meetings and his derogatory comments towards the witnesses of the shooting of Lee Deante Brown were not criticized by any city officials as being anti-community while Brandriff and Commissioner Chani Beeman were labeled by Schiavone as being anti-police and/or anti-city (which the two clearly are not given their backgrounds), it's clear that the issue of equal protection under the law might be at issue here. But it's not likely that Schiavone will author any letters chastising Hubbard for acting biased towards the city council's own employers, the city resident. It would be as silly for him to do this as it was silly for him to write letters about it to Beeman and Brandriff, which seemed to be the consensus of many people who discussed the letter writing campaign by Schiavone.

But there's concern that Schiavone has placed himself too much in this situation where it appears that he's not allowing commissioners that he disagrees with the space to perform their charter-mandated duties and to represent not the city or the city council but the communities from which they come. And it's attracted attention that a council member is doing this rather than letting the CPRC commissioners challenge each others' assertions without having to essentially ask the city council permission if it's okay to say anything without fear of an ouster.

And given how quiet especially Brandriff has been since the letters, they may have had some chilling effect.

More lawsuits planned to be filed against a city which saw two filed last week.

Riverside Police Officers' Association President Chris Lanzillo said that several lawsuits will be filed by the union against the city pertaining to different forms of investigation processes that involve both the police department and potentially the CPRC, namely the investigations of officer-involved shootings and citizen complaints.

The police union last litigated the department's officer-involved shooting policy, #4.8 in 2003 and settled with the city in 2005. The latest lawsuit includes shootings that have taken place since the earlier lawsuit.

The lawsuit involving citizen complaints is related to the interpretation of Governmental Code 3304(d) which gets resettled about once every year, necessitating the issuance of frequent updates from municipal law firms like this one which soon become outdated. However, winning the award for the broadest collection (and in some cases conflicting) interpretations of this governmental code is Riverside's very own city attorney, Gregory Priamos. He's got one interpretation per occasion and so far, has provided three different readings of the same law.

The police department has been spending many of its months the past few years averaging at over 150 days spent investigating and reviewing citizen complaints. City residents complain and wait over a year just to have the CPRC schedule a dozen or so complaints in a 90 minute period, giving each complaint an average of about 7.5 minutes of discussion time. The sustain rate is about 4% this year for the CPRC so perhaps that average time is a bit generous, after all breaks are not factored into the equation as perhaps they should be if breaks are being taken during the closed session deliberations on complaints.

Officers wait a year or so to learn whether or not they are exonerated which again happens at the CPRC level about 96% of the time, or sustained. In 2004 after a debate on Measure II conducted by the League of Women Voters, there was a breakout discussion group on this issue of delayed complaints by Williams, RPOA secretary and Measure II debater, Officer Christian Dinco and former CPRC chair and current city councilman, Mike Gardner.

Lanzillo also mentioned that the staffing levels of officer-level positions is down about 28 positions and that the work shifts are staffed at about 18 officers per shift. Sergeant staffing ratios are low because of the shortage of patrol officers on work shifts, which is why the sergeant positions are vacant.

Spray paint futures were up, in that some bright minds at City Hall have apparently suggested that detectives paint their vehicles to look more squad cars so the public would believe there were more police cars out there than there actually is. Sounds like an idea whose brilliance and artistic creativity with paint being the medium of choice that can only have come from the city manager's office where closeted Leonardos and Van Goghs surely lurk.

This could be a traveling art exhibit within the "City of the Arts" with these manifestations of creativity and resourcefulness displayed proudly on some pods donated by recessed-out car dealers at the Auto Center.

"Yes, this is really a squad car"

an interpretative art form

Materials: metal, spray paint and rubber tires

Artists: Brad Hudson and Thomas DeSantis, City Manager and assistant.

How much is the city paying for such artistic brilliance again?

The Group meeting couldn't go further without a little bit of controversy.

Chair Jennifer-Vaughn-Blakely made an announcement at the Group meeting that if the organization didn't tone down its criticisms of city employees and elected officials, then city employees would no longer be allowed to attend the meetings. I don't attend regularly, but I asked around if I had missed any major fireworks that took place involving any civic issue. But everyone said, there hadn't been anything major being said. The Group and always has been one of the best meetings to attend to discuss city issues, learn more about city events and services and meet other people. In other words, it's a great place to be on the first and third Thursday mornings for many people.

A couple people said that it had been Councilman Rusty Bailey's criticism but it wasn't clear where the order had come from and for those who believed it was Schiavone's will (which isn't too difficult to conclude given his letter writing activities lately on the issue of criticizing the city), it's way too premature to determine who issued the order. It's part and parcel of what's been going on at City Hall for quite a while now that even the community organizations are being chastised to tone down their dialogues. Elected officials have tried to clamp down on any criticism of themselves or their direct city employees, mostly the city manager and city attorney and it's apparently not enough to do it on boards, commissions, public meetings or in other spots but now it's being done for community organization meetings as well. Yet, these elected officials don't think anything about making personal attacks from the dais at city residents who are critical of the council's actions by calling them liars, saying they've lied or they have little or no class.

Katie Greene's response was that the Group was for community members was well said, especially that it would go on even with the city's comments about not allowing its staff members to attend. Some city department heads attend as well as other city employees who can answer questions or make announcements about what's going in the city which is very important. However, so is the right to speak freely in a public meeting held by an organization in a democrat republic. And one has to ask, is this group which is no more boisterous (borrowing from someone's vocabulary) than any other group being treated differently by those who threaten to impose restrictions on attendance than organizations which are not predominantly African-American? Is this organization being singled out by a City Hall which seems to have thinned out its ranks of Black and Latino employees in management positions in the past several years? So if the Group was singled out because it's seen by City Hall as a Black Group (which was formerly called the "Grope" by at least one council member), what's that called again? Because the Group isn't the only meeting where the city council and officials are being criticized these days and there's been no announcements of similar actions being taken at the meetings of other organizations.

Still, as the pronouncement the city has placed on trying to dictate the dialogue at the Group is spreading throughout the city, eliciting laughter but also concern and discussion about how with months to go before the new municipal election begins. This latest development might become part of the "tipping point" among voters who think that it might once again be a good time to put some more new faces on the dais just like they did in 2007. It's highly doubtful that Riversiders like being told what they can and can't say in their own meetings. After all, this is not Russia. This is a city where people vote and sometimes issue pink slips to their elected officials for decisions they make that are at the intelligence level of this latest one.

If you value these issues of what was imposed on the Group, please participate in next year's city elections, attend the debates, listen to the speeches at the meetings and at the forums.

Bye Bye Greyhound as Riverside disses over 85,000 customers of the bus line including many seniors, disabled individuals and poor families who apparently are not welcome in the stuck-in-the-middle-of-the-Riverside-Renaissance downtown. Riverside becomes one of the few major cities to bar the bus company from its borders. They claim it's being done to eliminate parolees to come to Riverside, but since this area is the county seat and the headquarters for most major judicial systems, they'll simply rely more on the RTA buses because it's not the transportation that brings parolees here, it's Riverside's decision to be the county seat.

Riverside's city council members laughed and joked about offering shuttles to bus riders to San Bernardino without actually meaning it or actually offering them any viable shuttle transportation alternatives to and from San Bernardino since most of the buses coming to and from that county don't operate on holidays and weekends.

The thing is, since there is a recession, Riverside's City Hall is probably going to see more and more poor people including families. Those rich folks from Orange County that the city wanted, won't be coming because the market to build custom made houses or even buy older houses has flattened and they can't sell the houses they needed to sell to come here. There's no word on how Riverside's power players will cope with having to look at poor people including at downtown.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Greyhound riders will have to use other Inland stations. The nearest are in Colton, San Bernardino and Perris. That will mean longer drives for Riverside-area residents picking up and dropping off relatives and friends who are taking Greyhound, and longer local bus rides for other customers.

Lewis Biszant, 40, of Riverside, said he takes the Greyhound to San Diego once a month to visit relatives, and he'll have to figure out how to get to the Colton or San Bernardino station, probably via a couple of Riverside Transit Agency buses instead of the one bus he usually takes now to get downtown.

"It'll definitely take more time," he said. "You've got to live with it."

Jaime Ramos, 35, of Banning, said he uses Greyhound about twice a month to visit relatives in El Monte and he often comes to the Riverside Greyhound station because the one in Banning has limited service.

He has to take two Riverside Transit Agency buses to reach Riverside and on Thursday he was not sure how easy it would be to get from Banning to Colton or San Bernardino.

"I'm going to have to figure it out," he said.

Greyhound still hopes to find a new location that would allow it to continue serving its Riverside-area customers, Wambaugh said.

She was unaware of any other Greyhound station in the Inland region being pushed out of its location, she said.

More information on Wednesday's arrest of Riverside Police Department Officer Robert Forman here and here. He was arrested that morning at the Orange Street Station with $50,000 which was quickly posted and faces three felony counts of oral copulation under the color of authority and sexual battery. His next court appearance is Nov. 12.

His arrest warrant was sealed by a Riverside County Superior Court judge and the order authorizing that action so also wasn't made public. The allegations are that three women came forward and accused Forman of sexual assault while he was onduty and in uniform.

In Rialto, the first anniversary of the shooting death of SWAT officer Sergio Carrera, Jr. is being remembered.

In Temecula, city council members are defending their close relationships with developers. There's been calls for investigations including by Survive Temecula to examine exactly how mutually beneficial those relationships have been.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The relationship between developers and Naggar and Washington became an issue Wednesday night, unlike the first debate on Oct. 7. Naggar runs a development consulting firm in Perris while Washington is an investor in development projects outside Temecula.

A barber by trade, Stewart said as a councilman, he wouldn't be involved with developers. "I don't believe public servants should take advantage of opportunities presented to them" because of their office, he said.

Naggar said the developer of Temecula's Wolf Creek community sued him in 2001 because he spoke out against the project. And he noted the city has sued Riverside County four times over development concerns outside the city limits.

Washington said he disclosed his investments on financial disclosure forms. "I don't understand why my wife and I should not be able to invest in a project that's outside the city," he said.

As he did in the last debate, Abbott took the incumbents to task for Temecula's redevelopment program. Redevelopment siphons tax dollars away from schools and the city, he said.

Lake Elsinore's city clerk was forced to resign.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Lake Elsinore officials asked former City Clerk Vivian Munson to resign or be fired a month after they discovered she would stand trial on embezzlement charges stemming from her previous city job in Signal Hill, Lake Elsinore's mayor said Thursday.

Munson resigned on Tuesday.

Daryl Hickman's disclosure comes a day after Lake Elsinore City Treasurer Pete Weber criticized the city's background check process.

Though the decision came in closed session, Hickman said residents needed to know that the city wasn't aware of the charges until last month, and that the city did its due diligence in vetting Munson's background.

"It was a hard decision, but in the end we decided we couldn't keep her," Hickman said.

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