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 29, 2008

The two portraits of Officer Robert Forman

"It's always nice to hear about a young cop who's a go-getter. He's a guy I'd like to see come through the ranks. He did a good thing."

----Tom Callanan, president of the Exchange Club about Officer Robert Forman, its choice for 2002 Officer of the Year

"Forman came into contact with each victim while conducting his patrol duties,''

---Lt. Bob Meier, Central Investigations, October 2008

The first quote was taken from a Press Enterprise article written in 2002 when Tom Callanan, the president of Exchange Club announced that his organization would be giving Riverside Police Department Officer Robert Forman its police officer of the year award in recognition of the policing he had done in the Northside of the city during that time period. According to him, Forman had stood out as an officer who played an instrumental role in implementing what he defined as an expression of community policing and had made a difference in the neighborhoods in that part of the city.

The second quote is by Riverside Police Department Lt. Bob Meier, who heads the Central Investigations Bureau and released a statement to the media on behalf of that division which includes in its embrace, the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit. That unit investigated allegations of sexual assault by Forman against three women he encountered while assigned to patrol duties in 2008. Evidently, it sent its findings and recommendations whatever they were to the county prosecutor's office which made its decision.

The two quotes which appear disparate enough to be in conflict with one another were made at different times and in different circumstances about the same police officer who now faces prosecution for serious crimes allegedly committed while onduty as a patrol officer. So which quote is reflective of Forman, the police officer? And is it a matter of choosing between two conflicting portraits of the same person that are shown by those statements? Does he represent one or the other, or both? And just as importantly, how do men and women view him, the same or different?

It's reminiscent of how it plays out in many cases like this where the accused is portrayed most often in markedly different ways by both those who accuse and prosecute them and those who represent and defend them, including most recently in the ongoing federal corruption case involving Former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona. Prosecutors painted him one way while his defense attorneys portrayed him in a much different light. The jury will be left with the decision of which portrait fits.

Two different portraits which serve as exercises in contrast for only one person and never the twain shall meet as if that's how it always works. If only one portrait is genuine, which one's the veneer?

So is Forman a model officer, or a rapist? Is he something in between? And if you were to create an accurate portrait of him, what would it look like?

Is he a rapist who might police well enough on certain days to win awards by community organizations? If he is a rapist, does he win awards in spite of that or because of it? What if he's not guilty and just an aggressive officer who "cleans up" a neighborhood as some people might see him regardless? What if he's guilty as some people might see him regardless?

Is this the first time he's been the focus of these types of allegations or do state laws protecting the privacy of police officers keep any prior problems hidden? The public's not privy to officer misconduct even in its most horrendous forms which leaves it unprotected from society's designated protectors who cross the line leaving those who protect the privacy of officers who engage in this misconduct to become accomplices in situations where they might choose to (through the "code of silence") or be forced to do so (through state law) whether they want to or not. But they made their bed and the rest of us will lie in it.

Forman was lauded in the article by Callanan as an aggressive police officer making arrests. He was mentioned in the statement by Meier six years later through his "victims" meaning that he allegedly victimized women while he was policing. In cases where law enforcement officers assault individuals, the sexual assaults often occur not necessarily through use of force, but as coercion against women so they might avoid arrests, detention and/or deportation. Essentially meaning, you'll do this or you go to jail/get your car impounded/get arrested/get deported or something similar like perhaps your drug trade will be protected, placing the women in the position of not being able to consent to anything freely and much more importantly, to not consent to uninvited sexual misconduct from a law enforcement officer who's hired to serve and protect not to abuse. If an officer tries to coerce a woman or a man into sexual misconduct, there's really nothing that woman or man or girl or boy can do about it. There are no laws which protect them and their bodies at the instant it's happening. They have only a criminal justice system stacked them against them to turn to as a means of recourse after the fact.

The alleged incidents that Forman's charges are based upon took place on or about Feb. 20, 2008 and on or about April 2, the same year according to the criminal complaint issued by the Riverside County District Attorney's office. Forman was arrested on Oct. 15 at the police department's administrative headquarters on Orange Street in downtown Riverside, just like other officers including Adam Brown, Laura Digiorgio and Jose Nazario had been before him. He was booked at the nearby Robert Presley Detention Center and released on $50,000 bail shortly after. His mug shot adorned many a newspaper page and television screen. It's of a man starting into the camera almost defiantly. But like most pictures, the only guilt or innocence you see is what the viewer puts there.

Forman still awaits arraignment and presumably a preliminary hearing on three felony charges including two counts of Penal Code 288(A)K which is oral copulation under the color of authority and one count of 243.4(A) which is sexual battery. The alleged victims are nameless in the public record as is often the case in criminal complaints involving sex crimes. They are simply called "Jane Does".

The text of both laws in the state code emphasizes that there's allegations of force or power used against the women, either through physical restraint but often through threats of arresting, detaining, incarcerating and/or deporting the women if they don't cooperate with the officer or officers. It's a definition which makes sense in a way that separates sexual assaults under the color of authority from other types of sexual offenses. In most use of force policies drafted and implemented by police agencies including the Riverside Police Department's own policy #4.3, the first level of force is an officer's presence at the scene. Every other exercise of force used by an officer builds on that lowest level because that level is based entirely on authority without action.

But whether or not Forman abused his authority as a police officer to commit serious crimes might ultimately be decided by a jury if his case goes to trial. First, it will be left to a judge to decide whether the prosecution will present enough evidence to proceed to trial through a preliminary hearing process. That's unless the Riverside County District Attorney's office decides to sidestep the preliminary hearing and take the case to a criminal grand jury (which is an ironic twist to that process given its intended purpose) as they've done in other high-profile cases in the past although that doesn't seem likely in this case. And the women who testify against him as his alleged victims will most likely feel like they're the ones on trial if how women have been treated in similar cases is any indication at all.

It's been at least 15 years since the last publicized arrest of a police officer in the Riverside Police Department who was alleged to have sexually assaulted multiple women while wearing the badge and carrying out his professional duties. In between, two officers Adam Brown and Vince Thomas were arrested and prosecuted in connection with child molestation. Brown plead guilty and is serving life in prison while Thomas' criminal case resulted in two hung juries and was finally dropped after the San Bernardino County District Attorney's office declined to refile.

Thomas appealed his firing at the police department and was reinstated by an arbitrator, a Riverside County Superior Court judge and as of July 2008, the State Court of Appeals, which means that unless the city takes the case to the State Supreme Court, Thomas will either be employed as an officer in Riverside or paid off by the city to avoid that from happening. In fact, he could be back to work already if the city's made that decision of course, behind closed doors.

The last case involving a Riverside officer was a highly publicized one that still resonates for some people more than a decade later.

In the early 1990s, Officer Eric Hamby was arrested and charged with 19 felonies involving assault and sexual assault under the color of authority. He was acquitted of 15 charges with the remainder being dismissed. The police department fired him and although he reinstated that termination, it's not clear whether or not it was overturned. It's possible that years later, Hamby may still be working in law enforcement.

While attending a local conference, I met a man who was related to one of Hamby's victims and he shared his feelings on the situation about a decade after the events had played out. He didn't fault the internal investigations done by the department and felt they had been professionally done but he felt that the former officer had gotten away with committing crimes which left devastating scars on their victims. If Forman did commit these crimes that he's been charged with, what lies ahead for these three women?

Other law enforcement agencies have had their own problems with officers getting charged and even convicted of rape under the color of authority.

Several Riverside County Sheriff Department deputies including this one were arrested for sexual assault under the color of authority. Deputy John Wayne Lesesberg who was stationed in Lake Elsinore was charged with 18 assorted felonies and convicted of felony burglary and three misdemeanor counts of indecent exposure as part of a plea bargain. He had been sentenced to two years in state prison but served no time due to the time he spent in jail awaiting trial.

Another deputy from the same department, David Kushner was arrested for rape under the color of authority in Moreno Valley where he was stationed four years ago.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

Kushner, 33, faces three counts of forced oral sex, two counts of rape, one of sodomy and two of kidnapping with intent to commit rape.

“The allegations reflect the fact that Deputy Kushner used his position as a peace officer to force our two victims into sex acts,” said Riverside County Deputy Dist. Atty. Mike Soccio, who is prosecuting the case.

He was charged with 18 felonies and is still awaiting trial.

Not awaiting trial is former San Bernardino Police Department officer, Ronald Van Rossum who was sentenced to 34 years in state prison in connection with the rapes of women who had outstanding warrants. He drove them to the station where he was assigned and sexually assaulted them there. About a dozen women in a dozen years, before his arrest.

A Maywood Police Department officer was arrested in Riverside and charged with 12 felonies alleging sexual assault against three women while on duty.

This Bell Police Department officer sexually assaulted a woman during a traffic stop.

The list goes on and on and recently, an officer in the Riverside Police Department was added to it. It remains to be seen what happens next both in Riverside and just about anywhere else.

Fresh after taking on City Hall's micromanagement of the Community Police Review Commission, the Press Enterprise Editorial Board criticizes it for its handling of Towergate. That happened when the city's Redevelopment Agency subsidized the parking spots for a developer's office building project only to watch that developer sell it off to Riverside County where it will be used to house the Riverside County District Attorney's office.

Two city councilmen swore in the press that this would never happen again. The editorial board told them that it must not.


That arrangement hardly provides an economic spark for the downtown. Financial incentives might be a necessary tool for spurring development in the city. But Riverside can ensure that the money buys something better than parking for county employees.

A new development agreement for an office project on Olivewood Avenue prohibits the developer from selling the property to a government agency, for example. At the least, future deals should require developers to repay any city subsidy in such cases.

The Regency Tower will not provide the economic boost Riverside wanted. The city can do little about that reality other than learn from it -- and ensure that future development agreements fully protect taxpayers' investments.

A technical glitch was responsible for the audio going silent during a Temecula City Council meeting. So says City Hall but not everyone believes them.

A complaint alleging that campaign funds has been filed against a Moreno Valley city councilman who's running for reelection.

More information on the fatal officer-involved shooting of a man by an Anaheim Police Department officer.

(excerpt, New York Daily News)

Julian Alexander died after being shot twice in the chest by a police officer who was chasing four burglary suspects early Tuesday morning.

Police Chief John Welter said the officer ran into Alexander, mistook him for one of the four juvenile suspects and shot him.

"The last thing we ever want to do, No. 1, (is) take somebody's life," he said. "And we certainly don't want to take the life of someone who is mistakenly believed to be involved in some criminal activity."

Family members believed that Alexander, a newly wed with a pregnant wife was trying to protect his family.

(excerpt, Orange County Register)

Around 1:30 a.m., Tuesday, Alexander heard a commotion outside the home he shared with his pregnant wife and in-laws. He grabbed a broomstick the family kept by the door and rushed outside.

Minutes later, an Anaheim police officer, pursuing four juvenile suspects in a possible burglary, shot and killed Alexander.

For now, police officials are saying only that the officer was a 10-year veteran and is on paid leave – and that Alexander was not guilty or suspected of any crime. And it may take months to sort out exactly what happened in the darkness outside Alexander's Muller Street home.

But the family says no explanation will ease their pain as they mourn the loss of would-be father who will never hold his child.

His family members described the events that unfolded after the fatal shooting.

(excerpt, Orange County Register)

Michelle Mooney, 40, Alexander’s mother-in-law, said the family had been watching movies until just before midnight. Then everybody in the house went to bed. She said she believes Alexander must have gone out with the broomstick to protect her family from any danger.

She woke up to the sound of “two pops.” She said she looked outside and saw a police officer standing near a tree in the front yard with his gun drawn.

“Julian was already on the ground,” Mooney said, adding that the broomstick was next to him.
She said she asked, “What are you guys doing? That’s my son-in-law on the ground.”

Mooney said the officer ordered her and other family members to get back inside.

With its jury selected, the federal corruption trial of former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona begins.

Attorneys for both sides gave opening arguments.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

"This is the case of the two Mike Caronas," Assistant U.S. Atty. Brett Sagel told jurors as the long-awaited corruption trial opened at the federal courthouse in Santa Ana. "There's the Sheriff Carona who went from underdog in 1998 to being sheriff of Orange County. . . . And this Mike Carona, who declared: 'We're going to be so rich. We're going to make so much money.' "

But defense lawyer Brian A. Sun said Carona was the victim of vengeful former associates who have wrongly accused him of accepting illicit cash payments and gifts to win leniency in their own corruption cases. The government's case, he said, relies heavily on the testimony of convicted felons and perjurers who victimized the sheriff in their quests for money and power.

"The evidence in this case will show the only people who made money, who tried to scam money, are the government's witnesses," Sun said. "Mike Carona made no money."

Eight subpoenas were issued in the grand jury investigation into allegations that a man was sodomized by several New York City Police Department officers.

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