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, November 05, 2008

Anatomy of an Officer-involved Death: Marlon Oliver Acevedo

The Community Police Review Commission met in part to receive a preliminary briefing on the officer-involved death investigation of Marlon Oliver Acevedo, 35, who died on Oct. 31 not long after being detained by three Riverside Police Department officers.

Capt. Mark Boyer, who heads the investigations division, delivered the briefing and answered questions. But before that, there was some drama courtesy of Chair Brian Pearcy who tried once again to push public comment on this item before the presentation of that item so that members of the public were forced to comment on issues they hadn't heard anything about ahead of time. It seems as if the commission is less reluctant to receive public input with each passing meeting, courtesy of some micromanagement clearly going on behind the scenes which was quite visible and as one attendee said in the audience on display at this meeting.

Over 30 people attended the briefing including members of Acevedo's family and their attorney and since cramming all of these people in the fifth floor large conference room was out, the meeting was relocated in the city council chambers. Most of the commissioners per usual filed in the chambers without even glancing at the people sitting in the seats let alone greeting them although Commissioner Arthur Santore broke ranks and passed out speaker forms to people sitting there. A first for him but at least he made the effort.

City Attorney Gregory Priamos went up to the podium to offer advice on the Brown Act to the commission which was supposed to have been trained on the state's open meetings law, but Pearcy seems to be confused about the same issue of public comment every few meetings and tries to change the rules accordingly while arguing that this is how it's always done. He gets straightened out on the text of the Brown Act but then a few months later, he's experiencing the same problems again getting a grasp on the law when it comes to guarding the public's right to speak at the meetings. So essentially, round and round and round it goes. Maybe it's time for Brown Act training for the commissioners again.

At any rate after about 10 minutes, Pearcy finally figured it out and decided to handle the situation as it had been done for quite a while and Boyer returned to the podium to give his presentation. He does a pretty good job with his presentation and answering questions raised by commissioners.

According to Boyer, the following chain of events took place.

On Oct. 31 at about 9:46 p.m. Officers Jeffrey Rakovitch and Daniel Koehler responded on Cypress Street to calls about a man standing in the street yelling at cars. Some community people advised that Acevedo might be under the influence of drugs, alcohol or was mentally ill. Koehler approached him and attempted to communicate with Acevedo. Both officers removed their asp batons and struck Koehler on the knees and legs to try to get him off of his feet. They ordered him to lie on the ground. Acevedo punched Koehler in the head knocking his glasses off. Rackovitch removed his taser and tased Acevedo, but there was no effect. He did a contact tasing and managed to handcuff Acevedo. Acevedo kicked and another officer, James Heiting arrived and placed Acevedo in a hobble where there was a strap around his ankles and one leading from his ankles to his handcuffs. He went into medical distress and lost consciousness at some point and was taken out of his restraints when the fire department and American Medical Response personnel arrived. He died at Parkview Hospital less than an hour after the altercation began.

It's not clear whether or not the officer named Heiting in this case was the same as that involved in the Sept. 1 fatal shooting of Carlos Quinonez, sr.

Several civilian witnesses backed the officers' versions, Boyer said. But family members who also were in attendance at some point didn't appear to support those versions. The attorney they retained also attended the meeting to monitor the briefing. He had received a copy of the autopsy summary from the family and was reviewing it but said that there were a lot of questions. He said that the preliminary autopsy summary showed abrasions and bruises on the face as well as a contact tasing mark on Acevedo's abdominal region. The final autopsy report is not scheduled to be completed for another 8-10 weeks.

The commissioners asked questions about the hobbling process, how much time had elapsed during the entire incident and whether or not the officers involved had taken the "51/50" training or if the crisis intervention team had been dispatched to the scene.

Boyer said that the incident unfolded too quickly to send out any team and they were not on duty anyway that evening. The entire incident took around five minutes and there was very little time that elapsed between the arrival of the first two officers and the initial use of what began as level 5 force under the department's use of force policy.

He believed that Acevedo might have been unconscious by the time medical help arrived and that after being hobbled, he had been rested on his side according to a preliminary statement that the involved officers provided for the criminal investigators.

The Press Enterprise stated that Acevedo had been beaten with batons and shocked twice.

Commissioner Chani Beeman introduced a motion she knew "Greg would jump out of his chair when I say this," which was to initiate immediately an independent and parallel investigation into the incident. Other commissioners blanched and recoiled at the words, but one other, Jim Ward said he'd support it if the same motion would apply to the prior shooting death of Carlos Quinonez and Fernando Luis Sanchez would be included. Beeman said she had repeatedly brought those shootings up at prior meetings.

Priamos was asked to provide his legal counsel and of course said to introduce a motion to initiate an investigation would be "within the context of the meeting, it would be out of scope." When it comes to providing legal advice on the Brown Act, it seems that in identical frameworks, conflicting advice was given at a previous meeting about two incidents when motions were proposed involving different discussion items and the one that was allowed to be voted on was the motion favorable to the city. The other one which was not had to be offered up to be put on an agenda of an upcoming meeting. Beeman said that she had done that several times and had yet to see any agenda item she proposed on investigating these incustody deaths placed on any meeting agenda.

She added that a special meeting if necessary should be called to discuss the issue of launching an independent investigation but that their abilities to carry out their charter-assigned abilities were being hindered by administrative decisions.

"I think the charter trumps administrative bureaucracy," Beeman said.

Gloria Huerta, nurse and former commissioner, spoke before the panel. Huerta is the rarity, a pre-Measure GG commissioner who supported the CPRC's charter responsibility to do independent investigations. She added that the truth could be found if the investigations were unduly delayed as memories faded and the preservation of evidence was lost. Parallel investigations which are transparent were necessary.

"That's not happening now," Huerta said.

She advocated for independent counsel, saying that she liked Priamos but that there were conflict of interest situations involved having him represent the CPRC. She had advocated for Measure II to put the commission in the city's charter and said that the purpose of doing that was to keep it from being politically influenced by elected officials who were paid for or bought by special interests and to take power away from the city manager.

Some of the interesting events that took place at the meeting were when nothing was said, at least not verbally.

In fact at one moment, Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis directed Executive Manager Kevin Rogan to the side of the road to most likely give him instructions. Many people in the audience noticed the interaction taking place and commented on it.

Former commissioner, Steve Simpson brought up the issue of whether or not City Councilman Steve Adams was threatening to write citations to anyone who dared investigate an officer-involved death without the city's explicit permission. That idea just created too hilarious a visual image to not laugh at but Simpson's right. It's serious business if an elected official is engaging in this type of behavior. But Simpson told the other commissioners, he had been threatened by a city council member too while he served on the panel.

Riverside County is looking at major employee cuts in response to the increasingly bleak economic picture.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The strategies unveiled Tuesday are intended as tools for department heads to pare their budgets and meet targeted cuts, Luna said. He added that he would provide more details on the plans at a department head meeting next week.

Luna also said the county will reduce its use of temporary workers and limit permanent employees' options to trade in unused vacation and leave time for pay.

The county, which has about 19,300 permanent workers, will start implementing the strategies immediately, he added.

Luna said hiring is capped as of last week and further hiring above those levels will be subject to the approval of the county's executive staff.

Departments will need to show they can afford to add an employee and still maintain a balanced budget that incorporates needed reductions, said county spokesman Ray Smith.

Until now, departments generally had the discretion to assess their own budgets and hire accordingly for existing positions, Smith said.

Luna said the county will also put controls on overtime, which cost the county about $57.6 million in 2007.

The county is calling for departments to anticipate overtime and take steps to minimize it, Smith said.

Cruising in elections are incumbents in Perris and also in Temecula.

Meanwhile, new faces are dominating the dais in Hemet.

Lo and behold! The challengers in Moreno Valley are claiming victory.

In the federal corruption trial of former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona, a former aid of his admitted to making illegal campaign donations.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

Donald Haidl, a key government witness in Carona's corruption trial, said he was told that if he raised $30,000 in political donations for Carona, he would own the Sheriff's Department and "there would be 1,800 guns and 5,000 employees at my disposal."

The problem was, Orange County law limited campaign donations to $1,000 per person. To get around that limit, Carona directed him to find 30 trusted people to write $1,000 checks to the campaign and then reimburse them himself in cash, "so it was untraceable," Haidl testified.

In the months that followed, Haidl said he collected checks from relatives and employees of his companies and then secretly reimbursed them in cash as Carona and his campaign manager, George Jaramillo, had instructed.

He said Carona told him to find "people who could keep their mouths shut and wouldn't say anything."

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is very supportive of the proposed study of his city's police department but the city might lack funding to pay for the changes it proposed.

(excerpt, San Francisco Chronicle)

In an exclusive interview, Newsom said the report by the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group of police executives, provides a good road map for needed changes in the problem-plagued department.

But he added that one of the report's proposals - calling for more foot patrols and heightened police presence in neighborhoods - would cost $41 million to cover the cost of hiring 268 new officers.

"I couldn't be more pleased with this report," Newsom told The Chronicle late last week. "But I am not convinced we can find $41 million next year. I would be lying to people if I said that."

A police officer in San Diego is standing trial in connection with the shooting of two people.

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