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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An economy (and protest) that's never been seen before...

"Certainly cuts are going to occur at any rank. ... We're looking at management personnel, supervisors, detectives, officers, all of them."

---Hemet Police Chief Richard Dana to the Press Enterprise

"Make no mistake about it. We haven't seen an economy like this before.
The steps that we need to take now are going to hurt."

---County Executive Officer Bill Luna told Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco.

Not long after Hemet's decision to actually eliminate about 20% of its law enforcement positions, more bad news is coming to Riverside County's own public safety departments. There had been rumors for awhile that the Sheriff's Department would be seeing cuts including possibly in its staffing but it appears that with a vote, the board of supervisors made it clear that these were no longer rumors.

This comes after the Board decided to change its course away from excluding the public safety departments from staffing cuts. Instead, all hiring levels have been capped to where they stood on Nov. 5 until further notice.

At least one department head was unhappy with that news.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Pacheco said the county's hiring cap was set for the number of working employees as of Nov. 5. It did not account for hiring and promotion commitments his department made before then. He said his office had already hired and promoted a chief deputy district attorney and several investigators with start dates after Nov. 5.

He told supervisors that he had offered jobs to some of those people on Nov. 5, the day after Luna announced he was planning to cap hiring.

Pacheco also said he had long promised employment to the law students, now working temporarily as clerks, if they pass the bar, he said.

"It creates -- what I consider as a lawyer -- serious liability for the county because commitments have been made and they are longstanding commitments," Pacheco told supervisors.

"This really -- and the law clerks are a perfect example of it -- is about fundamental fairness."

But county supervisors referred Pacheco's concerns back to Luna and gave Luna the authority to negotiate with Pacheco.

Luna said many county departments are struggling with the same issues, and it is just part of the pain of limiting hiring.

Supervisor Bob Buster said Pacheco's was a tough story, but it will be a worse situation if the county finds itself having to lay off employees and cut services to the public to balance the budget.

"That's going to be the much tougher story, one that I want to avoid at all costs, even though we may upset ongoing plans of important department heads like yourself," he told Pacheco. "Those people who have been hoping for a job here may have to change their plans, but we have got to meet these budget targets."

Previously, the Sheriff's Department in particular had been busy hiring new deputies, mainly to staff new jails that it planned to build but to also dispatch out into the field of the county's incorporated regions and contract cities. More academy classes were added to the roster at the county's training center for law enforcement officers, the Ben Clark Training Academy. Now, there might be fewer cadets filling these classes.

Now, is there going to be a hiring freeze in the Sheriff's Department? Based on what the supervisors seem to be saying through their comments and their votes, is probably yes. It's not like Hemet where officers will likely be laid off but positions that are vacated won't be refilled.

The supervisors also voted to approve an early retirement incentive package but the vacancies created by any law enforcement employees who took it would not be filled. Which sounds similar to a buyout with benefits to add to the unfunded positions.

The Riverside Police Department had already been in the midst of its own hiring freeze since at least last spring, opening up only eight positions vacated through attrition but leaving some positions which had been approved by the city council in previous years unfilled. As senior officers in supervisory and management positions retired this year, most of these positions including one deputy chief, one lieutenant and four sergeant positions were left vacant. At least 25 civilian positions remain vacant and there may be up to 28 temporary (through disability and other leaves) or permanent vacant positions in the department's patrol divisions.

In June, consultant Joe Brann cautioned the police department that it needed to immediately address its staffing issues. He told the city council and representatives of the city manager's office and the police department's command staff that while the city had to be mindful of fiscal budget limitations, it was important to insure that these shortages did not become long-term issues. Whether it's fewer officers covering larger areas, high officer to supervisor ratios or lieutenants working double assignments, it was important to avoid any serious problems stemming from these situations as well as any shortages on the civilian employee side.

Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis replied by saying that the department was fully staffed and trained. At the time, there were vacancies that had not been filled resulting from the retirements of three officers at the management or supervisory level. Only one of those vacancies was filled by a promotion on July 1, but the promotion created another vacancy at the sergeant level. Then two more sergeants retired and another lieutenant.

In total, a deputy chief, two lieutenants and three sergeants retired so far this year. Another sergeant was transferred to head the Communications division. Out of the two vacated lieutenant positions, only one of them was filled and the other remains empty. Another sergeant postponed his planned retirement until late next year.

Amid this freezing inside the Riverside Police Department emerges the dilemma of what to do with several former police officers applying for reinstatement in the police department after either being acquitted at trial or having their firings reversed by arbitration and/or the state courts. Where do they fit in? Do there need to be vacancies to be filled before they get reinstated? Will there be new positions created for them?

Former Riverside Police Department officer Jose Nazario was fired while working as a probational officer several years ago after being arrested by NCIS agents while signing a personnel evaluation form at the downtown station. Earlier this year, he was acquitted by a federal jury of voluntary manslaughter charges filed against him in connection with the fatal shootings of Iraqi detainees in Fallujah.

After his acquittal, Nazario and his lawyer walked on down from the U.S. District Court to the police department's administrative headquarters in downtown Riverside to get his job back.

One individual stated that if Nazario is not rehired by Chief Russ Leach or City Manager Brad Hudson, then Riverside's City Hall will see a protest like it hasn't seen before by police employees and organizations. The argument presented is that Nazario was promised his job back by Leach and Hudson if he got acquitted and when he dropped by the station, a captain and lieutenant allegedly informed him that his process would be expedited with his background being updated. However, Hudson said that it depended on whether or not there was a position available because he wasn't creating a new officer position. Allegedly, it's been left up for Leach to decide and it's part of being a police chief to decide who's hired. But what will Leach decide?

Potential problems emerged even before Nazario's acquittal when this article was published which included comments that Nazario allegedly made that were taped by NCIS investigators with the assistance of another Marine sergeant who would later go to jail for him.

(excerpt, Wall Street Journal)

During his time in Riverside, Navy investigators arranged a surreptitiously taped phone call between Mr. Nelson and Mr. Nazario, during which Mr. Nazario described his work. Saying his job was much like the television show "Cops," he told Mr. Nelson that he regularly would "beat the s- out of" a criminal, finding "a reason to take him to jail" later, according to a transcript of the conversation.

The department was left to comment on this situation to the Wall St. Journal, one of the nation's highest-circulated publications and said it couldn't respond due to departmental policy on personnel matters. Not much was said about whether or not Nazario would have a future in the police department.

If the department's hiring him back, it's clear that they've already thoroughly investigated whether these unfortunate comments pose any type of problem in the future if Nazario returns and the command staff are satisfied that they do not and are willing to take the responsibility to ensure that they do not. If there are any problems in the future stemming from that bravado then those who made the decision to rehire him have clearly also taken full responsibility for them as well. Because if there are any problems, next time it's probably the tax payers who will be paying for any resultant litigation that's filed involving Nazario's work as a police officer. Those who have made the decision to reinstate him if that's their decision, should remove that burden if it arises from city residents and make sure the city has proper financial liability insurance again if problems do arise from Nazario's unfortunate choice of words about his stint at the police department.

Maybe his comments arose from bravado or maybe they just means that he's a good fit and don't matter much to those in positions of upper management. If Leach, Hudson and the department's management have rationalized that hiring Nazario is the right thing to do, then it's surprising that it hasn't been done yet. After all, it's not like the department would make a poor hiring decision or expedite the hiring and background update if it wasn't sure it was doing the right thing?


That's never happened before.


The answers to these questions by everyone involved should be, right.

If the department does reinstate Nazario, then Leach and Hudson should also go to the communities where complaints of excessive force and false police report writing are made including complaints that don't make their way to the department or the Community Police Review Commission and explain the appropriate context of Nazario's bravado comments and explain the process of their determination that it was just bravado or what Nazario told the Wall St. Journal was two guys "talking tough" about "untrue stories". That shouldn't be all difficult for them to do if they are assured that again, bravado drove what Nazario said. In fact, it should be quite easy if they believe that they've made the right decision to hire him back. They could start the day after the decision is made to bring him back if that's what happens.

The officers clearly haven't marched at least not yet. Does this mean that the situation is playing out to their liking? Does it mean that there's less of a unified front than is being presented? Is the situation in limbo?

It will be interesting to see if the officers do march in protest of this situation because that's democracy of sorts in action if the majority of them feel emboldened and inspired enough to do so. If they feel so strongly about this, they should march the streets in front of the world. Still, given the controversy about Nazario, it's not clear that if they do exactly what message they would be sending. They might want to include a press conference with any demonstration so the viewing audience is clear on what they're marching for and what their points of unity include. Perhaps they can also march from community to community, neighborhood to neighborhood and present the same press conferences at the community centers in each one to facilitate the understanding of why they march.

Other than that, wearing sensible shoes to walk in and toting plenty of water bottles in this unseasonably warm weather might be wise choices as well.

Also applying for reinstatement with less fanfare is Officer Vince Thomas who was fired about five years ago after being charged for child molestation of a teenaged girl under his guardianship. His case went to trial twice in San Bernardino County and resulted in two hung juries. He appealed his firing through arbitration and was reinstated with years of backpay.

The city appealed in Riverside County Superior Court and later in the Court of Appeals a couple blocks away but lost both times. In July, the State Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's ruling and reinstated Thomas to the police department will all his back pay. The city council probably will install Thomas back in the police department given that he's fairly young to be paying off with a retirement which is the city council's only realistic alternative.

So as Riverside heads off into the great unknown of what Luna described as an economy as we've never seen before, it's clear that many questions remain unanswered and the road remains unpaved, even with good intentions.

Oh, the dilemmas of being a new city! Menifee's elected its new mayor but how will it divide up into its districts?

This Murrieta blogger has updated on the past election on how the ballot measures fared with the voters.

What's San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris' vision for downtown?

Testimony continues in the federal corruption trial of former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona. A millionaire testified that he used a political favor from Carona to get a man out of jail after a drunk driving arrest. He received the favor after assisting in the fund raising for Carona's campaign to run for sheriff.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

According to Haidl's testimony today, a friend he identified as Joe Kowal called and asked him to help secure the release of a friend of his who was in County Jail on a charge of driving under the influence.

Haidl said Kowal indicated that his friend was afraid for his life because of gang activity inside the jail, and "was there anything I could do about it." Haidl said he could not remember the friend's name.

Haidl said he called then-Assistant Sheriff Rocky Hewitt, who talked to a commander at the jails, and the defendant was released.

"There was some technicality where the Sheriff's Department could release him on work furlough," Haidl testified.

Rawitz grilled Haidl about why he had never before in any interviews with the government or his direct testimony reveal that he helped get the DUI defendant out of jail.

"I just remembered it," Haidl said.

Relatives of Sean Bell are meeting with federal prosecutors to see if that office will file charges in relation to the fatal officer-involved shooting of Bell by New York City Police Department officers.

(excerpt, New York Daily News)

The feds offered no timetable on the completion of its probe of the shooting, but family members remain patient in their quest for justice on the eve of the 2-year anniversary of the shooting, lawyer Michael Hardy said.

"There's a very serious and determined investigation that appears ... to be moving in a forward direction," Hardy told reporters outside the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's office.

"Justice has not been done and the family is very committed to seeing that justice is done."

Three NYPD detectives were acquitted of state charges in April in the shooting that left Bell dead and seriously wounded two of his friends outside a Queens strip club on Nov. 25, 2006.

The feds announced a review of the shooting immediately after a Queens judge handed down the controversial verdict.

Prosecutors may seek to speak with Bell friends Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield next.

Attending Tuesday's meeting were Bell's parents, William and Valerie Bell; Bell's fiance Nicole Paultre Bell and her parents.

They met with a roomful of senior prosecutors, including Brooklyn U.S.. Attorney Benton Campbell and chief of the civil rights division Pamela Chen.

Nicole Paultre-Bell said she told the feds that "Sean was a person, not just a name."

A group of officers in San Francisco filed an age-discrimination lawsuit over the promotional process used by that department.

(excerpt, San Francisco Chronicle)

The officers, who have been on a waiting list since they passed an inspector's exam in 1998, were stymied by "unchecked age bias that pervades the culture of the department," their lawyers said in papers filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

Instead of promoting longtime officers to a position that offers more responsibilities and higher pay, plaintiffs' lawyers said, the Police Department began to assign some of its sergeants last year to inspectors' jobs at its investigations bureau. The sergeants are younger and less qualified and have never taken an inspector's exam, the suit said.

"They're excluding all the older people now, trying to put in younger people and just leave us on the vine," said the lead plaintiff, Juanita Stockwell, 60, a police officer for nearly 29 years.

Sgt. Lyn Tomioka, a police spokeswoman, said the department would not comment on the lawsuit or the accusation of age discrimination.

The 34 officers have an average age of 52, while the sergeants assigned to inspectors' jobs average 37 years old, said Richard Hoyer, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. He said his clients would seek class-action status on behalf of all San Francisco police officers over 40, the minimum age covered by federal discrimination law.

Inspectors follow patrol officers to a crime scene and supervise investigations. Stockwell, a patrol officer, said she handled inspections during a nearly three-year assignment to the department's gang task force and decided that was the job she preferred.

"You supervise crime scenes. It's a very interesting job, much more diverse," she said. "As a patrol officer, you take an initial report, and then inspectors come out and do the rest of it. That's the part that I like. Patrol is fun when you're new, the first 10 to 12 years. After that, you want to move on."

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