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

Friday, November 07, 2008

Letters and lawsuits

Riverside's City Councilman Mike Gardner attended the meeting of the Group on Thursday, Nov. 6 to respond to "rumors" that a directive had come down from somewhere in City Hall to the Group's leaders that if conversation at its meetings continued to be critical of the city, then city employees would not be allowed to attend.

"Frankly, that's garbage," Gardner said.

Gardner said it was important for him and other city officials to attend meetings even if they heard things they didn't wish to hear or that they disagreed with because it was important to have good discussions in order to improve on issues faced by the city. That makes a lot of sense for a healthy and productive relationship between the city and its employers, the city residents but Gardner should realize that not all elected officials subscribe to that philosophy.

If one councilman bragged to the wrong person that he and a dais mate have been working together to discourage people from criticizing them at city council meetings, then that's not subscribing to that philosophy. If commissioners are receiving letters reminding them that they could be removed or subjected to ethics complaints (with the hilarious aside being that one council member then misrepresented the appropriate channel for doing so in writing), then that isn't either. And most importantly, if elected officials who do subscribe to promoting public expression at meetings sit silently and watch as their colleagues act out against it at any opportunity to do so, then what message is that sending?

Incidentally, Gardner's a strong supporter of the Community Police Review Commission and believes that the status quo involving its investigations of officer-involved deaths should be allowed to remain in practice. He of course is the only sitting elected official who has ever served on the commission.

At the previous meeting held by the Group three weeks earlier, Chair Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely had told those in attendance about this directive. Secretary Katie Greene responded by saying that the Group's meetings were for the community not the city and that discussions would continue to encourage candor. Riverside Community College District Trustee Mary Figueroa had even sharper words in response to the directive, which was to say that it's outrageous that City Hall would try to tell any community organization what to do and try to regulate what its members or those in attendance can say. The response since this has happened has been just exactly what right does the city have to tell people how to talk at community organization meetings? Has City Hall's efforts to shut down criticism of it gone too far?

If so, there might be a response to this at the voting polls during Election 2009 which will be coming to voters beginning in early 2009. Two city council members and nearly a third one were sent packing after the election in 2007 in part because voters were unhappy with their attitudes in public.

If the Group and its members say that they were issued any such directive, then you can take it to the bank that something was going on. Maybe an individual or two were bolstered to do this because they had already done a splendid job of clamping down on criticism during the city's public meetings sending letters galore from the City Attorney's office towards city residents who criticized them at city council meetings while CCing these letters to Police Chief Russ Leach's office (thus implying without stating that they were on some sort of "watch" list) and sending out letters to try to chill or as the Press Enterprise's Editorial Board called it, stifling free expression by commissioners if it was critical of City Hall.

And Gardner's right, if this is what is going on, it's garbage and it might be a violation of labor laws especially if City Hall tries to tell its employees that they can't attend the meetings on their own time. Already there's precedent that this is what City Manager Brad Hudson and his office tried to do with former Community Police Review Commission Executive Manager Pedro Payne. But if directives are being issued by city government or its direct staff, then it's up to city government to correct itself or to correct the orders being given out by its own employees. The first is about responsibility, the second is its job.

At any rate, Council Members Chris MacArthur and Nancy Hart were also in attendance. They listened as Community Police Review Commission member Chani Beeman blamed the current situation involving the panel's inability to investigate three recent officer-involved deaths on an administrative decision made at City Hall.

Hudson who was sitting across the room didn't look too happy to hear the speech. It remains to be seen when the next round of letters will be sent out from City Hall telling mouthy commissioners to be quiet or else. Not to mention other directives to community organizations telling them to tone down their comments about the city.

Never a dull moment in Riverside.

The Press Enterprise's lawyers will be facing off with Judge Jean Leonard in Riverside County Superior Court over whether or not the arrest warrant and other related documents involving Riverside Police Department Officer Robert Forman should be released to the public. Right now, the warrant has been sealed since Oct. 14 by Leonard after the department and prosecution requested it be so because the investigation against Forman is currently ongoing and they didn't want the release of any information on the current case to negatively impact that effort. The Press Enterprise countered that by arguing that this statement supported the right to careful redaction of certain information in the warrant but not a blanket sealing of it.

Forman was arrested on Oct. 14 on three felony counts which include oral copulation under the threat of authority and sexual battery against three unidentified victims dating on or around both February and April. The department's Sexual Assault and Child Abuse unit is still looking for other individuals who were allegedly victimized by Forman who a department representative said, had approached women during his patrol duties and sexually assaulted them.

It's not the first time I had ever heard allegations about Forman's problematic encounters with women as a homeless individual talked about problems in Fairmount Park involving homeless women about two years or so ago. Other individuals were shocked by the announcement of Forman's arrest, including people who work in one of the city divisions that Forman worked closely with while policing the downtown. One employee said, that he spent a lot of time hanging out with the women in the department but had also been one of the officers who responded frequently to requests for service whenever there were any quality of life issues associated with the work done by that department in the communities on the city's northside.

Since the State Court of Appeals Court upheld the reinstatement of former Riverside Police Department Officer Vince Thomas, he has been in the process of trying to get back on the force. The department didn't release any official statements on if or when Thomas will be returning to work after his six year absence but it's more than likely that he's in the process of returning to the department after the child molestation case filed against him in San Bernardino County was dropped by its District Attorney's office after two mistrials resulting from hung juries. He's too young for the city to consider paying off with a retirement. After all, someone's holding all the cards here and it's not the city. Hopefully, all the money to be paid for Thomas will be paid now rather than say, down the road if any problems with his work performance do result and he places the city at risk of civil liability.

If you're interested in learning more about the Thomas' appeal, the citation in Riverside County Superior Court records is The Riverside Police Department v Adler and the case number assigned to it is RIC447326.

The Press Enterprise stated in its blog that a man was murdered downtown but actually the shooting happened at Keith and Anderson near Patterson Park in the Eastside. Unless the downtown's expansion eastward towards the University of California, Riverside is happening much faster than anticipated.

There's been a recent spate of murders in Riverside which the city has apparently responded to by reducing patrol officers assigned to shifts in the city. Asst. Chief John DeLaRosa told the Group that this isn't so even as he cited average shift levels of 23-25 officers which is still lower than the time period when shifts were numbered in the upper twenties. Others argue that the staffing level is approaching or at the 18-20 officers seen back in the 1980s.

At any rate, it is duly hoped that the next time Chief Russ Leach or his designees holds a public community forum, that he brings copies of documents for those in attendance showing the calculations for the numbers of officers assigned to the three daily patrol shifts along with examples of logs showing the assignments on shifts. It's one thing to tell people that such and such number of officers are working shifts and such and such ratios between them and their supervisors exist and it's another to then say it's not public information but information for our own use. The presentation of this information would be a very useful aid for clearing up any confusion about staffing levels plus it would be a useful aid for helping understand the nuts and bolts of staffing officers to respond to calls within people's respective neighborhoods and neighborhood policing centers.

The next forum was supposed to happen in Orangecrest some time this month even though there's been no announcement as of yet of a date and time for this forum.

The controversy over the future construction of a medical office building on the Chinatown site will now be decided in the courts after a lawsuit has been filed by Save Our Chinatown this week. This committee includes members of the previous committee that led the fight to save Chinatown through the city council meeting process but is not the same body.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The lawsuit says the City Council on Oct. 7 improperly granted variances -- permission to not follow the usual rules -- for the project and failed to evaluate an alternative location for the building that would minimize the project's environmental impacts.

It also challenges the sale of more than half the 4.2 acres in question to Jacobs Development Co. by the Riverside County Office of Education.

The sale hasn't yet closed but the suit says the deal should have been reviewed under the California Environmental Quality Act and, since it wasn't, should be set aside, the suit says.

The suit also says the county office promised to preserve the cultural, historical and archaeological values of the site and to take public input before using or disposing of the site but failed to do either.

"We believe that the city of Riverside simply failed to follow either the law or common sense in considering this case," Wong said in a news release. "They did not seriously consider alternatives that would protect the site from destruction, they discarded or ignored the practical advice of hundreds of concerned residents and experts, and the outcome of the process appeared to be predetermined in favor of whatever the developer wanted.

"We are determined to protect our precious heritage, and see that the city of Riverside and the Riverside County Office of Education follow the law," Wong said.

Supervising Deputy City Attorney Kristi Smith said she hadn't read the lawsuit but "we believe the City Council acted properly and the EIR was more than adequate."

Press Enterprise
Columnist Dan Bernstein challenges the assertion that Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco needs his own office and suggests some possible roommates.

But as it stands, Pacheco's new headquarters top those used by most high-priced law firms.

The Riverside County Superior Courts' family and probate courts should be spared from being taken over for criminal trials, states the Press Enterprise Editorial Board. This is based on the recent decision by the State Supreme Court not to hear the appeal filed by Pacheco's office to allow the use of alternate court venues for criminal trials. The board also discusses a report issued by a state appellate justice which was unusually critical of Pacheco's office.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

A report in August on Riverside County's courts by state appellate Justice Richard Huffman points out several reasons for the court crunch. Huffman said that the district attorney's aggressive policy of filing charges and pushing cases to trial contributes to the courts missing speedy trial deadlines. The DA's approach fails to distinguish between the truly serious cases and the less vital ones, and overwhelms a court system that cannot realistically handle that flood of cases.

Huffman also said Riverside County judges' habit of allowing lawyers to repeatedly postpone proceedings wastes court time and adds to caseload congestion. And he noted that judges in a conservative county with a politically powerful DA can be too deferential to the prosecution, instead of providing independent leadership in resolving criminal cases.

Certainly, adding more judges would help, as Riverside County's allotment of judges has not kept pace with population growth. But the state's collapsing finances make an influx of new judgeships unlikely.

Other California counties, however, face the same shortage and manage to dispense civil and criminal justice without similar bottlenecks. There is no reason Riverside County cannot do the same -- if judges and attorneys are willing.

Former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona sold badges for political favors. So testified another witness at his federal corruption trial.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

Haidl, who was appointed by Carona to be the assistant sheriff and put in charge of the reserve division, told jurors that the initial group of reserve officers they recruited shortly after Carona's election were made up of 86 friends, relatives and business associates tied to the campaign.

Haidl said he and the sheriff eventually created a special category of reserve officers and filled it with wealthy executives who were issued badges but not required to complete the hundreds of hours in training that reserves needed to meet state guidelines for volunteer peace officers.

Carona also modified the policy for issuing permits to carry concealed weapons so that members of the special reserve unit, known as Professional Services Reserves, would automatically qualify, Haidl testified.

The grand jury investigation into allegations that New York Police Department officer sodomized a man in a subway station took a shocking turn after a transit officer, Kevin Maloney, backed the man's account with his testimony.

(excerpt, New York Daily News)

Talking to investigators and the grand jury, Maloney gave this version of the Oct. 15 incident:

Maloney, 26, said he spotted cops chasing Michael Mineo and subduing him in the Prospect Park subway station.

The young cop said he was cuffing Mineo when Officer Richard Kern, 25, unfolded his NYPD-issued baton and poked Mineo on the left buttock, sources said.

As Mineo struggled, Kern then maneuvered the baton between Mineo's buttocks, the officer testified, according to sources.

The baton is about 2 feet long and 1-1/4 inches in diameter. Until now, it was believed Mineo had been assaulted with the antenna of a police radio.

Mineo's pants were riding low from his struggle with cops, but his underwear was on, sources said. Maloney could not see if Kern struck Mineo's pants or underwear, sources said.

When the baton came out, witnesses said Mineo screamed, "What are you doing? Sticking a radio up my a--?"

The entire incident took seconds, but once the cuffs went on, Kern; Police Officer Alex Cruz, 26, and Officer Andrew Morales, 26, hustled Mineo upstairs, Maloney said, sources said.

Another New York City Police Department officer who was arrested for robbing drug dealers also was seen breaking into an apartment building on surveillance video.

(excerpt, New York Daily News)

The feds say that in August Arbaje-Diaz and six others were videotaped going into a 183rd St. apartment building to rob a drug dealer of $25,000 in cash, cocaine and other drugs.

Their plan was to show the victim law enforcement credentials to get inside his apartment but decided to use a hydraulic pump to blast out the door when no one answered, prosecutors say.

As the gang was about to break in, the victim arrived home, opened the door with a key and was abruptly hog-tied to the floor, prosecutors added.

No drugs were found inside the apartment but Arbaje-Diaz was caught on video leaving the building carrying a laptop computer, prosecutors say.

In the meantime, yet another NYPD officer was sexually assaulting women. But it's not really new for him because he's been indicted twice on similar charges already.

I guess in New York City when it rains, it pours.

If you're interested in applying to serve on one of the city's boards and commissions, the deadline for applications is Nov. 17. It's an opportunity to volunteer your time, energy and ideas and as an added bonus, not all the boards and commissions are micromanaged by City Hall.

Openings include the following.

Ward 5:

Board of Library Trustees

Commission on Disabilities

Board of Public Utilities

Ward 6:

Cultural Heritage Board

Ward 7:

The Airport Commission


The Airport Commission

Board of Library Trustees

Board of Public Utilities

Human Resource Board

Human Relations Commission

Park and Recreation Commission

Parking, Traffic and Streets Commission

Planning Commission

The dedication of the new seniors' room at Stratton Center at Bordwell Park in the Eastside is going on from 10 am to 2 p.m. today. This day has literally been years and much hard work in the making. Congratulations to all those in the communities of Riverside who made this day possible.

Also, there's some holiday event going on downtown during the same time period involving businesses on Main between University and Mission Inn Avenues.

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