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

Monday, December 01, 2008

Jose Nazario, not currently employed by the RPD

"That actually did happen, to be honest."

----U.S. Marine Ryan Weemer during a polygraph exam while applying to the Secret Service. He was asked the question, had he ever taken part in an unjustified killing.

Former Riverside Police Department officer Jose Luis Nazario hasn't been rehired by the police department that fired him last year after he was arrested at the Orange Street Station by agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Soon after, a federal grand jury indicted him on manslaughter charges in connection with the fatal shootings of Iraqi detainees in Fallujah several years ago before he joined the police department.

Nazario was acquitted during his trial in U.S. District Court in downtown Riverside and immediately after, walked to the same station where he'd been arrested to reapply for a position in the department. Because Nazario was on probation at the time of his separation and thus could be fired "without cause", he couldn't appeal his firing through the state's labor arbitration system. This was his only option to regain his employment and apparently he applied to be rehired.

So what's happened since? Here's the response from both Nazario's attorney and the police department.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"Riverside Police Department has not come through" for Jose Luis Nazario Jr., attorney Kevin McDermott said.

Police Chief Russ Leach said he couldn't comment on a personnel matter and department spokesman Steven Frasher would only say Nazario is not on the force.

The police chief is very limited in what he can say on these issues in public which puts him at a quite a bit of a disadvantage. And Nazario's not the only officer Chief Russ Leach has fired that's petitioned in a matter of speaking to return on the force. In July, former Officer Vincent Thomas won his appeal at the last venue of recourse which was the State Court of Appeals which left the city with two options, either for him to be rehired by the department or paid off by a retirement. Thomas had been fired by Leach about six years ago after being arrested and charged with molesting a teenaged girl he had guardianship over.

After having a child porn possession charge dropped early on, Thomas went to trial twice in San Bernardino County Superior Court on child molestation charges and received hung juries. The District Attorney's office nixed a third trial and dropped the charges. Thomas hasn't been a law enforcement officer in six years and if he returns, coming back with him will be a lot of questions and suspicion about whether or not he committed the crimes he was charged with, given that he wasn't acquitted by a jury. Thomas' situation is even more murky than Nazario's but because he's got more years in the profession and with the department under his belt, his path back into law enforcement and potentially the Riverside Police Department is lined with fewer obstacles.

It makes some people ask, what does firing officers mean in the state of California these days? What powers of firing does a chief (who in some agencies like this one is given the power and responsibility of terminating employees) really have? How do police departments address situations where officers they have terminated after sustaining serious allegations against them come back to work with their records washed clean by an outside party? How does the arbitration process impact relationships between management and employees? How are police chiefs impacted when their decisions to fire are overturned by city governmental bodies including city councils? How will these issues impact the future evolution of law enforcement agencies?

It's hard to examine this and not wonder why people continue to be so mystified by the train wreck which is Maywood Police Department where prior management representatives boasted about hiring officers who were fired, failed to make probation and were even arrested and charged with criminal offenses while working at other law enforcement agencies. Even two interim police chiefs before State Deputy Attorney General Lou Verdugo stepped in and said enough is enough and threatened to sue Maywood if they didn't oust their second choice who was the chief who not only was convicted of a crime but fired from two jobs including his prior stint at the police department he would be leading. After all, where did Maywood begin? Did it begin with the decision to become a "second chance" agency, or before that? Will it end up in the same place that Riverside did with a state consent decree?

But Riverside's not Maywood. Riverside's a city which has taken back several fired officers who've been reinstated back into its fold in the past two years. Two officers returned last year after receiving their final reinstatement from the city council and possibly at least one this year, through the same process. Another officer who appealed a firing last year was not reinstated with the police department and remained fired.

A previous employee who had been fired, Det. Al Kennedy was reinstated by the arbitrator and Riverside County Superior Court. While his case awaited a ruling at the State Court of Appeals, the city issued Kennedy a retirement package. He had been fired by Leach in 2001 after allegedly having sex with a rape victim on a case he was investigating as a detective in the department's Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit.

Even with these cases, Riverside has nearly 400 police officers, most of whom are not going to be fired, who aren't going to be prosecuted and who aren't going to provide any reason to do either of these things.

But Nazario's case follows a different path from the start due to his probational status.

What complicates the issue even further in his case was the publication of this article in the Wall Street Journal which details the situation surrounding Nazario's upcoming trial in a civilian court on criminal charges stemming from alleged crimes of war.

At one point, one of his fellow U.S. Marine sergeants, Jermaine Nelson had called him just to talk or so Nazario believed, not knowing that the same sergeant who would later go to jail to avoid testifying against him was working with NCIS agents to get him to incriminate himself. During a phone conversation, Nazario made a series of comments including about his then current stint at the Riverside Police Department that were surreptitiously recorded by the NCIS.


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.

In court filings, prosecutors say the conversation shows the two men discussing the killings in Fallujah. "Who gave us the orders though?" asks Mr. Nelson. Mr. Nazario replies: "I did." But Mr. Nazario then says the order to kill the men came via radio from someone higher up.

On Aug. 7, 2007, Mr. Nazario was finishing night patrol in Riverside, when ordered to return to headquarters. NCIS personnel were there and told him he was under arrest.

Asked in an interview about the statements that led to his arrest, Mr. Nazario says he didn't understand that Mr. Nelson was referring to a particular incident in Fallujah and that he wasn't acknowledging any crime. He defends his record at the Riverside Police Department, and says he may have been drinking during the call; he describes the conversation as "two guys" who were "talking tough" about "untrue stories."

A police spokesman said state law prevents him from commenting on Mr. Nazario's personnel record, but that he was aware of no criminal charges against Mr. Nazario during his time on the force.

The Wall Street Journal article and later a Press Enterprise article which also mentioned Nazario's comments in a slightly different context elicited some pretty concerned responses in the community early on. The comments which expressed concern about his remarks about being a police officer were laced by a resigned certainty that the department would surely hire him back not giving a whit about what was said between Nazario, Nelson and an invisible third party. But that didn't happen and it's likely that concern was paid to what Nazario said by those encharged with determining his future as a police officer in Riverside.

Even after he was acquitted at trial, his comments about the Riverside Police Department (which were never heard by the jury) returned into the forefront. If there's any reason why he's having a rocky journey back into his old position, it's probably his "bravado" or not description of what kind of police officer he was while working in Riverside and policing its communities. When asked to describe his experiences protecting and serving city residents, these were the words he chose to use when detailing his job to Nelson on the telephone.

What did he mean when he said he "beat the shit" out of people and then found a reason to take them to jail? How are those comments going to be read by others, from a community perspective? How are these comments going to be read from a risk management perspective? Because if Nazario came back to work and the city was sued in relation to allegations of excessive force, lethal force, lying in police reports, perjury or other forms of serious misconduct or potentially criminal conduct, how much will his comments he made to Nelson (and to the NCIS) impact that litigation? Enough to give City Attorney Gregory Priamos more than a little apprehension?

Would the department hold a press conference and discuss these comments if it hired him back? No, in fact most people would never know Nazario was even rehired and back in the field unless they saw him in uniform. While firings may or may not become public depending on the circumstances, forced rehirings of fired officers who have their histories expunged by judges (and they do the majority of the time, 85% in California according to figures several years back), stay very private.

But it still remains to be seen what will happen with Nazario whose lawyer told the Press Enterprise that he's applied to other law enforcement agencies including the Riverside County Sheriff's Department if the situation doesn't work out for him in Riverside.

Is it possible that Nazario's comments already came to haunt him? If his criminal charges had rudely interrupted his career in Riverside at one point, they had been replaced by something else. After all, if the department rehired an officer who "drinking" or not made comments about using excessive force and lying about it after the fact, what message would that send? What message would it send for a department that was released from a state consent decree only two years ago? When community members complain about abuses involving police officers using excessive force and/or lying on the job, what can the department really say about it to them if it reinstates someone who made similar comments? What kind of ground would it be standing on if it said it condemned these actions by its officers and took any allegations of that conduct seriously?

Those are questions that probably have been asked by quite a few people. Some who will admit it and many who will not. Some say that protests from the department on Nazario's behalf have been minimal if they've been present at all. In public, it's certainly been quiet, but police departments are often like icebergs. What you see is only the tip of what's actually going on behind the lines that police departments carefully draw around themselves and everyone else is on the outside of those lines. As an officer said once, we're experts in isolation.

An individual offers a different perspective at another Web site that if the department didn't hire Nazario back, the police and other organizations would rain down on City Hall. That hasn't happened at least not so far but the year's not over yet. The discussion takes place is rather interesting and offers some perspective of a different sort in the intricacies of traveling over uncharted ground given that Nazario's the first of his kind, a police officer prosecuted on war crimes charges while a civilian. The sheer logistics of the matter have left more than a few people scratching their heads on what's going to happen next. There's also this implication that officers are automatically loyal to fellow officers, an assumption which in some cases, proves to be premature.

This same individual whose style of prose seems vaguely familiar (and it's admittedly hard to quite forget a commenter who waxed about your "Jesse Jackson" style of dressing and your "tweakish features" on this very site and constantly wrote, I'll pray for you) mentioned that the city manager had changed his mind about rehiring Nazario saying that a new position couldn't be created for him and that earlier, Nazario had been nicely received by two higher-ranking officers at the Orange Street Station and told his hiring process would be expedited including his background check. If so, why the reversal of that process?

But then according to this individual, at some point the tide seemed to turn which elicited from him and possibly others, a visceral reaction. Was it frustration over the situation or from being told one thing then shown another? The world may never know.


Hmmmm...Intelligence information is suggesting Riverside's City Manager is backsliding on a decision to re-hire. I hope it's not the case. If so,,,,there's going to be some heat comming down on this dump!!!

O-kay. That's one way to put it I guess.

Discussions about the Nazario case including the trial have taken place in different corners of the internet.

The Press Enterprise article also includes commentary, as there were a half dozen comments put up not long after the article was posted. Amazing that a crowd showed up at one time and they contributed to the discussion there in a manner of speaking.

Okay, maybe one of them's arguing that Nazario's better than the RPD because he wasn't hired by it?


Let this man do his job, just like he did while serving THIS country! Riverside PD you ALL need to be ashamed of your actions!!! Mr. Nazario, in my opinion you should hold your head high & forget about RPD, you are TOO DAMN GOOD FOR THIS DEPARTMENT - they don't deserve you!! RPD you are a dept of SCUMBAGS!!!

That's indeed pretty strong language. With friends like this...

Nazario, if you read this, forget the RPD. They're about as small town podunky as they come. They canned you as soon as you got a little hot. That's extremely cowardly behavior.

Apply to places like Anaheim PD, Newport Beach PD, Huntington Beach PD. As much as it pains me to say it, stay away from my beloved LAPD or the LASO. Both departments are controlled by politically correct social worker sissies.

You'll get back into the police profession. You just need the right break. Thank you for your service in combat to protect this country's interests.

You got balls to the wall. I know people at Anaheim and Newport Beach. Post here that you need some help and I'll make sure I find you.

Chief William Bratton a "politically correct social worker sissy"? That's a first.

Forget RPD. Move on to bigger and better things. The reputation of this organization is not suited for a man of your skin color.

Best of luck in your future career!!!

At, the discussion focused attention on a different issue, which was the polygraph given to Nazario's fellow Marine sergeant, Ryan Weemer when he was undergoing testing on the device while applying to be an agent with the Secret Service. Weemer was asked what's the worst criminal conduct he'd ever committed or witnessed and for whatever reason, Weemer's account of the alleged killings in Iraq by Nazario spilled out. Later on, Weemer would join Nelson behind a wall of silence governed by a code every bit as strong in the military as it is in a police department and choose to go to jail rather than testify against another soldier.

But the polygraph comments also apply to that given to Nazario when he was undergoing the hiring process at the Riverside Police Department. He passed the test even when asked the same question which undid Weemer and was hired as a probational officer. The question remains and was asked at this site as it was at others when it comes to using this equipment for obtaining background information. There's reasons why it's not admissible in court in most circumstances.

Did the polygraph catch Nazario in a truth or a lie?


I have not branded José Nazario as guilty. Had I served on his jury, based on the evidence admitted at trial, I might have agreed with the other jurors that his guilt had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. That said, it appears to me that there is reason to doubt his actual innocence.)

As a matter of law, Nazario was innocent before he went to trial and his trial failed to overcome argument to the contrary. There is nothing left to assume. Why don't you write the jurors and tell THEM that their conclusions are unreasonable. I think it is implicative that his squadmates still refused to testify after being granted immunity for everything except perjury.

I'm sorry Dr. Maschke while you are certainly entitled to your opinion, whether supported by information or fantasy, as to whether or not he committed the crimes with which he was charged; branding him guilty solely to support your opinion regarding is polygraph is improper argument and you know it. The court's finding clearly supports the results of his polygraph. What do you have to support your claims about yours?

More discussion to come as this situation with Nazario continues to play out in Riverside.

The Riverside City Council is meeting again!

Remember the Kawa Market that was bulldozed to be replaced by "affordable housing"? The family who owned and operated the landmark market in the Wood Streets neighborhood were forced by the city to sell their market and a nearby home. The city council will be voting on this item where else but on the consent calendar. It authorizes the relocation of a home on University Avenue to the tract of land where the Kawa Market once stood. Over a year after the market was demolished.

Another Riverside Police Department officer will be having a workman's compensation complaint discussed in closed session. Officer Steve Lee joins at least three other officers who've had similar claims discussed by the city council this year.

An interesting article Inland Empire Weekly written by former Press Enterprise reporter, Roberto Hernandez about the the reductions in enrollment spaces.

This news is hardly surprising given the state budget crisis and when it comes to cutting it, education is always the first thing to go.

The mistress of former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona wants a separate trial as the current one nears the halfway mark.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

Last week, a solid month into testimony, Hoffman's attorney asked for a separate trial, arguing that her client could not get a fair shake in the ongoing criminal trial. If Carona decides not to take the stand, Hoffman's public defender argued, she will not be able to question him about damaging statements he may have made on secretly recorded tapes that were played for jurors. The tapes, which chronicle three rambling and profane conversations between the sheriff and an assistant, are key to the prosecution.

U.S. Dist. Judge Andrew J. Guilford has talked in open court about the possibility of splitting the trials but has yet to rule on the request, even though the trial has reached the halfway point.

Hoffman and her attorney, federal Public Defender Sylvia Torres-Guillen, sit in a corner of the courtroom. They are partially obstructed from the view of the judge, the jury box and witness stand by the long defense table in front of them, where Carona sits with two and sometimes three attorneys from the prestigious Jones Day law firm, which is representing him free of charge.

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