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

Contact: fivebeforemidnight@yahoo.com

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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Riverside County D.A.'s office: The implosion within the implosion?

"They want a better quality of life, which includes more time with their family and friends. You have people working there almost 24-7. How long are you going to last doing that? Not long."


---Former Supervising District Attorney Brian Sussman, who retired.





"It is a brain drain. You lose your experienced folks, and those are the people who should have the best judgment. Secondly, it is absolutely demoralizing."


---Laurie Levenson, professor Loyola University School of Law





Current conviction rates for felonies:


(source: Press Enterprise)



In 2008, 39 percent of felony trials resulted in a conviction on all charges as filed, 32 percent resulted in mixed verdicts of guilty and not guilty, and 29 percent resulted in a hung jury, a not-guilty verdict or were dismissed, according to trial statistics compiled by Riverside County Superior Judge Gary Tranbarger.



Which at 71% is somewhat lower than the 91% conviction rate the office reported only several years ago.



What's been going on with the D.A.'s office in the past two years? I've talked to prosecutors I've known who quit or ones who said, they'd give it six months, a year and then they'd hand in their papers or take their retirement and they were burned out and tired. Some really committed, experienced, talented and very ethical prosecutors (and it's not just prosecutors feeling this way) including several quoted in the article. It was really sad to see them go but without discretion which was a huge complaint, the really good, honest ones just aren't going to stay and yes, they'll be the ones taking the pay cuts to take jobs in other counties if they feel uncomfortable at the ethics level, to work in Riverside County.



Some say if an implosion is taking place, it was inevitable because eventually what was going on in the backlogged, overrun criminal justice system (which managed to also pretty much take out the civil court system) was going to bounce back to one of the entities feeding that crisis. And apparently it has done just that. People aren't machines and if they're treated as such, they break down.

I once naively asked a defense attorney what would happen if every case filed by the D.A. went to trial. He looked at me, laughed and said the entire court system would collapse into one huge gridlocked backlog, which in a way, is exactly what's happened. Too few judges, too few courtrooms, civil trial conducted in renovated school classrooms and the threatened seizure (which was blocked by the State Court of Appeals) of family courts, probate courts and even small claims courts. Is even traffic court safe?

And now the inevitable exodus of D.A. employees.


We'll all have to stay tuned to this continuing saga to find out. Months after the emergency strike team of judges has left, the court system is still a mired mess. In it's own way, it mirrors the economic crisis gripping the nation in its own brand of deadlock.

So what's the latest crisis?



The Riverside County District Attorney's office has lost over 60 attorneys in the two years since the election of District Attorney Rod Pacheco. That's 20% of the legal work force within that county department, a turnover rate that no matter what the employees who still work there say or what experts say is going to impact its operations in a profound way.


(excerpt, Press Enterprise)









They said many have left because of Pacheco's rigid management style, aggressive charging policy and tough stance on plea agreements.






Some have retired, become judges or entered private practice. But the exodus also includes veteran prosecutors who left to take similar jobs in other counties for less pay.






"A lot of people who left are committed prosecutors and thought they would be a better fit someplace else," said Brian Sussman, who retired last month after more than two decades with the office.






Pacheco was unavailable to be interviewed for this story, opting to have Assistant District Attorney Bill Mitchell discuss the issues.






Mitchell said every agency has its share of turnover, and people leave for a variety of reasons.






Some are disgruntled because they didn't get a promotion and want to work for another district attorney's office, Mitchell said.






"You have that influx and outflow continuing to go on," he said. "In some years it is large, and some years it is small. At one point, I even looked into leaving (in the mid-1990s)," Mitchell said. "I don't know if it is anything new or different from what we have experienced in the 20 years I have been here."






Overall, Mitchell said the agency remains effective.






"I can't say it compromises our ability to prosecute serious cases," he said. "We will be capable and able to prosecute what comes our way."




Except that just like this country hasn't seen the "bottom" of the recession, this office hasn't seen the bottom of its recession either especially with the county offering early retirements due to the ongoing budget crisis.



Comments abound on this article's thread:





(excerpts)







By the way where is Grover Trask and all of these so called disgruntled DA's. If it were so bad why haven't they gone public?The PE loves to pass on their political views rather than cover news events in an objective manner. Did you think the press was unbiased?







Micro-managing and overbooking are not valid strategies. 14 people were charged in a Banning double homicide where there was likely one shooter -- and as a result of Pacheco's "throw the mud on the wall and see what sticks" mentality, everyone could go free. At least three are already acquitted, and the cost to taxpayers is unjustified and significant -- and for what?








Pacheco is a great at political spin and self-promotion. He has falsely portrayed himself as the only DA with the guts to go after gang members. Grover Trask went after gang members just as aggresively. DAs throughout the state aggresively prosecute gang members. The difference between them and Pacheco is that they don't issue press releases in an attempt to build their tough-on-crime reputations. They don't use the gang problem to gain political capital. Most just do their jobs in a low-key, self-effacing manner.



The PE should talk to the San Diego County DA, the Los Angeles County DA, the San Bernadino County DA, the Orange County DA. Ask them what they think of Pacheco? Will they speak candidly? If they did, it would be quite enlightening to members of the public that Pacheco has, thus far, hoodwinked. Despite his assertions to the the contrary, Pacheco's self-created gang-buster image is nothing more than bluster. He has not made a single citizen of this county any safer than they would have been had an honorable prosecutor been at the helm of the DA's Office over the last two years.






Pacheco has never gone after a single gangster. He wouldn't know how. The folks who do that work at Riverside PD and Riverside SO. The folks who put these gangsters away are the line prosecutors.......who by and large these days cannot stand Rod Pacheco.











I'll give Pacheco one thing for sure, he goes after these rat gang bagers and JUST FOR THAT I like him. The D.A.'s office is just like any other political office with power so let's not act as though the next guy is going to be any more holier than Pacheco.



I just want a D.A. that's going to enforce our laws and put scums of the earth on the defensive (the cholo gang bangers) or better yet, eliminate them altogether.Say what you want about Pacheco he's going after the scum that has plagued Riverside for too lomg.



I dont want Riverside to be another Los Angeles and having these gang thugs come here and then get an aggressive police and court treatment against them sends a message that gang bangers and thugs are not welcome.David Martinez









It is just not in the ranks of the attorneys. Look at the number of seasoned and veteran Investigators that have recently left the DA Office. Also, look at the number of Chief Investigators the office has had since the retirement of long term Chief Investigator M.J. Curfman.












Interestingly enough not long after ICE and the U.S. Border Patrol conducted raids in the Casa Blanca neighborhood in Riverside, agents in the Riverside office have complained of having quotas enforced on them that will result in discipline if they don't fill them.


(excerpt, Belo Blog)




Agents stationed in Riverside reported being ordered to arrest at least 150 suspected illegal immigrants in January and that two such arrests must lead to prosecutions, said Lombardo Amaya, president of Local 2554 of the National Border Patrol Council.

"They were told if you don't produce this, we will have to change your weekends off," Amaya said, adding that he will discuss the matter today with the sector chief who oversees the station. "Sometimes, like in politics, this agency is about looking good."

The alleged quotas, which involve only the Border Patrol's Riverside station, run counter to agency practice, which does not set a minimum number of arrests that must be made, said Lloyd Easterling, an agency spokesman in Washington.

"If we had quotas to fill and met those quotas, then would that mean we would be able to stop doing our job? No. Our job is to secure the border and detect, deter and apprehend anyone who is involved in illegal activity between the ports of entry," Easterling said.




The arrests must be made by Jan. 31. The raid was done in the Eastside on Jan. 29. It resulted in around a dozen undocumented immigrants taken into federal custody. Did they make this quota with two days to spare, before being disciplined? Quotas have no place in ethical law enforcement.





The gas company never went on strike and 5,000 of its workers reached a deal with management with only 10 minutes to spare.



Press Enterprise Columnist Cassie MacDuff asks why it's taking so long to remove San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus from office.



(excerpt)



Why is it necessary for three entities to plow the same ground?

District attorney spokeswoman Susan Mickey said the grand jury provided valuable information for prosecutors, but its focus was the office's operations, while the DA's probe has moved far beyond misuse of office. There's no telling when the DA's probe will be done.

Now a group has launched a recall drive, aiming to get it on the November ballot.

Which effort will finish first?

Supervisor Gary Ovitt hopes the independent counsel's will be done March 3. The board could vote on Postmus' removal that day.

Of course, Postmus could bow out gracefully, as he urged then-Supervisor Jerry Eaves to do in 2001 when Eaves was being investigated for public corruption.

Don't hold your breath. Postmus' lawyer, Stephen P. Levine, said his client hasn't been charged with any crime and deserves to be presumed innocent.












A bittersweet situation at Plymouth Tower in Riverside.






How to balance a $12 million dollar deficit. That problem will have to be solved by the San Bernardino City Council.


(excerpt, Press Enterprise)









Assistant City Manager Lori Sassoon likened the scale of San Bernardino's budget problems to the sweeping cuts forced 30 years ago after voters passed Prop. 13, capping property taxes.






"Right now, the wise thing to do is to shrink back and regroup for when things recover," Sassoon said. "And that's what we're going to recommend."






Fresh from a $17 million budget shortfall last year, San Bernardino faces a new gap of nearly $12 million on its $148 million general fund by the end of the fiscal year, according to a Dec. 30 city report. That triggered an immediate hiring freeze and prompted Interim City Manager Mark Weinberg to ask city vendors to cut their bills by 5 percent.






Weinberg also has proposed closing City Hall on Fridays, shortening employees' workweek and recouping nearly $2.4 million from police officers and firefighters, for a total savings to the general fund of about $3.6 million by the end of June.






Further proposed reductions are "definitely going to extend beyond that, and it's going to be very significant," Sassoon said. "Nothing is off the table."






City Councilman Rikke Van Johnson said any cuts will hurt.






"When we addressed that $17 million gap, we cut to the bone," he said. "There's hardly any meat left."






Yucaipa is being advised to hold onto its reserve fund.







Black History Month kicks off this week and the Press Enterprise has published this retrospective on the history of the Ku Klux Klan in Riverside particularly during its most active period in the 1920s when Klan rallies were advertised in the daily newspaper and crosses were burned on the Box Spring Mountain and surrounding hillsides. And in 1925, there was a parade of over 100 Klansman downtown.


(excerpt)









A large crowd came to see the Klan rally that was open to the public free of charge.






On days both before and after the rally, Riversiders could see fiery crosses being burned on the side of Box Springs Mountain and on other hills around the city.






One night, a group of black people were holding a meeting in their church on Riverside's Eastside.






Fifteen hooded and masked Klansmen walked in the main door of the church, approached the altar, and, without saying a word, turned around and walked out to their cars and drove away. The purpose of the action was to frighten people in their church.


Interestingly enough, even though the Klan terrorized people, blew up churches and shot and killed African-Americans, Jews and even Whites who sympathized with either, this organization was seen for a long time as a social club rather than a gang.




The U.S. Postal Service's official greeter at the downtown office is retiring.






The United States Attorney's office is scrutinizing a group of Los Angeles Police Department officers accused of committing perjury during a well-documented incident that took place during a criminal trial. The version of events the officers testified did not match those shown on a surveillance camera.



(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)


An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the existence of the probe and said that Department of Justice officials in Washington, D.C., would ultimately weigh in on whether federal charges would be filed against the officers.

"We're investigating allegations that the defendant's civil rights may have been violated," said spokeswoman Laura Eimiller. She declined to provide further details.

Deputy Public Defender Victor Acevedo, Alarcon's defense attorney during last year's trial, said the FBI interviewed him about the case in December. He said that his client had been framed and that the officers deserved to face criminal charges.


"They have no business being police officers," Acevedo said. "Because they were willing to send an innocent man to prison, for what they did they should go to prison."

The officers have denied wrongdoing.







The BART Police Department's investigation into the fatal officer-involved shooting of Oscar Grant has been plagued with problems from the start according to the San Francisco Chronicle.



(excerpt)




BART police allowed a train full of witnesses to pull out of the Fruitvale Station in Oakland early New Year's Day after Officer Johannes Mehserle shot Oscar Grant, then made little effort to contact the witnesses as they got off at other stations.

None of the seven officers at Fruitvale radioed that an officer-involved shooting had taken place. Supervisors sent to the Fruitvale Station initially were in the dark, while officers at stations down the line did not know to expect a train full of witnesses.

A key video showing that another officer on the station platform struck Grant two minutes before he was shot was available to BART, but police did not start a full investigation into the officer's actions until a TV station aired the footage Jan. 23.

BART has failed to provide basic and important information about the case to the public, even while promising transparency. The vacuum has been filled by attorney John Burris, who is seeking $25 million for Grant's family, and by speculation over amateur video footage broadcast on television and the Internet.

BART's response has been hamstrung by the agency's inability to say why Grant was shot as he lay facedown - or even if the shooting was intentional or accidental. BART officials say that is the fault of Mehserle, who refused to speak to criminal investigators and then quit before he was forced to talk to BART's internal affairs division. He has since been charged with murder.




A police chief in Michigan has been indicted on yet another charge. This time, fraud has been added to his list.



(excerpt, Flint Journal)



A federal grand jury indicted David Dicks on a charge of obtaining work force investment act funds by fraud, according to court records.

The indictment alleges that Dicks obtained more than $1,000 over a two-year period from June 2005 to July 2007.

The indictment comes a week after federal prosecutors charged Dicks with theft of government funds, claiming he collected more than $46,000 in federal funds for private security work for City Security, a contractor for Career Alliance Inc., at the same time he was on duty as a city police officer.

He is accused of submitting time sheets to City Security claiming he was on the job for Career Alliance during times when other records showed he was enrolled in college classes or being paid by the city police department.

With a Feb. 3 court date looming on last week's theft charge, prosecutors had less than a month to indict Dicks, dismiss the charge or reach a plea deal.

Flint defense attorney Frank J. Manley said he expected the indictment to come when it became clear that prosecutors wanted Dicks to testify against his sister and his father, Richard.






This is for anyone interested in attending an outstanding use of force training program.

The Americans for Effective Laws Enforcement (AELE) has a workshop entitled "Lethal and Less Lethal Force" scheduled for March 9-11 in Las Vegas. The two and one half day workshop includes outstanding presenters who will cover: Legal Standards of Use of Force; Lethal and Less Lethal Force Case Law; Psychology During Critical Incidents; Bio-Mechanical Implications and Explanations of the Confrontationsl Taser Policy, Procedures and Research; Sudden and In-Custody Deaths; Behaviors Implicating Less Lethal Force Options; Deadly and Less-Lethal Devices, Techniques and Strategies; Policy, Procedure, Training, Successes and Abuses and; The Aftermath of Lethal and Less Lethal Force Applications. Check the AELE Website for more information. www.aele.org




This isn't a blog that does advertising but Beatle Brunch on 99.9 did rock this morning.



I also got several emails that Breast Man struck again at Craigslist this morning, once again stating that my "little lumps" nearly made him barf but by the time I got to the site, it had been removed. An American man who upchucks at the thought of breasts. I never thought I'd see the day.




Meeting notice:

The Group will be hosting Paul Davis who's running for city council in Riverside's fourth ward. This will take place on Thursday, Feb. 5, 2009 from 7 a.m.-8:30 a.m. at the Coffee Depot on Seventh and Vine.

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