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, January 06, 2009

Yes, I know the applicant, No I don't, yes I do until I run out of daisy petals

In Riverside, the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee went through its annual exercise of selecting people either to appoint or interview for openings on the city's boards and commissions. It's always fun to watch and very educational when it comes to learning about how governments operate and how Riverside's board and commission selection process has fared in the wake of Measure GG's passage and "ward representation".

And who serves on the committee?

Mayor Ron Loveridge chairs it and Council members Frank Schiavone, Rusty Bailey and Steve Adams who all serve on the Governmental Affairs Committee also serve as its members. Which makes for an interesting time all around.

The current process is that for the majority of boards and commissions, they pick people to just appoint without interviewing them with the full city council like past city councils did. However, for the Community Police Review Commission, the Planning Commission and the Board of Public Utilities the process of appointment is different. Instead, the committee picks a group of candidates to be interviewed for final selection by the full city council. One would think that would make the process less political but in practice, the results have been mixed with the CPRC.

And this meeting was no different but that was mostly apparent by the selection of candidates for the Planning Commission and Board of Public Utilities, where commissioners coming up for reappointments were challenged by city council members unlike in the cases with most of the other boards and commissions. This will ultimately lead to a reconfiguration of the Planning Commission, which is probably the most politicized board or commission in this city. It might be worth looking back to see what this commission did during its past year to see if there's any clues to what led the city to this point to recreate it in other image.

Most of the reappointments for commissioners who had applied to serve second terms went through smooth as molasses, even as several committee members argued hypothetically about what to do if someone applied to be reappointed that a city council member from that person's ward objected to. Would they still reappoint that commissioner? Would they reject him? Would they interview him instead even if he wasn't a member of the three very special commissioners which undergo the interview process for every appointment. But it comes down to whether ward representation means that the commissioner represents the ward as a geographic area surrounded by boundaries or the city council person serving at the will of the voters within that ward. And that's where the lines are blurred because you have city council members who believe the commissioner or board member filling ward-specific seats represents the elected official who appoints him while others believe that this person represents the ward. Obviously there's a huge difference between the two philosophies.

Another legacy of Measure GG which is now a charter amendent.

It's not clear if that debate was ever resolved or settled by meeting's end. But Schiavone did raise a good point about trying to ensure that the limit a commissioner could serve without it standing for a full term, should be longer than one year. The current guidelines are not fair to city residents who volunteer their time and then find that their "term" is one single year.

Then there was a discussion about whether the mayor was exercising too much power under the current system in commission appointments at the expense of the city council members which was ironic because if you sat back and watched this meeting carefully, Loveridge in his soft voice and waving hands made about 80% of the selections and it's clear that none of the city councilmen picked that up during the entire hour-long meeting. But he's great at pushing what he wants and making others believe it's their own idea.

Still, even though there were many people who applied for spots on the board and commissions and brought with them a variety of experiences, qualifications and perspectives, very few of them even had any chance to really get the quality of review of their applications that they deserved. The process is still greatly weighted in favor of people with previous board and commission experience and not towards individuals who aren't connected in some way to City Hall. It's a shame in a city of 300,000 people with a lot to offer that the process has become so restrictive and more than bit elitist.

On one of the city's boards and commissions, two former employees of the city were quickly picked to be interviewed while other city residents who wrote enthusiastically of why they wanted to serve in these capacities were not even looked at by members of the committee. It's to the point where filling out applications and xeroxing copies of applications and accompanying information is a waste of paper and of trees because the only one who really reads the applications are probably people in the city clerk's office.

It's a shame that we have so many talented people who want to give of their time to serve and are denied the process that they probably think that they are getting which is to be treated equally and fairly by the selection committee. What was especially problematic were the city-wide appointments where the mayor said, "I'm looking for someone" and in front of him, is a binder filled with applicants who even though they applied through filling out applications and turning them in are not even considered at an equal level with some unknown person that the mayor is "looking for".

Why are they being encouraged to apply? Why are they filling out applications? Why are they submitting them for screening by a city council committee? If they apply for a board or commission where there's an "at large" opening and that lacks an interview process, they really aren't considered at all. And as one councilman said, the mayor really is making most of the appointments but they are giving him this power. There's nothing in the charter that states the mayor controls "city wide" appointments, they only fall under his jurisdiction if they are left vacant for more than 60 days which many of these openings were not because they were term expirations.

That's too bad, really. Because it's not just the applicant who misses out, it's the city. One way to facilitate that process would be to spread out the screening, interviewing and selection process out longer so that the city council doesn't cram all the interviewing and final votes into one marathon session. It should be spread out during part of January and February in smaller doses. This could maximize the number of commissions where interviews take place, reduce burnout from lengthy single sessions and still get the new commissioners sworn in and seated by the March 1 deadline. It would ensure the public that there's actually a process that's based on careful evaluation of the applicants and the maximum opportunity for face to face interviews with city council members. It's also helpful in that it enables city residents to get to know the elected representatives in their city and for their elected officials to spend at least a few minutes getting to know its volunteer pool.

The committee after some discussion picked the following applicants to be interviewed for the CPRC to fill a term which might expire in March 2010.

David V. Baker, Riverside Community College professor of sociology

Robert Garafalo, Riverside County Administrative manager

Robert Slawsby, director and Screen Actors Guild member

Allison Merrihew, comes from a family of law enforcement

The committee considered interviewing Riverside County Mental Health employee Claudia Smith who was the only African-American applicant but City Attorney Gregory Priamos said that there was a conflict of interest with her appointment even though current Commissioner Peter Hubbard represented American Medical Response on discussions about the same mental health intervention training.

Schiavone also mentioned that some unnamed Riverside County Sheriff's Department employees had called asking to apply but hadn't submitted applications. There's not enough known about each applicant to be interviewed to establish probability of him or her being selected.

More twists and turns in the journey of the CPRC to some sort of public forum involving some number of elected officials to discuss the current restrictions on its ability to abide by City Charter Section 810(d) which governs its power to launch independent investigations into officer-involved deaths.

Originally, Mayor Ron Loveride said here that the beleaguered panel would be sent to a Governmental Affairs Committee meeting this month. However, it didn't appear on the agenda for the Governmental Affairs Committee meeting being held on Jan. 7. Then rumors were that it would instead be heard by the full city council. Now it appears that it might be sent to a "special" Governmental Affairs Committee meeting or the full city council. This appears to be a city council that doesn't know what it wants to do with what's quickly becoming a hot potato. One city council member said that this issue involving the CPRC appears to be much bigger than what some elected officials originally thought. It's great that they finally realize what city residents already know. The CPRC was put in the charter to protect it from the city government because the voters realized it needed protecting and guess what? We were right and yes, a lot of city residents are and have been concerned about this issue.

It's been discussed in the communities, the churches, the meetings and has even attracted attenton from organizations outside of Riverside. People on the NACOLE email list who have been reading the articles addressing the most recent restrictions on the CPRC have expressed their concerns about it. And if need be, it will certainly be an election issue.

Is Riverside nurturing its young leaders?

Inside Riverside provides this update on the financial meltdown of Moreno Valley. The news isn't good and bankruptcy was one of the options on the table for what was once one of the nation's fastest growing cities.

And in California, tax refunds might not be issued this year but instead, you might receive IOUs. Which look like checks but can't be cashed because they'll bounce. They've only been issued once in the last 75 or so years and that was in 1992.

Should newly minted Menifee create districts?

San Bernardino County Assessor William Postmus admitted he had a drug addiction.

Closing statements were given to wrap up the ongoing federal corruption trial of former Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona. Both sides of the trial provided their final arguments.

(excerpt, Orange County Register)

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Julian said Carona – who was Orange County's highest law enforcement official from 1999 to 2008 – violated the public trust by accepting bribes.

"In 1998, the citizens of Orange County put their faith and trust in Mike Carona to be sheriff," Julian said. "What they didn't know was that Mike Carona cheated to win the election."

Carona's defense attorney, in turn, called the government's case "fatally flawed" and questioned the credibility of the former Assistant Sheriffs Don Haidl and George Jaramillo – saying they have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and have a vested interest in bringing Carona down.

"When you charge someone with a federal crime, you better be right. You better be able to prove every allegation you make," said Jeff Rawitz, Carona's attorney. "(The prosecutors) have made several mistakes. The primary one was indicting Carona. Mr. Carona is not guilty."

In San Francisco, a man was shot by police officers while lying on the ground and it was caught on video tape.

(excerpt, Don't Tase Me Blog)

BART police officer struggling to handcuff a 22-year-old man stood up over the facedown Hayward resident and fired a single shot into his back while a handful of officers watched, a video taken by a train passenger apparently shows.

The attorney for the family of Oscar Grant III, fatally shot by an unidentified BART officer early New Year's Day, said Sunday he plans to file a $25 million lawsuit against the department and asked prosecutors to consider filing murder charges against the officer.

The shooting occurred shortly before 2 a.m. Thursday after five officers responded to the Fruitvale station to reports of a fight on a train, officials said, though they have not confirmed whether Grant was involved in the fight.

The new video, obtained by television station KTVU, shows two officers restraining a struggling suspect. While the man is lying face down on the ground, one officer appears to be seen pulling out a gun and firing a single shot into his back.

Civil rights attorney John Burris, known for his work in several high-profile cases involving police abuse and corruption, said at a Sunday news conference that the shooting was "the most unconscionable" he has ever seen. He said the Alameda County district attorney should consider filing charges of second-degree murder or manslaughter against the officer.

"I've drafted a notice of claim against BART for $25 million I plan to submit officially," Burris said, adding that the officer had violated Grant's civil rights and wrongfully caused his death.

There were also eyewitness accounts of the shooting.

(excerpt, Contra Costa Times)

Mario Pangelina Jr., whose sister had a 4-year-old daughter with Grant, said he was on the same train as Grant that night, but on a different car. He said he saw Grant's interactions with police immediately before the shooting.

"First, an officer grabbed Oscar by the neck and pushed him against the wall," Pangelina said. "Oscar didn't fight him, but he didn't go down either. He was like, 'What did I do?' Then another officer came up with his Taser and held it right in his face. Oscar said, 'Please don't shoot me, please don't Taser me, I have a daughter,' over and over again, real fast, and he sat down."

Grant was the only man in a small group sitting against the wall who was not handcuffed, Burris said, so officers grabbed him away from the wall and pressed him belly-down onto the ground.

"One officer was kneeling over his neck and head, and another standing over him," Burris said. "He was not kicking, and one officer was pulling on his arm. The standing officer pulled out his weapon and, within moments, fired the gun into Mr. Grant's back."

Burris said the bullet went through Grant's lower back and ricocheted off the ground up into his lungs, killing him.

The United States Justice Department has a list of recommendations on what it wants Austin's police department to do to improve its practices.

(excerpt, American-Statesman)

Austin police should further strengthen how they review incidents in which officers use force and create ways to make sure supervisors and others are properly evaluating such encounters, according to numerous federal recommendations to the department.

The document also said the department should change policies to make clear when weapons such as pepper spray and techniques such as choke holds should be used, and it recommends that all officers be trained in de-escalation techniques.

The report doesn't draw any overarching conclusions about the department, leading readers to reach differing opinions about its content.

"It doesn't describe a Police Department that has a systemic problem with its performance," Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a news conference, which also was attended by City Manager Marc Ott and representatives from several community groups, including the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

However, Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, who had helped seek the federal inquiry, said, "All I can say is, 'Wow.' It is pretty much an indictment of the way things used to be and is a blueprint for what needs to be done yet.

"I don't think it is as minor as the chief had spelled it out (to be)," Harrington said.

If the Justice Department gets involved, it never is.

The Justice Department also brokered an agreement with King County's jail system.

The failure of the Connecticut State Attorney General's office to protect law enforcement whistle blowers is the focus of a lawsuit filed by eight state troopers.

(excerpt, New York Times)

The lawsuit, filed Dec. 22 in United States District Court in New Haven, said that Mr. Blumenthal was unable to protect the whistleblowers from harassment and retaliation after they came forward and cooperated with a 2006 investigation into charges of corruption within the State Police.

“Statutorily, the attorney general’s office is placed in an untenable position to investigate whistleblower complaints and to represent those individuals they believe are retaliating against them,” said Norm Pattis, a lawyer representing the troopers. “The Connecticut State Police cases illustrate this.”

Mr. Pattis said that because Mr. Blumenthal must represent state employees, such whistleblower cases should be handled by another agency. The lawsuit also names two assistant attorneys general and an investigator from Mr. Blumenthal’s office.

Mr. Blumenthal said in an interview that he shared the whistleblowers’ frustration over his lack of statutory teeth to protect them from claims of retaliation, which he says has been limited by the Connecticut law.

“With all due respect, the lawsuit is an act of frustration,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “But the lawsuit cannot accomplish legislative change, and the lawsuit is factually and legally baseless.”

In Macon County, a complaint against officers has led to an investigation.


Hill contends that officers with the department’s STRIKE Team entered his home and choked and assaulted his son that night. He maintains that police were acting on a bad tip as they tried to serve a “knock and talk” warrant on a man named Antonio Hill, a Florida man wanted there and in Macon who the officers mistook for TJ Hill.

The STRIKE Team consists of officers who target high-crime areas in search of people wanted for violent crimes. They help investigators gather intelligence, collect evidence and serve felony warrants, working with other agencies across the Southeast.

Police acknowledge visiting Hill’s home. They released some information about the incident in a preliminary police report, but no more pending the outcome of an investigation.

“Since the complaint was referred to Internal Affairs and the complaint is being investigated by Internal Affairs, we will just have to see what the outcome of that investigation will be,” said Lt. Dominick Andrews, who supervises the STRIKE Team. He declined to comment further on the allegations.

And in a victory for civilian oversight, the Atlanta Police Department turned over requested records to the city's oversight panel under threat of subpoena. The police department had been withholding the records for months.

(excerpt, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The Police Department’s refusal to release police officers’ statements about the incident marked the first sign of resistance and a potential power struggle between the police and the Review Board, which was created after an Atlanta police shooting of an elderly woman.

And the Review Board’s plan to ask for a subpoena from the City Council committee on Monday was its first move toward playing hardball.

The Police Department turned the statements over shortly after 10 a.m., less than an hour before the committee’s 11 a.m. meeting.

“I’m glad we got the documents,” Review Board executive director Cris Beamud said. “I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

Beamud said she believed the Police Department’s action is an acknowledgment that the Review Board is entitled to such documents. The city law enacted to create the review board gives the board “full access” to police reports and documents.

“The law is very clear,” Beamud said. “It requires them to turn over these reports.”

Atlanta police Maj. Lane Hagin is in charge of the department’s internal affairs unit that was withholding the reports.

He stopped short of acknowledging that city law requires the Police Department to release the documents, but said the department decided to do so last week.

“It’s the right thing to do for now,” Hagin said. “We made the decision to turn those documents over and wait to see what council does with the new ordinance.”

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