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

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Governmental Affairs or the CPRC: Cut off at the pass?

"Ralph Brown did away with that."

---The Group Chair Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely at the Governmental Affairs Committee meeting in response to the creation of a not-officially-an-ad hoc committee which will meet privately. The California "sunshine" open meetings law is named after Brown.

The Governmental Affairs Committee met in front of a full crowd in the Mayor's Ceremonial Chamber at Riverside City Hall to discuss the protocol of how the Community Police Review Commission conducts its officer-involved death investigations. However, it was more like being in the middle of a cornfield with the straw men being flung around by two city council members and a few city employees who all work for someone else filling out the supporting cast of performers. Included among them were City Attorney Gregory Priamos, Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis (in for the oft-absent City Manager Brad Hudson), Executive Manager Kevin Rogan and Chief Russ Leach.

Each one of them had their role to play, their own scripts they were assigned to read from and perform they did although Leach seemed to resist his direction on several occasions to acknowledge points made by members of the audience. He committed a faux passe by blaming the CPRC's commissioners for posting autopsy photos in one shooting case online on its site (which will be addressed in a future posting in greater detail), but when asked whether or not any police investigation had been compromised by the CPRC, he answered the truth which was no. That was actually more refreshing than what others in the cast of performers had to say but still a distance away from the pre-Hudson Leach of 2002 who boldly told the CPRC that it had to decide when to initiate its own investigations.

The adherence to the script was especially noticeable among the "at will" employees who were in the same room as their employers who will ultimately decide how long they will work for the city of Riverside (as at least one former executive manager found out) and these employers were "at will" employees of the elected officials. The dynamic among those at City Hall is often painfully on display and this was one example although during the meeting, some individuals broke the mold at different times including one elected official.

But the lower-ranking employees in the production represented some of the job titles with the shakiest histories, whether it's police chiefs in the 1990s or executive directors/managers in the first decade of the new century. Still watching them perform on cue was a fairly sad state of affairs because management employees dancing on command perhaps sounds more pleasant to watch than it actually is.

But then again, elected officials are also "at will" employees of the electorate and some people left the Governmental Affairs more excited about candidates like Ward Four's Paul Davis than they were walking in. Davis' has been somewhat critical of how the city council's handled the CPRC at some of his public appearances and it's included as a plank in his political platform.

Is it in Schiavone's? Not likely.

At any rate, it's hard to write about this meeting because so little of what was said by any of these players really had anything to do with the issue at hand. In fact, none of them even directly addressed the critical issue even though most of them sidestepped around it more intent on alarming individuals with visions of interfering investigators and trampled crime scenes. Easier to do try and hoodwink people with thinking that was truly the issue at heart than in addressing why City Hall is so intent with interfering with established protocol by the commission and then defending that action by claiming they took no action for years because they had no idea what was taking place in their midst. The truth is, they knew or should have known all along, certainly those in the city manager's office and if that office knew, one would think it would have passed along this newly gleaned information to the apparently clueless city council and mayor much sooner.

Instead, they chose not to act for years perhaps because there were no city council members giving them the direction to do so at that time.

The problem with this strategy of ignorance is that many people in this city have followed the progression (and some say regression) of civilian oversight and the CPRC very closely so they know a lot more about what is really going on and were involved in its progression even before Hudson, DeSantis and Rogan came to town. They were advocating for the CPRC even before any of the current city council members were elected to office including those on platforms that weren't exactly friendly towards civilian review including two members of the Governmental Affairs Committee.

Some of those in the audience have followed this issue for decades, participated in many meetings, worked on the campaign to put the CPRC in the city's charter and knew that what unfolded before them had very little to do with what was actually the heart of the issue. And the employees performing on stage didn't really know how formidable the audience collectively was with its knowledge of a process that some of its members had advocated in favor of for decades. But the conversations afterward were filled with questions about whether or not it was the city council, its direct employees and the police chief who needed to be educated on civilian oversight in Riverside and whose responsibility that should be. Who's willing to take that one on?

The lack of information and ability to present a truly compelling argument became apparent right away. The gap of knowledge on the CPRC among those in the audience compared with those on stage including individuals who repeatedly misidentified the CPRC as a "complaint driven" body. Hence the need to walk into the meeting with a sturdy umbrella to deflect the falling straw men and the need to push for public outreach (which has essentially disappeared along with the annual report) not just for community members but for those who truly need it, the city council.

Chair Frank Schiavone opened the meeting by saying that "miscommunications" had led to "controversy" over recent changes to the CPRC's protocol to launch parallel investigations into officer-involved deaths. For some reason, he thought it strange that people would react to a directive issued by City Manager Brad Hudson which halted the commission from investigated officer-involved deaths until the police department had completed its own investigations as it had done for 11 investigations conducted in a six year period. He then insisted that there had been no change in protocol instituted by Hudson in his directive. His words brought to mind a quote from the film, JFK which is spoken by Kevin Costner's character at one point.

"We're looking through the looking glass here, people...white is black and black is white."

For the first time since the CPRC's inception in 2001, the city has tried to dictate how the commission has conducted its officer-involved death investigations through a directive issued by Hudson and clearly if people had an issue about that, then they were the victims of "miscommunication" and creating some "controversy". Strong words that were meant to invoke a response but were also meant to detract from the fundamental issue and that's the city's violation of a precedent that the commission had successfully adhered to since its inception and that was the right like all the city's boards and commissions to establish its own bylaws, policies and procedures without any interference from either the city council or its direct employees.

For its first eight years, the CPRC was allowed to do just that without any involvement let alone interference from any faction at City Hall. They weren't ignorant as they claim they were today. They just weren't involved.

The policies and procedures take the language that is used to establish a board or commission in the city's charter or through ordinance and translate it into practical applications of the language that governs the existence and operation of the board or commission. The CPRC was established by the city council through an ordinance in 2000 and began fulfilling its duties in January 2001.

In 2001, it began to create its own bylaws, policies and procedures including the much cited Section VIII(B), which was drafted to address complaints. Initially, the members of the subcommittee who drafted it had simply plugged in "Riverside" for "Long Beach" but when more commissioners reviewed the product, they discovered that its language conflicted with the ordinance governing the CPRC. It was revised and one of the after effects of this event was that today, eight years later, it doesn't include any references to officer-involved deaths. Which in a way makes sense because you won't find any similar reference in any language that has to do with the establishment of the Long Beach model. Why? Because Long Beach's model is entirely complaint driven right down to its officer-involved shooting reviews and investigations.

Riverside's however is not.

If you plugged the CPRC into the Long Beach model, none of the 12 deaths that have been investigated nor the four deaths which have not would be under the purview of the CPRC to investigate because complaints weren't filed for any of them. But look at the charter and all of them are subjected to investigations. The ultimate irony in this whole exercise in micromanagement is that time and energy was spent investigating alternative models of civilian oversight for whether or not they pass investigative muster and the city gravitates towards instituting one that only investigates complaints. But then that's hardly an accident, it's design.

The commission initiated its investigation into the fatal shooting of Vaseuth Phaisouphanh six months (after nixing an investigation of the fatal shooting of Officer Doug Jacobs in 2001) after the police department briefed the commission about its own initial investigation into that shooting. Both the commissioners and the police department were dissatisfied with this process because it took so long so when the second officer-involved death, that of Anastacio Munoz, took place in November 2002, the commission voted to initiate the officer-involved death investigation shortly after. No faction in the city or police department objected to the initiation of this investigation anymore than they had told the CPRC how to handle its investigation into the Phaisouphanh death. In fact, the city and police department's approach to the commission was to let it determine how to interpret the mandates first in the ordinance and then in the city charter and to use that interpretation to dictate its policies and procedures in different areas of its operations.

Before the Munoz shooting death, Leach had told the commission during one of its meetings in the autumn of 2002 that it had to decide when it was best to start investigating but that investigations were best conducted as soon as possible. The Leach today might curse the Leach of 2002 or not even recognize him but they both existed. The Leach before and after City Manager Brad Hudson and his assistant, DeSantis became his boss and he their "at will" employees.

This protocol used by the CPRC far from being "sometimes" applied was soon established into a pattern and practice that lasted until 2008. The process moved fairly seamlessly in contrast to the city and police department which were mired in a lawsuit filed against them by the Riverside Police Officers' Association over their apparent failure to successfully manage their own parallel investigations into both officer-involved deaths and shootings. According to departmental policy 4..8, the department's Internal Affairs Division is supposed to conduct its own independent and separate investigation into these critical incidents. However, the commission itself observed during its review of the practices used by the department's own investigators that instead Internal Affairs was performing "administrative reviews" and stated in several officer-involved death reports that this situation needed to be addressed. The problems surrounding the apparent failure to do parallel investigations (as alleged by the CPRC and RPOA) spiraled into a series of related problems involving how both those processes were handled inside the department.

So while the commission successfully handled its own investigations into officer-involved deaths without a single complaint or concern raised by anyone in the police department or City Hall, the city and department were dragged into Riverside County Superior Court to litigate ongoing problems with the police department's own investigations at tax payers' expense. Problems that even the commissioners on the CPRC and most loudly, Commissioner Jim Ward had expressed concern about in their own investigations of some of the same fatal incidents.

In 2004, the majority of the voters passed Measure II which placed the commission including its power to investigate officer-involved deaths into the city's charter. Its supporters hoped that doing so would prevent the CPRC from being used as a political football for good. But as it turned out, it had only just begun. That was also the year the CPRC sponsored workshops with the city manager, city attorney, Leach and the RPOA. All showed except for Priamos who cited that he couldn't discuss his purview with the commission unless it was in closed session. None of these entities expressed any concerns or issues with an investigative protocol that had been in practice by the commission for nearly two years and had led to the initiation of three fatal shooting investigations at that point.

The city and department eventually settled affairs with the RPOA and moved on and continuously ignored the CPRC's policy recommendation to either hold its Internal Affairs Division to abide by policy 4.8 or to rewrite that provision of the policy to conform with its current practice.

The commission continued onward with its practice of initiating investigations after being notified of officer-involved deaths either by the department or through an article in the Press Enterprise. It continued to do this without any hint of complaint or concern from City Hall or the police department. It continued to do this without ever in its entire history ever sending an investigator to the "crime scene" while it was being processed. It did this with full disclosure to the city council and its direct employees as well as Leach who knew exactly what was going on every step of the way despite protests now that they all had been left in the dark. The city manager's office continued to approve expenditures involving investigators and the city attorney, city manager and police department sent representatives to all the CPRC meetings and continued to monitor the process over at least a three year period.

That's why Schiavone's comment that if the city council and city manager's office had been truly micromanaging the CPRC that they would have put its investigative protocol to a stop right then and there is so illogical. First, it exposes his hand that his intent has been (and likely still is) to break long-standing precedent of allowing the CPRC to set its own policies and procedures unmolested by the city but even more clearly, it shows that they have no other reason to rationalize the complete lack of response by the city over the CPRC's investigative protocol over a lengthy period (and for Schiavone, seven years) by pleading ignorance over the process. If that's the only defense left for allowing the commission to follow its own established protocol for seven years without saying anything, then I guess it's worth a try to see whether anyone will believe it.

Leach was asked a question by Schiavone that he didn't answer in his first speech, where he provided a historic perspective of the relationship between the CPRC and the police department. He said that while Bill Howe chaired the commission, the relationship between the two entities had been more positive but that now the commission. Later on, he did answer Schiavone's question and then talked about the importance of maintaining the integrity of a crime scene which no one had even argued against since this whole debate began six months ago when Hudson issued his directive to break a long-standing precedent of allowing the CPRC to determine its own policies and practices without interference from City Hall. This precedent breaking action didn't just impact the CPRC, but the future of other boards and commissions in this city as well. But then again since this issue couldn't and wouldn't be addressed at all, the sidelines into compromised investigations whipped up by a frenzy of fantasies by various individuals had to suffice, to supplant reality.

CPRC Manager Kevin Rogan talked about several 11th hour phone calls that he had made to several models of civilian oversight in California and said that none of them did parallel criminal investigations in response to the reality that no one said that they did because parallel criminal investigations and parallel investigations aren't the same thing. But then Rogan's made it a rather interesting practice of misstating what people said and then arguing against his version of what they said.

What the Governmental Affairs Committee showed is not only how well city employees can perform when called on to do so by their superiors on the Seventh Floor but that the CPRC remains a viable issue in city politics because efforts to spearhead a proposed protocol by Hudson were offset by some seriously good questions being asked by one Councilman Andrew Melendrez, who had substituted onto the committee in lieu of Councilman Rusty Bailey just to hear this item.

And it was Melendrez, usually the most soft-spoken city official on the dais who made the biggest impact on the direction of the meeting. While the other two members of the Governmental Affairs Committee might have been prepared for an audience (if not one that filled every chair in the room), clearly they weren't ready for one of their own stepping outside the box and asking questions that ultimately led to Chair Frank Schiavone's decision to create a quasi task force like committee loaded with city staff and containing several spots for "ordinary people" to sit on to agree on the common use of terminology and information.

With some simply worded questions, Melendrez deftly boxed his two colleagues and through extension their cast of performers in a corner. Schiavone countered by performing a fairly sophisticated political move to remove the discussion from the public arena to a back door room through the creation of a task force. It remains to be seen how that plays out. Will it be a sincere effort to work together with community members or will it be for show? Everyone will have to wait and see.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Councilman Frank Schiavone, chairman of the committee, said the split boils down to one side believing the commission should review the police documents first and then investigate, and another that believes the commission should investigate shootings and then conduct a policy-and-procedure review.

Assistant City Manager Tom DeSantis, who was present at Wednesday's meeting, agreed to organize a meeting of the police chief, commission manager and members of the Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability to gain some understanding on the differences.

For the last several years, the commission has begun independent investigations into fatal officer-involved shootings about a week after the incident.

City Manager Brad Hudson's report

RCPA rebuttal

How much did the actions of the Los Angeles Police Department on May Day 2007 cost? $12.85 million. These are pretty much just the claims. There are still other lawsuits including those filed by journalists injured in the melee.

Attacks against civilian review aren't only restricted to Riverside. Other cities get to join in on the fun.

There's changes already being proposed to Atlanta's new form of civilian oversight even though it's just gotten started. The community wants a stronger form but the city's already intent on weakening. However, the city could better spend its time and energy cleaning up its police department so elderly women aren't shot in their own homes by narcotics detectives operating on illegal search warrants.

Two female officers with the South Carolina State Police are filing a sexual discrimination lawsuit alleging they were denied promotions.

(excerpt, The Post and Courier)

State Law Enforcement Division agents Laurie V. Caldwell of Lexington County and Melody D. Wright of Richland County claim in lawsuits filed last week that they were unfairly denied lieutenant positions in 2006 and 2007.

Wright, who is black, also alleges that she was passed over because of her race.

Former SLED chief Robert Stewart, who was not named in the lawsuits, told The State newspaper of Columbia that government agencies had investigated the women's claims and found no basis for them.

"There were a number of females in supervisory positions when I was at SLED," said Stewart, who retired in November 2007 after 20 years as the state's top police officer.

State Human Affairs Commission chief Jesse Washington told the newspaper that his office closed both women's cases with "no cause" findings.

If you are in Albany and have friends from that city's department, you may get a ticket but you won't have to pay a fine.

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