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, February 06, 2009

Riverside Tales: The board, the commission and what happened to their investigative powers

It was a busy week in Riverside with two meetings that addressed the scope of investigative powers of two of the city's boards and commissions. And when the dust was settled by the end of the action-packed week, what was learned was the difference between a commission having its powers inscribed in the city's charter and one that alas, did not.

The two boards and commissions which had their investigative powers challenged in recent months were the Human Resources Board and the Community Police Review Commission. Both tried to exercise their investigative powers in recent months in different areas of the city's operation and both had their efforts rebuffed by the dynamic duo, City Manager Brad Hudson and City Attorney Gregory Priamos. Both bodies opted to write letters to the city council, the direct employer of the duo, asking for "clarification" on the issue. The CPRC already did this and received a "received, reviewed and filed" response from Mayor Pro Tem Rusty Bailey who spoke on behalf of the city council whether its members were aware of that or not.

The Human Resources Board is still drafting its letter. One penned by Chair Erin House was circulated and discussed at last week's meeting but then sent back to him to rework the changes in and restore it back into letter form. Still, even though the final letter hasn't been approved by the board let alone sent to the city council, several members believe that the response to it will be the same as that received by the CPRC: Received, reviewed and pretty much dismissed. One board member also said that the situation involving the board could wind up in the same venue as that involving the CPRC, which is the Governmental Affairs Committee.

So there were two very different meetings last week involving two of the city's boards and commissions and taking place in different venues. But both boards and commissions were fighting for the same thing. But with one difference. One of the panels had its investigative powers inscribed in the city charter and the other one didn't.

And that's why the former still has investigative power (at least in writing) and the other one no longer does according to the city which in 2006 tried to erase it out of existence.

The Mystery of the Missing Power

First up, was the Human Resources Board which met on Monday afternoon in the fifth floor conference room at City Hall. This board has been energized in recent months to commit itself to being more active and the pledge to do so was in fact discussed at several meetings during the past few months. The board had decided at one meeting to make some requests through Human Resources Director Rhonda Strout to ask for statistical information pertaining to lawsuits filed against Riverside by members of its workforce. The lawsuits themselves are public information once they are filed in the appropriate judicial venue so therefore, any statistical information about them should be public information as well.

However, the board received a response back through Strout that Priamos along with Hudson had vetoed the request, denying the statistical information by claiming that to request such information was outside the purview of the board. House and others objected saying that the board had investigative powers, citing in one case language from a 2005 document that included a section (D) outlining this power.

Imagine the shock of the board members when they discovered that this section had been changed in a later document, erasing the investigative powers and stating that in this area, the board didn't report to the city council but the city manager's office. These changes were date stamped early 2006 and hadn't been made in the city charter (which would have required a majority vote at the election polls) but by changes made by the city council to the city's ordinance that outlined the role and responsibilities of the board.

What one city council could give, another one could just as easily take away.

And in 2006, the city council did probably upon advisement of Hudson's office. Or so they thought, because actually there's a loophole in that plan and the ordinance which still allows the board to use investigative powers. But the language might be subject to interpretation and who's been designated to provide that? The same attorney whose representing the city's interests in those filed lawsuits. And the board never actually declared any intention to do any investigation when it sent the letter, it merely was interested in information gathering of statistics pertaining to labor issues in this city.

Why the city is really not thrilled about handing these lawsuit-related statistics over to the board is a topic for future blog postings but at this juncture, the Human Resources Board is still drafting its letter to be sent out to the city council.

Not Lerner and Lowe, but close

Later in the week, the investigative powers of the CPRC were the topic of much discussion and debate at a Governmental Affairs meeting that began as a staged production and then took several steps off the beaten path. The cast of characters in this one-performance-only play all read nicely from their scripts and showed that they were capable of taking direction as all good performers should be. Even the tedious process of scene blocking appeared seamless throughout the nearly two hour long meeting.

But this stage show involved a non-traditional stage venue and a somewhat participatory audience (though not to the point of throwing rice, toast or dancing in the aisles or anything like that) so it took on a life of its own.

Alas, it premiered too late in the awards season to qualify for collecting any guys named Oscar or Tony or even Obie but if Entertainment Weekly or PEOPLE had been there, the nominations could have put it at the top of any list.

The "Best Actor" category was pretty thin, because this being a stage show about a ship, there can only be one or two captains. And sometimes elected officials can be like actors when it comes to sharing the stage. Some are more graceful than others but the Governmental Affairs Committee was truly an ensemble piece.

However, Councilman Frank Schiavone could very well be in a position of going toe to toe with one of his fellow cast members, Councilman Steve Adams. Schiavone's take-charge speech from the time the credits faded out, where he pulled that splendidly executed reversal making it appear as if the audience (and other city residents) were responsible for the "miscommunication" and the "controversy" was truly masterful. His choice as an actor to use a softer vocal tone sold that scene and guaranteed him a nomination, but it was his bold move to step off the beaten path and channel in the late great actor, Jimmy Stewart to push for an ad hoc/task force/special/meeting committee even at the cost of the Brown Act that stamped his performance as the one that sets the bar in the main acting category.

Adams' role was smaller, almost too small for the category but some "best actors" get on the list through name recognition, an organized effort to commemorate them for a body of work and through one pivotal make-or-break scene, which for Adams was when he stumped his support for the CPRC that he's had since day one which was a revelation to anyone listening. Pick any monologue by any of the great ones in any film or stage play (or even musical) about governmental angst and politics and his will stand up among the truly greats.

The category for "Best Actress" will alas, remain empty because City Hall as you know it, and the Governmental Affairs Committee in particular is testosterone infused. So this category's submissions have been closed until at least next year and probably longer.

The "Best Actor in a Supporting Role" category is loaded with nuanced and talented performers which isn't surprising considering this production used an ensemble cast. Leading the pack is Councilman Andrew Melendrez, who took what was meant to be a walk-on part and ran away with it. Originally an understudy of Councilman Rusty Bailey (who probably would have kept the part as a walk-in or been relegated to the chorus given his before-and-after election views on the CPRC), Melendrez stole the show.

His understated performance never risked treading on the thin line of scenery-chewing even when he delivered some of the best lines in the production. In this category, he was challenged by Chief Russ Leach, whose portrayal of a long-time chief caught between the city manager's pull and the push of city residents was deft and on target. His almost inaudible response to the question of whether or not the department had ever complained about the CPRC's investigations contrasted with his declaration that his relationship with the commission hadn't outlasted the leadership of its first chair. CPRC Executive Manager Kevin Rogan showed some range, took direction very well and his addition of one simple word to one of his lines provided one of the twists that the production has become known for.

As for the category of "Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role", the nominations here are closed for the year due to an estrogen shortage on the Seventh Floor but special mention should be made of Jennifer Vaughn-Blakely who delivered the single best line of the show, about Ralph Brown, the inspiration for the state's sunshine laws concerning open meetings and was spot on.

The best directors never act in their own films and the nomination from this production stayed away as well. Hudson who's skilled in this area wins another nomination in the directing category.

Despite extensive rewrites at the last minute, the script for this production is sure to garner a nomination in the adapted screenplay category which is that given to scripts based on another medium. In this case, the screenplay for this stage show was simply borrowing from an older and oft-used script.

Setting the production in an informal talk-show type setting is sure to garner further nominations for art direction and set design.

But what became clear in this staged production is that the CPRC is in a different category than the Human Resources Board because the investigative power is in the city's charter and it was put there by the majority of the city's voters in November 2004 in response to all the political attacks being made or threatened against it by the majority of the city council who at that time opposed the CPRC and civilian oversight. Those city council members didn't really listen to the voters and likely have been giving directions to Hudson (who after all is employed by the city council) and Priamos (who is likewise) even though they don't constitute the majority of the city council anymore. And what the experience of the Human Resources Board clearly showed is that if the CPRC's investigative powers had been left out of the city charter and remained in existence only in the municipal ordinance which created it, they would have been erased as well. It's very possible though not as likely that the entire commission would have been revoked.

It's likely that there are officials at City Hall are cursing that Section 810(d) of the city's charter even exists even as they try so hard to manipulate it all of a sudden. Pleading ignorance of established practice isn't working out very well either. It's unlikely that the city council or the city manager's office are truly in the dark as they have claimed to be about the CPRC's investigative protocol that it's used for 11 officer-involved deaths from 2002-2008. It's just as unlikely that the issue suddenly was noticed in June 2008 (a point of time where there hadn't been an officer-involved death in over 18 months) and thus suddenly became a topic of great concern. Given the micromanagement by Hudson and DeSantis (that by Priamos came a bit later) of the CPRC since it issued its sustained finding on the Summer Marie Lane shooting case in late 2005, it's very improbable that they were truly clueless about the investigative protocol and it's insulting to the residents of this city that this is now what everyone's trying to say.

But City Hall says this assuming that people won't know any better and will buy into it. The over 30 people who attended the Governmental Affairs Committee didn't believe them and as it turns out, many others don't as well.

Just like members of the Human Resources Board are having difficulty buying into the fact that they report to the city manager and not the city council (and one member said he doesn't and won't report to Hudson's office) and have lost their investigative power.

Put these two disparate bodies consisting of dedicated city residents who volunteer their time together and you'll find that despite their efforts to do so, their own city government doesn't trust that they are able. And that too is a shame.

The CPRC will be holding a special meeting this Wednesday, Feb. 11 at 5:30 p.m. which will include taser training by the police department. On the CPRC site, there's this link which shows pictures of the X26 Taser from various angles.

Right after the meeting, the commission will adjourn and Commissioner John Brandriff who chairs the Policies, Procedures and Bylaws meeting will hopefully get to actually direct the meeting and not have it commandeered by city employees including Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis.

One difference is that Brandriff and other commissioners were actually granted permission to put items on the agenda for this subcommittee. As you know all agenda items submitted by commissioners for their regular meetings, special meetings and committee meetings have to be approved by the dynamic duo. Alas, Brandriff had items that he had planned to put on the agenda of the special inaugural edition of this reinstated committee but none of them made it past the vigilant eye of the duo.

A Riverside County Superior Court judge came down on the employer of a trial juror for pressuring him to get out of a trial.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Luebs summoned Scott Cullen of Anaheim-based PCS Solutions Inc. to his Riverside courtroom after the employee, known as Juror No. 10, reported that Cullen was pressuring him via e-mail to get out of jury service in a case expected to take six weeks because the juror's presence was needed on a major company project.

Wearing a windbreaker, Cullen stood alone before the bench at the Friday afternoon hearing. Sternly, the judge warned Cullen that it is a crime for an employer to intimidate, harass or pressure a member of a jury.

"His mind and focus has to be on his duty," Luebs told Cullen.

Cullen argued that the man was working on a project that was crucial to the company's financial future. Luebs countered that "I'm trying a case where a guy's life is on the line. That's important."

The telecommunications company has five employees and will not be paid for the project until it is completed, Cullen said.

"We're in financial straits," Cullen told Luebs.

"I would think the courts would be more sympathetic to the plight of the small business person," Cullen said after the hearing

"We're not saying we don't want him to do jury duty," Cullen said. "We would just prefer that he has a shorter assignment. We can't do without him for two months."

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein discusses one way Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco did cut his budget. And it's the latest episode, sans organ music of the one of the most popular sudsers involving the office that has lost 20% of its legal eagles, seen its conviction rate of felonies taken to trial plummet and the court system gridlock to the point where a whole fleet of retired civil and criminal judges were recruited to come in and bail out the leaking boat.

But this column is about a story, one of many to come out of that office, told on a much smaller scale.


Guy Pittman is a supervising deputy DA.

In 2007, on the 20th anniversary of his employment, the county executive office gave him a pin, a certificate and a catalog. As part of the county's Service Award program, Pittman was invited to select a free gift. He took the catalog home and promptly pack-ratted it.

About a year later, the DA's budget watchers noticed something: The county exec office was billing the DA whenever a DA employee claimed a Service Award gift. Assistant DA Bill Mitchell:

"We notified them (the county exec) that if the gifts weren't coming from us, we weren't going to pay for them."

The DA's office also noticed that two supervisors, including Pittman, hadn't yet claimed their gifts.

Mitchell: "In order to cut costs, we asked them to refrain from putting in for them." ("Cut costs"! See?)

This didn't sit well with Pittman. If the DA wanted to opt out of the Service Award program, fine. But take it out on a 20-year man who had already been offered a free gift? Pittman browsed the catalogue and ordered a watch. (The catalog doesn't say how much it cost, but we ain't talking Rolex.) His stainless Bulova with a "second hand sweep" and black leather strap arrived within a week. Then, last month, Pittman was "called to come downtown" where Mitchell informed him that he wasn't (in Pittman's words) a "team player."

Fine thing to tell a 20-year man.

San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus in the heat of public uproar resigned from his position.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Supervisor Josie Gonzales said she was relieved that the board would not have to proceed with the investigation and hearing process it began in an effort to remove him. She said the process would have been a distraction when the county needs to deal with more important issues like the declining economy.

"It was something I would much rather have happen and bring this situation to an end," she said.

Gonzales said she felt some grief and frustration to see a once-promising career end. She credited Postmus for taking the step to resign.

"He recognizes that he has a health issue, a drug problem, and he is making the very bold statement in wanting to get help and recover," Gonzales said.

In his resignation letter, Postmus said he was delaying his departure by one week to ensure a seamless transition to his successor.

"It is with tremendous sadness that I submit this letter, which announces my resignation from the office of San Bernardino County Assessor," Postmus wrote.

A former Murrieta city councilman gets weekend jail time instead of a prison sentence.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Judge Douglas E. Weathers decried Warnie Enochs' behavior in a case stemming from his divorce before sentencing him to 180 days in jail on weekends, five years probation and anger management.

"There were overt attempts by Mr. Enochs to quite frankly, cheat and defraud his soon to be ex-wife," Weathers said. "The defendant was proven in many instances to be an arrogant individual ... as if he was well above the law."

He begins his jail sentence Feb. 27.

San Bernardino Police Chief Mike Billdt has put his retirement that was supposed to take place next month on hold and is staying on until his replacement can be found.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Union officials said the chief takes too long to investigate citizen complaints, has reneged on a promise to revise reporting policies when officers must use force, and fails to follow a consistent policy on investigations when officers are accused of crimes.

Union President Rich Lawhead criticized the decision, saying the union board suspended a public appeal to force Billdt's ouster after the mayor privately promised him that the chief would leave in March.

Morris denied any such promise. The Police Department needs day-to-day leadership, and the mayor would never guarantee Billdt's departure without a successor in place, Morris said.

"You don't lop off the chief's head because some officers are crying in their milk," he said.

Lawhead also questioned the chief's judgment on budget issues. As an example, he said the department had spent more than the city can afford on overtime.

The Los Angeles Police Department and Police Commission circulated an electronic version of a document that addressed the investigation of a number of officers for racial profiling, believing it was exactly the same as the hard copy.

As it turns out, it was not. It was a little bit different.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

"This was an unfortunate mistake," said Richard Tefank, executive director of the civilian oversight body. "The Police Commission will work with the Police department to insure that it does not happen again."

An electronic version of the report, which was disseminated to members of the news media in an e-mail and posted to the city's website, included the names of about 250 officers recently investigated by the LAPD's Internal Affairs Group over allegations that they used a person's race to justify a traffic or pedestrian stop.

The commission and department staff had reviewed an earlier paper copy of the report that did not contain the confidential information and assumed the electronic version would be the same, Tefank said.

An audit performed on Marlboro Police Department unveiled many problems.

(excerpt, News Transcript)

The report highlights inefficiencies, including a lack of strategic planning to address an excessive number of burglaries in the township. The report places a lot of the blame on Robert C. Holmes Sr., the former police chief who retired from his position at the end of 2008. The report states that "the chief's performance is disruptive to the dayto day operations of the police department."

Questions were raised concerning Holmes' performance in 2007 when Robert Kleinberg, who was Marlboro's mayor at the time, asked for Holmes' resignation and sought to place a director of public safety in the position to restore some of the leadership Kleinberg believed was missing from the department. Holmes refused the mayor's request to step down.

Mayor Jonathan Hornik said while he running for office against Kleinberg in 2007 it became clear through conversations that things in the police department were not as they should be.

Hornik said that after he won a four-year term as mayor and took office, he reached out to Gov. Jon Corzine on Jan. 2, 2008 to seek state assistance to perform the audit on the police department.

"I was not pleased with the report, I realize there is much work to be done to restructure the police department," Hornik said of his reaction upon receiving the state's final report.

The Denver Police Department's complaints are down overall but high-profile incidents of force have attracted wide-spread attention.

(excerpt, Rocky Mountain News)

Although it's easy to identify a handful of high-profile use-of-force incidents, determining whether that translates to widespread brutality is far more difficult. In fact, complaints of "unnecessary force" were down 13.6 percent in Denver last year.

Andrew Reid, a civil rights lawyer in Denver, said allegations of brutality are the result of failures in training and supervision and a culture that rewards police officers with medals of valor when they are involved in fatal shootings.

"They have, in my opinion, a number of felons on the police force. They know it, and they refuse to address it," he said.

Chief Gerry Whitman said it's important to remember that there are "a lot of details to these situations" that are not made public, either because of personnel issues or because of an active investigation.

"You have to take into consideration that we handle hundreds of thousands of calls and last year we made 72,000 arrests," he said. "We get very few complaints about how much force we use and about the conduct of the officers. That doesn't mean we don't take seriously the complaints that we do get, but by and large, the conduct of our officers is exemplary."

Denver officials say the system in place to deal with rogue officers is effective.

Isn't that the city where they came out with that lovely shirt proudly advocating excessive force or treating it like a joke? Yes, now if there were only an effective tool to deal with rogue systems.

Atlanta's police review board hasn't even really gotten started, but the battles wage on.

(excerpt, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

About a dozen citizens joined five city council members in blasting Mayor Shirley Franklin’s plan to reduce the group’s access to criminal investigation files.

“I cannot support something that will dilute (the board’s) power,” Atlanta City Council member H. Lamar Willis said. “There’s nothing to discuss.”

The City Council formed the review board in 2007 after the shooting death of Kathryn Johnston in a botched drug raid. The board’s purpose is to investigate complaints about the way Atlanta police and corrections officials handle citizen complaints.

Franklin’s administration has drafted a revision of the ordinance that created the review board. It would limit the panel’s access to pending criminal investigation files.

Some Salinas Police Department officers opened fire on a couple during a traffic stop for a broken tail light after believing that one of them had been shot. The article didn't explain why the officer thought that he'd been shot while approaching the car.

The 10 most ticketed vehicles

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