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, March 11, 2009

CPRC: Election by Teleconference

"The accomplice to the crime of corruption is frequently our own indifference."

---Bess Myerson

“...each candidate behaved well in the hope of being judged worthy of election. However, this system was disastrous when the city had become corrupt. For then it was not the most virtuous but the most powerful who stood for election, and the weak, even if virtuous, were too frightened to run for office.”

---Niccilo Machiavelle

"Corruption is authority plus monopoly minus transparency.”


"If you have to be in a soap opera try not to get the worst role.”

---Judy Garland

"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that."

---The Red Queen (Lewis Carroll)

What: CPRC "Special Meeting"

When: 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Where: River City Hall, Fifth Floor Conference Room

The Community Police Review Commission held its elections for its chair and vice-chair positions at its first March meeting as required. It wasn't quite the train wreck that took place in 2007 or the somewhat smoother process that happened last year. It was something different altogether, something which seemed a bit preplanned... But given the antics which have taken place involving the CPRC during the past year, the results of the election weren't surprising nor was that pervasive sense that it was done by rote.

It's not so much who won and who lost, or who ran and who bailed out, but the process all of the characters of this ongoing story took to get there. And it wasn't until discussing the election and its aftermath with several commissioners after the latest installment,that it become more clear that the commission's has lost most of what made it effective and has become more deeply meshed in the talons of micromanagement by City Hall than anyone could have guessed. What was surprising is that the commissioners who seem the most aware of it aren't the ones you would actually expect. And yet they play along with it even as they grumble about it.

Several do speak out about what's going on but the ones who often have the most to say about what's wrong are the ones who silently and publicly engage in what's wrong as if they are agreeable with it. This dynamic mirrors a certain city department and a certain community. And these two entities are more similar than either knows or cares to admit and if present matches prologue, they might both experience the same fates as their predecessors because history is a patient teacher. When LEPAC essentially disintegrated under micromanagement by City Hall and the police department in the 1990s, the consequences soon became pretty clear. And so might be the case with the CPRC and the newly reformed police department, which is stuck with some of the same issues it faced in the financially lean years of that earlier decade that ended the 20th Century not to mention the revisiting of some old ghosts.

Some of the problems with the police department during the 1990s that wound up defining that decade included the following:

1) The reduction of the staffing of the police department including the supervisory level for budget reasons which among other things, impacted community policing implementation. Also cuts in training programs.

2) Complaints taking a lengthy time to investigate if they were investigated at all. Despite this, the department claimed a sustain rate of about 5% when it provided any figure at all. Internal Affairs was in very close quarters with another police divisions at the Orange Street Station.

3) The hiring of officers who were had relatives who worked for the city including the department or were related to political officials without properly conducting background checks, psychological evaluations or drug testing and cutting corners instead. One of these officers, Adam Brown, was later arrested and prosecuted for multiple cases of child molestation in two jurisdictions. The hiring of questionable laterals without proper screening.

4) The sexual discrimination, harassment and retaliation of female officers and civilian employees and the creation of a hostile working environment for women including showing pornographic movies in roll call sessions and having new officers go to female employees for oral sex in the parking lot. Female employees getting fired or retaliated for filing grievances or lawsuits. Female officers being told they had to perform sexual favors to keep their jobs as claimed in lawsuits filed against the city. One officer, Christine Keers, claimed she was first sexually harassed by a supervisor while on probation and raised the allegations listed above. Two of those alleged to have retaliated against her, Al Brown and Ron Adams, received retirements from the city. Incidentally, Ron (brother of city councilman, Steve) still works for the city part-time in its red light camera program.

5) Racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation, which led to grievances and lawsuits mirroring those filed in other city departments. Hostile work environment including racial comments and jokes. Black officers told they had to get along with others and not complain.

6) Increased filing of civil litigation and payouts either in settlements or trial verdicts in employee racial and sexual discrimination cases, wrongful death cases and excessive force/rape under the color of authority cases. Problems with the city maintaining an insurance carrier, having to be "self-insured".

7) Revolving door of police chiefs with three chiefs serving the department during the 1990s and increased litigation filed by the Riverside Police Officers' Association and/or the Riverside Police Administrators' Association.

8) The weakening of LEPAC over the decade.

These were some of the serious problems alleged to be faced by the Riverside Police Department that were detailed in civil litigation filed against the department through its indemnity with the city. Several of them were also identified by federal and state investigators who came in to do pattern and practice probes after the fatal shooting of Tyisha Miller in 1998.

Many of them were remedied by the reforms imposed by the State Attorney General's Office from 2001 to 2006 and hopefully these problems are gone for good and don't return. But given the insulated environment from an increasingly less transparent police department, it's difficult for the public to know for sure. After all the police department has refused for several years to release to the public a traffic pretext study that the city's residents have paid with their tax dollars. Was it because it didn't like the numbers or the analysis?

Some others listed clearly are no longer trends including the revolving door for police chiefs given that the current one has been in his position since autumn 2000 and his current contract doesn't expire until late 2013.

Some like the department's staffing levels in both the civilian and sworn divisions and including at the supervisory level became enough of a concern that in June 2008, a consultant hired (and summarily brushed off) by the city warned the city to immediately examine that issue because if unchecked, it had the potential to jeopardize the department's continuing reform process. But it quickly became a numbers game with different figures cited by different parties and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis claiming that the department was "fully staffed".

Others, like what kind of environment the department creates and maintains for men of color and women in all of its divisions including that overseeing its volunteers are less apparent to the public. And unfortunately, most often if there are serious issues in these areas, they're not known until the filing of a major class-action lawsuit in the millions of dollars alleging serious problems with race and/or gender in a police agency. Riverside's own department learned that with the filing of lawsuits by Keers and male officers of color, former Officer Rene Rodriguez and Roger Sutton. All three were either settled or decided at trial and all involved the transfer of significant funds from the city to the involved plaintiff. The settlement in the Keers case which the city didn't spend much money litigating was in the generous six-figured range while a trial jury awarded Sutton $1.64 million in 2005 for allegations of misconduct that allegedly continued through 2004.

The firing of a newly hired female officer (who had filed a complaint of sexual harassment in the academy) on her first day of field training in the summer of 2005 was not a promising sign. Nor was the city's decision to settle that case very quietly within two months of being served. It makes you want to ask what were they afraid of given that most labor-related lawsuits are dragged out and litigated by the city for years before settling or being decided at trial. Sutton's case took over five years to reach resolution and the Black employees who sued over a hostile environment in the corporate yard waited nearly eight years.

Not too long ago, the Human Resources Board tried to get the city to provide statistical information on both grievances and lawsuits filed against the city by its own employees including those in the police department. Interestingly enough, the complaint and grievance (according to MOU) statistics were readily delivered by City Hall. Not so with the same information pertaining to lawsuits. In fact, Human Resources Director Rhonda Strout told the board that this information (which even at the specific case level, is public record) was outside the purview of the board to receive. That's about the time that the board found out that its power to investigate as provided by the municipal ordinance which governs it was essentially erased by the city council in 2006. Or so the city council (and city manager's office) might have believed. The Human Resources Board's members aren't nearly as politicized as those on the CPRC and there's not a puppet in the lot so they're pushing back against the city including the city council.

At least one city employee said that the reason why the city doesn't want to release this information or allow its release is because, "there's a lot of lawsuits."

But it remains to be seen whether the police department will stay its course even as the form of civilian oversight suffers the same fate as LEPAC. But what's interesting about the relationship between the police department and the CPRC are these portraits pointed in assorted meetings by those who claim they have been supportive of it.

Last week, Chief Russ Leach stood before the audience at a community/police forum in Orangecrest saying that his relationship with the CPRC had initially been strong then had deteriorated. But former (and now current) Riverside County Superior Court judge, Dallas Holmes might laugh ruefully at that, considering some statements he made at a crucial motion hearing in the lawsuit, Ryan Wilson v the City of Riverside. He had read a deposition submitted by Wilson's attorney that had been done with Leach where Leach didn't appear to be all that favorable towards civilian review and at one point, said he would join in with "my police association" to get rid of one member, Sheri Corral for comments she had made three years earlier during review of Wilson's fatal shooting of Summer Marie Lane which came to a head in late 2005. Interestingly enough, not long after Corral got wind that Leach had made these comments, she began her 180 degree shift in her stance on the commission that has many people shaking their heads today.

But anyway, Holmes had shaken his head at the attorneys for both sides and said, Leach sounded like a police chief and he had yet to meet one of those who supported civilian review. And Holmes certainly had a point there. No police chief really does because most of them don't want outsiders overseeing their departments.

But even past the chief, it's interesting to observe perceptions being shaped and being expressed though not necessarily in public.

I had a conversation with an individual who had been on the receiving end of gossip going around about what happens to the CPRC meeting and by the time it reached this individual, it was like the game of "Telephone", you know the one that kids play where a message is passed along from one party to the next and as such, loses its form and then its content as it moves along. Well grownups in the city play telephone too, and on this particular occasion, the individual had heard some information coming out about a CPRC meeting (from someone who probably attended) some time ago that was quite detailed yet quite slanted in a way against the commission. This individual could have participated in the Telephone game but chose not to, and instead merely asked what had actually happened. And then this individual took the initiative to go back to try to find out the truth for him/her self and is to be given a great deal of credit for doing so, because that's a much better alternative than playing Telephone. It's that type of independence and initiative that provides some hope that the culture in the department might be changing. The unwillingness to buy into Telephone, to be part of what one hopes is a crowd decreasing in size and to question a Telephone "call".

This election carried with it a first, the first appearance and first vote cast through teleconference in the entire eight year history of the commission. Never before had a vote been cast by a commissioner who wasn't in attendance and allowed to be counted. It's not clear that other boards and commissions were afforded that same courtesy. The Human Resources Board had its elections recently and none were cast through teleconference. They either all attended to vote or forfeited that chance.

That action as one commissioner said later, was the first sure sign that the election had been rigged by City Hall because such a courtesy had never been afforded absent commissioners in the past when they were unable to attend commission meetings where elections take place. All the cards fell into place right after that and as some of them said, the writing was on the wall.

Another commissioner said, "Once they made the telecommunications call to Santore, I knew this election was set up, a done deal. They knew without Santore there, it would be a 4-4 result, which wasn't what they wanted."

One said that Hubbard himself had given it away when he made his pre-election speech by saying that he agreed pretty much with everything Commissioner Sheri Corral would say so that's when it became clear what the results would be and that everybody knew it. Remember Hubbard? He's the one with ties to a company that has a public safety contract with the city.

With all that drama, the vice-chair contest was up at bat first, with the chair competition on deck.

The first announcement was that Commissioner Jim Ward had withdrawn his name from consideration. When asked why, he just shook his head and said it was a long story. The next, was that Commissioner John Brandriff had jumped ship from the chair race to run for vice-chair.

Hubbard didn't really give a pre-election speech. He said that he and Commissioner Sheri Corral had spoken previously and were coming from the same place. It appeared at first as if they were running tandem and if so, surely City Attorney Gregory Priamos would jump in and tell them that wasn't allowed. After all, when the Human Resources Board had held its election earlier this month, Priamos had issued an admonition through the board chair that the officers had to run separately. He didn't in the case of the CPRC but Corral and Hubbard did wind up running for their respective offices separately.

Originally, Brandriff was going to run for chair but he dropped out and instead ran for vice-chair. During his speech, he mostly endorsed Corral as the more seasoned contestant in this game show.

The decision was strategic, because it was widely known that Corral had enough votes to win the chair position but since her attendance record is the poorest among the commissioners, that has thrust more importance on the vice-chair position. Brandriff and his supporters clearly thought if he won this position, then he would be chairing more meetings than she would. But unfortunately for this political strategy, they clearly underestimated the ability for some to do as one commissioner said afterward, rig the election.

But Hubbard, who went on to win the vice-chair contest, also has a relatively poor attendance record in the past. So it's not clear who will chair the meetings when he and Corral are both absent which has happened on several occasions. Maybe they should create a vice-vice chair position and reconvene elections to fill it.

Here are how the votes broke down. No real surprises if you've been following this sudser since it underwent a change in direction several years ago.

Vice Chair:

Hubbard: (votes tallied)

Ken Rotkers

Art Santore (via teleconference from Florida)

Sheri Corral

Peter Hubbard

Brandriff: (votes tallied)

Chani Beeman

John Brandriff

Jim Ward

Brian Pearcy

Robert Slawsby

After the dust settled from that contest, the chair race took place and given that Brandriff had withdrawn his nomination for what he hoped were easier and greener pastures, Corral ran unopposed despite Commissioner Chani Beeman's attempts to put two nominations on the floor. First she nominated Brandriff who declined, then she nominated Ward who also declined.

Corral collected the most votes, 7 with both Ward and Beeman submitting "no votes" in protest. Brandriff rolled over and didn't join them but went with the majority.

As one commissioner said later, these election results had been foreseen and the city had set all its ducks in a row to achieve the results that it wanted, including through the appointment of new commissioner, Robert Slawsby, its Ward Four representative. Even though he's only attended several meetings he's clearly made some kind of impression on some of his fellow commissioners and one commissioner sighed, saying that it's clear someone explained the procedure to him early on.

The first meeting chaired by Corral resulted in the quick death of public comments at "special" meetings. Even though previous chair, Pearcy had allowed public comment on nonagendized items, the "public comment" item was actually missing from the meeting's agenda for its 5:30 p.m. session. Which was rather odd considering at the time that the agenda was created, Pearcy still served as commission chair and he had usually allowed it whereas Corral clearly showed that she opposed it. So why was it deleted this time around, Beeman asked during the meeting.

CPRC Manager Kevin Rogan used a statement that he's used before, claiming it was "an oversight". That and $3.00 might still get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks, the ones that haven't yet closed down yet anyway. City Attorney Gregory Priamos said that the placement of public comment on nonagendized items for "special" meetings was optional under the Brown Act.

After public comment was quashed, the members of the commission resumed discussion on the drafting of the Joseph Darnell Hill public pamphlet.

It's official. The city council has voted to approve a plan which will demolish the downtown library and eventually rebuild it as soon as the city can afford it. However, city residents might have to through property taxes pay up to $50 million of the costs if a ballot initiative passes. A difficult sell during the worst recession in recent memory.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The biggest decision for the council was whether to expand the 60,000-square-foot Main Library or demolish it and build a 100,000-square-foot facility that blends in better with the surrounding historic buildings.

Gardner said the library doesn't even have windows, except in the basement and at the entrance.

"I think we end up with a far better building if we start over," he said.

Among the groups supporting the Hudson proposal were the Committee to Renew the Library and the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce.

Gardner and Councilwoman Nancy Hart said a ballot measure could win voter approval provided the economy turns around.

"All you have to do is prove to the people that their money is going to be well spent," Hart said.

Residents will have many more opportunities to be involved in the library design process, Hudson said. The council vote authorized up to $50,000 for library architects to come up with several designs for consideration.

A former Riverside code enforcement officer has been charged with taking bribes to overlook code violations.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Prosecutors believe the trio is responsible for scamming at least seven property owners who were being investigated for code and building violations.

A district attorney's statement said Hernandez would contact property owners with repeat violations and refer them to his daughter and her boyfriend for property work.

District attorney officials said repairs were rarely completed and the property owners were still charged for the work. The trio is accused of taking more than $13,000 during the period of less than a year that Hernandez worked for the city.

Riverside Assistant City Manager Tom DeSantis said the city notified Riverside police when they became aware of the accusations. He said there have been no further instances of impropriety since the investigation began.

All three defendants are scheduled to be arraigned Friday in Superior Court in Riverside. District attorney's officials are asking that any additional potential victims call 951-955-5430.

Adolfo Hernandez faces up to 12 years and eight months in prison if convicted. The other two defendants face up to seven years in prison.

If you too have been scammed by Hernandez (or any other code enforcement officer), there's a number included in the above excerpt that you can call and report it.

The debate continues among fourth ward candidates in San Bernardino.

Another hefty lawsuit filed against the Oakland Police Department.

(excerpt, Oakland Tribune)

Amaro's mother, Geraldine Montoya, 62, and his sister, Stephanie Montoya, 23, of San Leandro, said Amaro went to a medical clinic on three occasions over the next month, but died April 21 of pneumonia caused by fractured ribs and a collapsed lung, according to a coroner's report.

The lawsuit follows revelations last month that the FBI is conducting an investigation of the incident, including the role played by then-Lt. Edward Poulson, who was later promoted to captain and became head of the department's Internal Affairs Division in 2008. Poulson was placed on paid leave Jan. 22.

Attorneys John Burris and Jim Chanin said Amaro was the victim of excessive police force, but also said that a number of officers conspired to cover up the facts surrounding his death, and to conceal information from Amaro's family and the public.

"The one group that did not know, who had the most vested interest, was the family," Burris said. "No one ever said to the family that, 'We now believe that officers wrongfully killed your son, your brother, and have not come forward.'

Amaro, then 35, was arrested on suspicion of attempting to purchase drugs from an undercover police officer March 23, 2000. Poulson used excessive force during the arrest, including kicking Amaro in the rib cage while Amaro was on the ground, the lawsuit says.

Amaro suffered five broken ribs and a lacerated lung, among other injuries, the lawsuit says. He was not provided medical treatment and instead was taken to jail after his arrest, the lawsuit says.

"There's nothing in the world that can bring my son back," Geraldine Montoya said. "Nothing. Nothing can ever bring him back. "... Why should we have this in Oakland? Why should we have this cover-up?"

A detective in Madera County was arrested for spousal rape.

In Jacksonville, there's skepticism by a police review board in relation to an officer's account of an onduty shooting.


The Response to Resistance review board recommended that Sheriff John Rutherford send the case of Detective Marva Watkins to internal affairs for further investigation. Rutherford has the final say on any discipline.

The board voted the situation may not have escalated to the point where she could legally use deadly force. The board found inconsistencies between Watkins’ written statement after the shooting and what she told the panel of five high-ranking officers Wednesday morning and “I still don’t know why you shot at him,” Lt. Russ Nader told Watkins in the hearing.

Watkins, who works in the department’s fugitive unit, had been briefed about Jacksonville detectives and the U.S. Marshal’s Office looking for Michael Christopher Jones. Jones had a warrant auto burglary, but police wanted to talk to him in connection with some shootings and a possible murder.

Watkins, who was off-duty at the time, ended up following a tip to try to talk to Watkins at the LaVilla Sportsman Club. Watkins did not tell any on-duty supervisors or officers what she was going to do, according to her testimony at the hearing.

Another police chief, this time in North Carolina, who is uncomfortable with civilian oversight of his department. You see it's not just Riverside.

(excerpt, The Herald-Sun)

The Chapel Hill Town Council decided Monday to ask the N.C. General Assembly for enabling legislation that would make it possible for the town to create a citizen committee empowered to investigate complaints against the Police Department. Curran said his department is taking the community discussion that has resulted as an opportunity to review existing internal affairs review procedures.

He's concerned that under the civilian review process, officers' fears of being second-guessed by the public would lead them to "fail to act or hesitate when they should."

"My feeling is that a citizen review board tends to be a community response when you have a Police Department that is showing some systemic problems," Curran said. "We don't feel that we're in that boat. We're not perfect, but we feel like we have a Police Department that is pretty responsive to the community."

For those interested in accessing a copy of the proposal for the police auditor submitted to Fresno's city council, you can get a copy of it here.

For a brief time, the man who shot and killed eight people and himself was employed as a police officerz.

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