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, April 15, 2009

Election 2009 & CPRC: When money talks and then there's Adams

The morning after the song and dance that the Riverside City Council put on involving what to do about the investigative protocol of the Community Police Review Commission, I started reading or hearing from individuals who either watched the meeting last night or heard about it. And the responses were resoundingly negative against the decision that was made by the majority of the city council.

But boy, were people really happy with the leadership shown by Councilmen Mike Gardner and Andrew Melendrez who were deemed heroes of last night's staged puppet show. The biggest boos went to the councilman who made outrageous and very 11th hour comments about alleged misconduct by the CPRC's investigative firm which is the Baker Street Group. In his comments, Steve Adams made serious allegations for the first time against the CPRC's primary investigative firm claiming that it fabricated witness statements in one of the cases it investigated for the CPRC. Before his performance last night, Adams had been content with sitting in public meetings and merely insinuating that the CPRC's investigators were contaminating crime scenes and trampling yellow tape cordoning them off. During a Public Safety Committee meeting in early 2007, he even once tried to threaten the CPRC investigators with arrest on obstruction charges for doing this even though no investigator hired by the CPRC had ever been to the scene of an officer-involved death the day that it happened.

Police Chief Russ Leach sometimes either joined in Adams' diatribes or was simply put on display talking along the same lines regarding trampled yellow tape and contaminated evidence. He even pinned his fears on some statement that he alleged that former CPRC Chair Brian Pearcy made last year to the media. At a recent meeting, Pearcy and other commissioners said that a letter should be sent to Leach on that issue for among other things, clarification. But it's not clear under the CPRC's new leadership if that letter will ever be sent. You have to feel a bit sorry for Leach until you realize he pulls in quite a hefty paycheck to essentially be Hudson's latest public relations officer.

Then again, whenever Leach is asked about whether or not investigators have ever engaged in this activity, he has said no or shook his head. When reminded that he has made these statements to that effect in earlier meetings, he nods his head as he did at the city council meeting on April 14 from the audience. So does he disagree with what he's agreeing on? Maybe he's not well trained enough.

But at that same meeting, Adams went a little further with his allegations than is usual for him. While it's hardly unusual for him to call those whose eyewitness accounts of officer-involved shooting incidents differ from those presented by the police department liars and worse especially given that he said that he's had at least two onduty shootings during his career as a local police officer, his challenges of the CPRC's investigators were a bit off the beaten path even for him. But every time Adams opens his mouth about the CPRC out comes a gem which reinforces the argument of why the commission is needed and why it was placed in the city's charter over four years ago.

Now Adams apparently had essentially said that the investigators engaged in criminal conduct without providing any further information of how he had come to this conclusion. None of the other city council members nor Mayor Ron Loveridge either took him to task or asked him to elaborate on the allegations he had just made. Maybe that's because they've forgotten how to be assertive in their search for the truth. Maybe they just don't take what he says during meetings that seriously and view him as someone who just goes off on some tangent once in a while.

One councilman said that he was going to follow up on the issue and find out whether or not the investigative firm had actually engaged in misconduct. The investigative firm no doubt might have something to say about it as well especially if what Adams said turns out not to be true. If that's the case then it would seem that Adams violated the city's admittedly toothless ethics code.

Adams tried to tie up his comments in a bow with a reference to meeting with a "district attorney". Then Adams claimed that the Riverside Police Department reinvestigated the Lee Deante Brown shooting case (in response to Woodie Rucker-Hughes mention of that case in her comments) and determined that all the witnesses were liars. That was news to most of the people there. But what Adams didn't say was that the city apparently paid out six-figures to settle a lawsuit filed in the Brown case, you know the one with all the witnesses he branded liars. Does the city customarily pay out sizable sums of money during the first two years a lawsuit is litigated where the witnesses are branded liars? Everyone knows how well the city operates in terms of dragging lawsuits it deems are frivolous out for five years or longer (but of course, some of the high ticket settlements and verdicts arose from this group) by insisting that those making the allegations are pretty much liars too.

That's a good question about the city paying out on cases like Brown, but it's one that Adams is probably ill-equipped to answer. Although it might be interesting to watch him try.

The police department of course then forwarded this information about lying witnesses to the CPRC so it could include it in its public report on the Brown shooting. Except it didn't. The police department never told the CPRC it was reinvestigating the Brown case in terms of evaluating the veracity of witnesses, but the city manager's office did order the CPRC to suspend its discussion on the Brown case for several months in late 2006 through early 2007 because the department had discovered "new evidence" which turned out to involve a DNA test done on one of the officers' taser. So it was essentially forensics that delayed the case, according to the city manager's office which spoke for the department, not eyewitness statements.

So the police department doesn't tell the CPRC that it's reinvestigating the witnesses on the Brown case and has determined they're all liars. But it runs off and tells Adams, or was it the "district attorney" who told Adams this information? If that's the case, then it's just another symptom of what's wrong with this process and sign of further dysfunction in the interrelations between the CPRC, the police department and City Hall.

Adams just offered proof positive that there's really no need for witnesses of officer-involved deaths to come forward and be interviewed by the police department's officer-involved death team unless they can check off the boxes for the right skin color and economic class. If they can't, then they shouldn't put themselves through the ordeal of being questioned by a duo of investigators who seem to have had issues with not defending the officers' conduct in the Brown case in particular when interviewing several of the witnesses at the Welcome Inn of America, according to the transcripts of the interviews of these witnesses present in the Brown investigative casebook.

What Adams did was make it clear how important it is to have witness interviews conducted in a timely manner by the CPRC's investigators. If the police department's branding them as liars because their versions of events contradict those of the officers' then that goes back to the trust issues between the police department and the community it serves. If the police department is branding them as liars, then at least the CPRC provides them an opportunity to be interviewed in a way that puts them on equal footing with the statements of police officers. In the police department, it appears that this never happens if their version of events contradicts those given by police officers.

Just when you think there might be a day when civilian oversight mechanisms could be obsolete and then along comes someone like Adams, once again the winner of the Golden Tongue Award.
A blog posting on that whole saga surrounding the Brown case is probably necessary at this point and will be coming up.

Hopefully, the representatives of this investigative firm that Adams launched his accusations at will access recordings of the city council's discussion of the meeting to hear the allegations that Adams made against them.

Most people saw right through the arguments used particularly by Councilmen Frank Schiavone and Steve Adams, two of the strongest opponents on the dais who have taken their intense animosity towards the CPRC and remarketed it particularly during election years as somehow being the commission's greatest saviors. Or in Schiavone's case, its founder.

By the time, Riverside Police Officers' Association president Chris Lanzillo had told Mary Humboldt that he would pay Schiavone another $30,000 to his campaign, few people in attendance were surprised as many of them had gone into the meeting realizing that the only thing that mattered to at least two of the city councilmen was money, not the city residents.

And that was the overwhelming theme of the morning after's discussions and emails in that people believe it all comes down to honoring the rather considerable campaign contributions given out by the RPOA PAC rather than the will of the city residents including the majority of the citys' voters who passed Measure II in each and every voting precinct in every ward in this city in November 2004. The passage of this initiative which placed the CPRC in the city's charter was an indictment against the political interference against the CPRC done by the GASS quartet (the then majority of the city council who were opposed to the CPRC).

And the city council members still on the dais who oppose the CPRC got that message because both of them have blamed the voters' pique at this interference on former City Councilman Art Gage. But the fundamental difference between a Gage and a Schiavone or Adams is that at Gage is upfront in his intense dislike for the CPRC. He called it a "piece of trash" in public which was very controversial and not all that professional but that's different than treating it like a piece of junk or trash behind closed doors where the city residents aren't privy to the wheeling and dealing impacting this commission. The irony is that Gage actually comes out of the travesty that took place last night, looking a lot better than his colleagues who engage in behavior against the CPRC while making it appear in public as if they are its champions. And that's actually not all bad because it's proof positive that the CPRC really is a powerfully popular mechanism in this city and that these two individuals know that enough to keep their hatred towards it and all it represents under wraps while in public. Although Adams has a tough time doing even that, as evidenced by his conduct at last night's meeting.

Still, one of the CPRC's biggest proponents last night was Councilman Andrew Melendrez, who was endorsed by the RPOA's PAC according to his Web site, so it's probably a bit more nuanced than many people think in terms of how money translates to action. But we'll have to see whether or not Melendrez continues to be endorsed by that PAC in future campaign disclosure statements filed with the City Clerk's office or whether it decides thanks but no thanks. Still, questions are asked from all corners of the city about where and why now this political direction is coming from to change the investigative protocol of the CPRC including from some interesting corners and that's an interesting question which might have more of a complicated answer than many of us know or think. And is the community and the RPOA asking the same question?

It's probably one that requires considerably more probing and it will receive that attention.

In the meantime, what was the overall performance chart of those in attendance? Who was the most independent? Who put on the most theatrics? Who gave the best rendition of a puppet? In some of these categories, the competition was closer than in others.

City Council:

Councilman Mike Gardner: It shouldn't be surprising that the council member with CPRC experience is going to present the most intelligent and well-informed argument on the dais and that is exactly how it played out. He didn't just oppose the Schiavone platform motion, he came up with a much better and more thought out one. And the expressions on the faces of Adams and Schiavone spoke volumes that they were aware of the shift taking place on the dais away from business as usual. There were winners last night and guess what, it's not actually those individuals who pushed for or voted for the Schiavone platform.

Grade: A

Councilman Andrew Melendrez: Melendrez is probably one of the quietest elected officials on the dais but often asks the most probing questions. The problem has been his lack of follow through when it comes to taking that a step further and casting a thoughtful minority vote. In Chinatown, he didn't follow through. On the recent towing fee issue, he did. So it was a toss up to see what would happen with the CPRC and he took the independence stance and backed Gardner, in what was truly a much more pivotal move than it appeared.

Grade: A-

Rusty Bailey: People had high expectations for Bailey when he was elected and unless you're one of the developers who dropped money in his "grass-roots" campaign, he's not only not met them but he's flip-flopped on many issues including the CPRC. Anyone who believed he was his own man due to his West Point roots probably no longer believes he's anything but Schiavone's man. His participation on Governmental Affairs Committee is a "me too" man to whatever Adams and Schiavone are pushing. Excerpt for an intriguing side trip he took when considering whether the CPRC could initiate an investigation before it got the case book (and oh, the looks of horror on the dais that inspired), he performed pretty much to people's standards which when it comes to independent thinking are set pretty low.

Grade: C-

Frank Schiavone: Schiavone has put paid to any hope that anything he said about supporting the CPRC was actually true. His allegiance to the RPOA's PAC treasure chest is renown but his allegiance to himself is larger than that. Which allegiance won out on this issue and which one did he steer the S.S. Hudson to benefit? It's interesting watching the RPOA's allegiance to him because if he's controlling Hudson including Hudson's micromanagement of the police department, Schiavone's hurting the police more than he's helping them. Will they figure that out in time? Will they figure that out at all? Some members of the Riverside Police Adminstrators' Association might have figured that out already.

Schiavone looked more crestfallen once Gardner and Melendrez did their thing which he clearly didn't see coming. Was he sitting back not establishing eye contact with the audience most of the time because he's worried about the election? We won't know for nearly two months.

Grade: D-

Chris MacArthur: Actually this grade should be given to his legislative aide because it's becoming clear who runs his show. Was MacArthur completely silent on the CPRC issue because he was being strategically cautious or because he just doesn't know enough about the CPRC to even comment on it? His legislative aide clearly despises the CPRC yet MacArthur claims to support it. Which is the truth? At this juncture, it doesn't look like it's being told by MacArthur.

Grade: C-

Nancy Hart: She grimaced as a line of her former supporters expressed their disappointment in her for essentially selling out the CPRC for political endorsements from the dais she really doesn't need. Although those who support the CPRC were duly warned when she signed on the op-ed piece written by Schiavone and Adams last summer. Hart didn't say anything either until she voted and it was more about her political allegiences than her views on the issue. And when questioned about her flip-flop, she got pretty testy.

Grade: D+

Steve Adams: Adams has never liked the CPRC and you can't help but laugh every time he claims otherwise. He livened up the evening and stoked up the fury of some people in the audience by his 11th hour and very theatrical accusations against the CPRC's investigative firm and essentially calling everyone who disagrees with the police's version of events a liar. But who's the liar? Those community residents who just got denigrated by Adams didn't pay out the six figure settlement on a lawsuit filed in relation to the Lee Deante Brown shooting nor did they make any decision on whether to do so. The city council did.

Grade: F

Mayor Ron Loveridge: It's hard to give a grade to someone who slept through the class, possibly retreating into a dream world where he's elected mayor for life and the president of the National League of Cities for even longer. Definitely not the force on the dais that he used to be, though a spark of that did come through when he spanked Schiavone for trying to parade AMR director of services and CPRC vice-chair Peter Hubbard in front of the city council.

Grade: D

Police Chief Russ Leach: Surrounded by his management team and his adjutant, Leach mostly just got up as he has at other public meetings to give his alarmist speech about trampled crime scenes and contaminated evidence then sat down and nodded his head in agreement with several speakers challenging his own version of events. Occasionally underneath the puppet exterior, you can see the old Leach come through. It's too bad he doesn't seem to exist any longer. There's no room for an independent strong police chief on the deck of the S.S. Hudson.

Grade: B+ (for ability to take direction)

Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis: He spends most of his time smirking and laughing priding in his role as the puppeteer during meetings like this one. But he's a puppet himself and what can you say about someone who was originally hired to run interference for his boss, who in short time needed his boss to run interference for him?

Grade: C (only because his attempt at mimicry wasn't exactly original)

CPRC Manager Kevin Rogan: He definitely filled his role as the highest paid, most rarely seen director/manager in the CPRC's short history. But if you evaluate him by his job description, how well does he stack up? Zero public outreach, an annual report that's now biennial, complaints that are over a year old, officer-involved deaths which are two years old and now a commission that hasn't met since early March. Put this together and it means he'll probably get a perfect performance evaluation from Hudson and DeSantis because it's likely that's exactly what they want in a manager. Either that or the city's paying way too much money for a city manager and assistant city manager who are mediocre performers outside of their narrow range of abilities.

Grade: C- (for originality) A- (for ability to take direction)

Vice-Chair Peter Hubbard: The oft-absent vice-chair subbing in for the even-more-frequently-absent chair never lets you forget who he's working for. Oh wait, who his boss is working for, the city manager's office through the public safety contract that AMR has with the city. He did a nice job putting it out there how much contempt he has for anyone who's shot by a police officer. Yes, he does take that built-in-bias into his discussions on officer-involved deaths.

Grade: D

City Attorney Gregory Priamos: It's hard to grade him as he wasn't there during part of this discussion item.

Grade: IC

Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
While the sergeants played a marching tune.
We all got up to dance,
Oh, but we never got the chance!
`cause the players tried to take the field;
The marching band refused to yield.
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?

----Don McLean, "American Pie"

Greyhound will stay put in the downtown terminal for now. Keep an eye on this one, so as not to see a flip-flip after the election. Kind of like the situation involving the electric rates several years ago.

A Riverside County Superior Court judge who had been censured has promised to never be a judge again.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

"Judge Sheldon has demonstrated a flagrant disregard for his obligations to his fellow judges, the public and the reputation of the judiciary," the commission said in announcing Sheldon's censure.

Sheldon will take accrued vacation until Oct. 23, his effective resignation date, a commission spokeswoman said. State judges usually receive six weeks paid vacation a year, and some courts in the past have permitted jurists to accrue vacation days from one year to the next, the spokeswoman said.

Former Gov. George Deukmejian appointed Sheldon to Municipal Court in 1989 and former Gov. Pete Wilson elevated him to Superior Court.

Wednesday's action was the not the first time Sheldon was disciplined. In 1998, the commission publicly admonished Sheldon for frequent absences from the bench and for allowing employees under him to take care of his duties.

At times, Sheldon would leave his courtroom to "jog on a courthouse staircase" while his clerks entered pleas, executed sentencing documents and stamped his signature on forms, the commission said.

That action led to Sheldon being dubbed "the jogging judge," though he and attorneys who appeared in his courtroom defended his absences.

Also in Riverside County Superior Court, a judge ordered Bio-Tox to hand over a list of cases handled by a lab tech who admitted committing perjury out of state. Thousands of cases in Riverside County were impacted by this episode.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

In an Indio courtroom, Judge Jorge C. Hernandez ordered Riverside-based Bio-Tox Laboratories to turn over a list of criminal defendants and cases whose evidence was handled by the lab analyst, Aaron Layton, 30.

Layton was fired from the lab in February after Riverside County prosecutors found records of a 2003 polygraph test in which Layton admitted he had improperly conducted similar work at a lab in Colorado, and lied about it "hundreds of times."
Story continues below

During Wednesday's hearing, the judge also ordered Bio-Tox to turn over a list of which of Layton's cases have been retested, as well as Layton's personnel employment file and the schedule of other lab technicians at the office.

Everything must be submitted by April 30.

At both the Colorado and California forensics labs, Layton tested blood and urine samples for law enforcement agencies. According to the polygraph records, which have been submitted into evidence in Riverside County Superior Court, Layton never conducted confirmation tests on samples while working in Colorado in 2001 and 2002, but he forged documents and lied in court to make it appear he had.

"The argument is that after all the lying, forgery and perjury, those issues put everything Aaron Layton touched into question," Hernandez said in court Wednesday.

The third time wasn't the charm for the Press Enterprise which again tried to get a judge in San Bernardino County to unseal the warrants in the investigation of the former county assessor.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Douglas Elwell said he could not release the information without damaging the investigation or endangering lives of those involved.

Elwell cited the same reasons when he rebuffed the newspaper Jan. 30 and Feb. 17. On each occasion, he provided no details.

"The way the information is couched, I cannot come up with a way to (remove it) without calling into the question the safety of the source or sources," he said.

Elwell sealed 10 search warrants Jan. 14, the day before investigators unexpectedly found methamphetamine inside Postmus' Rancho Cucamonga apartment while searching for information relating to his political activities.

Postmus has not been charged.

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