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

Monday, May 18, 2009

Labor conflicts and the demise of investigative reporting at the PE?

****UPDATE**** Former Moreno Valley Police Department officer, David Kushner convicted of two felonies and acquitted of 16 others.

The Riverside Wi Fi system was repaired by early Monday morning after having a structural issue which led to the internet outages impacting at least 24 access points in several neighborhoods including the downtown. The outages which began at 3:39 p.m. on Sunday led to numerous SOS emails being sent by the troubled routers which were installed on the city's light posts to command central, according to Riverside's 311 Center.

Portions of Canyon Crest had an unrelated outage later Monday after one of the access points in the neighborhood experienced some problems which had plagued it earlier. It was up and running again in less than two hours.

The Riverside City Council is holding another meeting. The agenda includes two discussion items including this resolution that the city will face severe financial hardship if the state takes anymore of its property tax revenue away. Also being presented is an oral report on the Riverside Police Department's "family justice center programs" which is located in downtown Riverside. Then there's a bunch of consent calendar items, some with sizable price tags and the closed session items which includes the discussion over the lawsuit filed against the city of Los Angeles over the port authority.

City Council meetings at this point in the election cycle tend to be chock filled with items including lots of "file and receive" reports which help benefit the status of the incumbents including those running for reelection and city residents have noticed that in the past several weeks. Still, with May winding down and June 2 almost upon the city, within a month, the winners of all three city council contests will probably be tabulated and announced. It's more than likely that the first round of Election 2009: The City Council will be its final round given that there doesn't appear to be candidates in two of the wards who are strong enough to pull enough votes away from incumbents Andrew Melendrez and Nancy Hart to require runoffs in November. Still, you never really can predict what will happen. Usually one might speculate based on past history that Ward Two candidate, Rubin Rasso would at least force a runoff in November but that was a Rasso who ran a more aggressive campaign with a much bigger warchest (courtesy of the law enforcement associations) than the shoe string budget he's utilizing now. That goes to show how much confidence Melendrez has garnered from some of Rasso's former die-hard supporters even though some labor associations like the Riverside Police Officers' Association didn't really give him very much money at all at least according to the most recently released campaign donation disclosure statements.

In Ward Four, both sides remain confident that their candidate is going to be the victor and that race will be decided unless it's very close and becomes controversial in the sense that the Ward One council race involving former Councilman Dom Betro and then-challenger Mike Gardner did two years ago in its final round. Schiavone received the endorsements from the Riverside Firefighters Association (which traditionally endorses incumbents), the Riverside Police Officers' Association and the Riverside Police Administrators' Association.

A hot potato called Bradley Estates

In the meantime, this site has researched a very interesting article about the issues surrounding the development of Bradley Estates which was allegedly owned by Schiavone and the twisty trail that it took through various channels of city government to wind up costing tax payers over $100,000 in non-city related legal expenses. It doesn't paint a very flattering picture of the actions of either Schiavone or City Attorney Gregory Priamos. More importantly what it does raise is many questions about exactly what happened and there needs to be a serious attempt to get to the bottom of the situation and let the public know how much if any tax payer money was misspent.

One local newspaper put a lot of work into finding out what, when and why, only to apparently run into the brick wall that shoots in your path anytime you are writing about people in positions of political power in a way that might not cast them in a good light. They started working on this story a while ago and two weeks ago, it was allegedly scheduled to be published as several articles. Then not long after that, whether or not it would be published at all became more in doubt.

The Press Enterprise had apparently been doing its investigative story on this situation very enthusiastically, certainly in the beginning and had assigned two reporters to work on it. That story was completed by these two journalists and then underwent the vetting that all news stories usually go through and then some extra vetting which was to be expected. One of the reporters allegedly went from knowing when it would be published to not having a clue, all within the scope of about a week. So what happened in the meantime? What happened somewhere in the chain of command at the city's only daily newspaper?

However, unlike other news stories that examine other questionable land deals outside of Riverside, this story was most likely killed or at the very least stalled at some level. Rather than appearing in the newspaper to outline what exactly did take place during the episode involving the Bradley Estates project, it's disappeared or gone into some sort of purgatory reserved for stories that are too "hot" for mainstream publications to print.

And that's a shame because the report raises some issues that need to be addressed by all parties involved in a public forum especially if tax payer money was involved and it seems that now, that won't take place. And by investing a lot of time, energy and no doubt money into an extensive investigative story, the Press Enterprise is contributing to the environment of question raising being done as the Bradley Estates brief gets put into larger circulation. Should the issues included in the Bradley Estates brief be raising any questions? Is the newspaper's unwillingness to publish its investigative series about the Bradley Estates situation contributing to this sentiment or alleviating it?

The alleged series of articles' initial release date was to have been several weeks ago, then it became unspecified as to when they would be released. It will be very surprising if these articles in any form appear in the newspaper at least before June. You won't see any version that casts Schiavone in a negative light in this situation but apparently you won't see one that paints him in a positive light either because if that were the case, it would have been published by now. And that's what's most troubling at all, is that the newspaper had completed its story and hasn't published any version of it so that readers can learn what the fuss is all about. So why is the newspaper holding back on a completed investigative story? Is it because the news is bad? Would it do the same if all the investigating and researching of the Bradley Estates affair placed Schiavone in a more positive light?

The actions of the Press Enterprise just appear to be that they are preventing some form of exposure of a candidate that its Editorial Board recently endorsed for reelection which is bad if something inappropriate did happen with that land development deal and also bad if nothing inappropriate happened with that land development deal because they've left a lot of questions unanswered. Well, maybe the newspaper knows what the answers are but it's keeping them to themselves or sweeping them beneath the rug.

Sources say that this apparently stalling of the release of the completed story begun at the news editor's level. But even if it made it that past this person, it probably would have been halted by a higher editor, the publisher, perhaps even the very influential Editorial Board which if you recall, had endorsed all the incumbents including Schiavone during this election race.

How influential are members of this Board?

A story circulated once that a reporter was sent out to cover a story in Riverside about residents of an up-scaled neighborhood who were supposedly up in arms about one of their neighbors who instead of a mansion owned a trailer on his property. The reporter went to interview these residents as all reporters do to find out if they were upset about the trailer in their midst and if so, why? Well, to make a long story short it turned out that the only resident who was upset about the trailer in the entire neighborhood was the next door neighbor. And who was that peeved off neighbor? A member of the newspaper's Editorial Board who forwarded a "story" to the news division's editor without mentioning their own conflict of interest situation in that same story. That's a marriage between news and editorial divisions that in most professional dailies would never have been allowed to take place but apparently it did with the Press Enterprise at least once. And the Press Enterprise might be involved in more than one "marriage" as it struggles to survive in an economic environment brutal to daily print journalism.

At any rate, the above link features all the information including links to public documents used to research what it called a serious case of conflict of interest and chock with legal issues. It's an interesting read and it makes you think about a lot of things but one of them should be that the only place you could read about it wasn't in a daily newspaper or even a weekly one but through an alternative media outlet.

The Press Enterprise should have done its job, done a thorough investigative reporting job (which apparently David Danelski and Doug Haberman did) and had allowed the readers to decide what to make of the situation instead of burying it in the newspaper's own version of a morgue. Instead from Editor Cathy Armstrong and the newspaper's leadership on up, the message had been sent that the article won't be running any time soon, probably not even this month.

The people lower on that food chain at the publication are just the messengers simply relaying and carrying out the orders of what they've been told by the more powerful players in the Press Enterprise. But it's a shame that the Press Enterprise instead of being an objective, investigative, news-gathering publication now appears to occupy its own position on the city council dais. This newspaper's personnel had always claimed they weren't afraid of a story. Well, let's just say this apparently wasn't the first time.

The "Fourth Estate" indeed! Not that the Press Enterprise hasn't had its moments when it carried out that tradition in grand fashion. Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the freedom of the press inside court proceedings trace back to this newspaper.

When it was family-owned, rather than Belo-branded, it had its stumbles but in the past year, the Press Enterprise has either laid off, bought off or chased off most of its experienced reporters and photographers, not to mention editors. Its pages are filled with tales about how effective Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco has been at causing massive resignations in his office among his more experienced employees but he's still a distant second to the Press Enterprise in that area.

Whereas prospective reporters once needed at least five years in the profession on their resumes to get an interview, let alone a job with the publication, now the newspaper focuses on hiring journalists fresh out of college programs. At least one veteran former reporter from the Press Enterprise said this might cause problems when they're assigned to city government beats, because the new hires are more naive and trusting of what people in the halls of power like elected officials might say and it takes a couple times of realizing that they've been lied to for it to sink in and they realize that not everything about of the mouths of politicians is the Gospel truth. They become more jaded but that is a trait really needed to sink your teeth into covering a City Hall beat. Politicians don't always tell the truth is the first lesson many journalists covering city and county beats learn fairly early on but it can truly test one's faith in the government that they both live under and also write about.

That's what makes readers like me nervous when we see reporters slapping politicians on the back and we see people endorse political candidates essentially because they're nice to them and give them the time of day or maybe they pay them money through advertising to do so. But it's hard to be critical of a political candidate, incumbent or otherwise, when you've taken money from them for advertising or your Editorial Board has just given them a resounding endorsement.

The Press Enterprise should have trusted the readers enough to decide what to think of an investigative story instead of sending out the message that what must have been that story might have cast Schiavone in a negative light during his reelection bid because the truth is, if the story had put him in a positive light, it would have been released the same day as the Editorial Board endorsed him and as of yet, no such article has been published either. So if there's no article stating that what happened with the Bradley Estates situation was a-okay (and maybe that's the case after all), what does that mean exactly again if the investigative story in question has been completed?

But at any rate, the newspaper has a history of writing hard-hitting stories about any place on its beat but Riverside, which is its headquarters. And it's becoming clear that it's more likely that the Editor and Chief of the Press Enterprise doesn't reside on 14th Street, doesn't reside even in Texas but unfortunately, more editorial power might be waged in a building several blocks to the north-west and if that's true, then that's a really sad state of affairs for democracy in this city and in this country.

One of the Editorial Board writers for the Press Enterprise who authored a recent piece ended it by musing about why there were only corruption and political scandal in San Bernardino County and not its neighboring county in the Inland Empire. That's an interesting question, but not really much of a mystery and it's not even the right question to ask. In further postings, I'll explore some of the factors that play into not only politics in both counties but also just as importantly, the media's coverage or not involving municipal politics.

Rumors also are that the newspaper is in serious financial trouble and has put its newly constructed building up for sale and has already started leasing out entirely empty floors inside of it. For the first time, rumors about the very survival of the Press Enterprise itself have taken on an alarming frequency but if the newspaper is sitting on major stories that more responsible newspapers would report on to keep the public informed especially what's going on with its tax money, then bon voyage and hopefully the city will get a newspaper that reports on Riverside and isn't married to its power structure. A newspaper that's bold enough to write the truth including about the power structure inside Riverside. Hopefully that will take its place if the Press Enterprise can't fill that role because it's too intermeshed with City Hall to take a step back and write about it.

If you have questions to ask about the decision not to publish anything on the Bradley Estates issues, contact the Press Enterprise news desk at: 951-368-9460. Ask to speak to the Editorial Board because they probably know more about who makes new content decisions than anyone else.

Labor negotiations are heating up again for Riverside County's employees. The county's getting even less revenue from property taxes than it thought and the state government wants to tap into more local revenues so what's going to happen next? No one at the table wants to say the words, "pay cuts", at least not yet.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Earlier this month, three of the county's five supervisors said proposed 10 percent cuts to the budgets of the Sheriff's Department and district attorney's office would risk public safety. Supervisors Marion Ashley, Roy Wilson and Jeff Stone said ongoing union negotiations could make up nearly $78 million in projected revenue shortfalls in those departments.

Supervisors John Tavaglione and Bob Buster disagreed.

"I can't compromise on public safety," Stone said as the board considered an early retirement program for law enforcement that would have included the Sheriff's Department. "The county can't withstand any loss of personnel without a risk to public safety."

On Tuesday, county CEO Bill Luna will present an update based on 2009-10 budget hearings held earlier this month. The supervisors directed Luna's staff to re-examine budgets proposed by the Sheriff's Department and the district attorney's office.

"Paying for the Board's required changes will likely call for a combination of enhanced revenue recovery, cost savings, reserves and some layoffs elsewhere," Luna states in his report to the supervisors. "Collective bargaining is actively under way with three unions. It is the slated goal of the Board to seek universal labor concessions as part of an effort to protect onboard staff while aligning ongoing expenses with discretionary revenue."

The county is negotiating with Local 721 of the Service Employees International Union, the Riverside Sheriff's Association and Deputy District Attorneys Association, according to Luna's report.

Press Enterprise Columnist Cassie MacDuff wrote that the San Bernardino County District Attorney's office needs to get off the fence regarding corruption within that county's government.


Hueston took less than four months to document the chicanery. The DA has been at it since 2007. Sure, prosecutors have to prove their cases beyond a reasonable doubt. But come on ...

The only charges filed against former assessor officials so far are tangential: Adam Aleman, tampering with evidence sought by the grand jury; Jim Erwin, failing to properly report a Rolex watch and a trip to New York; Postmus, arrested on suspicion of possessing drugs but not charged yet.

Mickey said no charges will be filed until the investigation is completed. Prosecutors, she said, "are not going to piecemeal it."

They might want to rethink that.

MacDuff also spanked the board of supervisors.

The former San Bernardino County Sheriff deputy who shot a U.S. airman during an incident caught on video camera has been dropped as a defendant in a lawsuit filed against him by the man he shot.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

That may or may not be a problem for (Carrion) to put on a case," Wright said as he ruled that Webb was "neither necessary nor indispensable" for Carrion to prove his case. The ruling was made without prejudice, meaning Wright can revisit it.

The motion to delay the trial was denied because "This could go on indefinitely," Wright said of the three-year-old lawsuit. He said he would mail attorneys a notice for a trial to begin in 90 days. No trial date was set in court.

Webb attorney Eugene Ramirez said outside court his client was satisfied with the ruling.

Carrion's attorneys had sought a trial date 120 days out, but Carrion attorney Luis A. Carrillo said outside court he was satisfied with both rulings.

"It's good news for us," Carrillo said.

Colton's controversial city manager is planning to exit.

(excerpt, San Bernardino Sun)

City Manager Daryl Parrish will depart sometime this month to become city manager of Covina. He was a major player in the creation of two development projects in the works, the Superblock and Pellissier Ranch.

Those projects won't stumble in the wake of Parrish's departure, and the plan is to push them forward full bore.

"We still have a vision for creating revenue and jobs in our city," said Councilman Vince Yzaguirre. "The specific plans for the Pellissier Ranch and Superblock will still move forward and are visions that are healthy and good for our city and our citizens."

On Wednesday, the City Council and Planning Commission held a joint workshop to discuss the West Valley Specific Plan Amendment, which will lay the groundwork for land-use designations in the Superblock.

Both bodies were presented with a draft copy of the West Valley Specific Plan for a 60-day review period, Mayor Kelly Chastain said.

More controversy in San Bernardino with this time, the city's fire chief being accused of failing to apply for hefty grant money.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The Los Angeles Police Department's goal of hiring 12,000 officers collided with the budget cuts coming out of the current recession. The city for a while was even looking at freezing vacancies but a last minute compromise was raised by the department, the mayor and the city council.

In the meantime, LAPD Chief William Bratton is hoping that a study he supported will end the department's eight years and counting federal consent decree.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

In asking for the study and giving researchers unusual access to the department, LAPD Chief William J. Bratton had hoped it would find that the LAPD has changed for the better since being forced eight years ago by federal officials to adopt a sweeping set of checks and balances that resulted from the Rampart corruption scandal. Bratton increasingly has chafed under the stigma of federal oversight and, in recent months, has been waging a public campaign to convince federal officials that the department is fit to keep its own house in order.

However, with budget debates raging at City Hall and the City Council considering a proposal to freeze the hiring of new officers, Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wasted no time using the report to serve a more immediate need.

"After all the hard work to turn this department around, the years of fighting and struggling and striving to build a larger, more progressive police force, we cannot turn our backs on our officers now," Villaraigosa said at a news conference at which the study was released. "This is not the time to go back to the old ways of the LAPD, to the days when the cops were underfunded and under-equipped, overworked and overextended, pushed to the limit and stretched far too thin. This is the moment to recommit ourselves . . . to a larger LAPD."

The department's next day of reckoning concerning its consent decree is a hearing in federal court next month.

The BART Police Department comes up with a blueprint for an auditor's model.

(excerpt, San Francisco Chronicle)

The police auditor, modeled after a similar system in San Jose, would be charged with investigating all citizen complaints alleging excessive or unnecessary force, hate crimes, racial profiling or racially abusive treatment.

The auditor also would have authority to review the BART Police Department's internal investigations into complaints involving its officers and request further work if the probe is deemed incomplete.

But the auditor would not have the authority to discipline officers. That power would remain with the police chief and the BART general manager.

The auditor would recommend changes to police policy, procedures and report directly to the elected BART board, under the draft proposal.

A citizen advisory board related to police matters also would be set up under the plan.

BART held its second public forum Friday on creating a police oversight system. BART spokesman Linton Johnson said more modifications are anticipated before the governing board weighs in.

Former Bolingbrook Police Department Sgt. Drew Peterson was arraigned today on murder charges in relation to the 2005 killing of his former wife, Kathleen Savio. To no surprise, he plead not guilty.

(excerpt, Chicago Tribune)

Defense attorney Joel Brodsky entered a not guilty plea on Peterson's behalf as his client stood silently in court Monday, wearing a blue jail jumpsuit and shackles.

Prosecutors then asked that Judge Richard Schoenstedt be removed from Peterson's case. Brodsky is challenging that move, and Will County Chief Judge Gerald Kinney is slated to hold a hearing on the issue Thursday.

Peterson has been in custody since his arrest on first-degree murder charges on May 7 in the 2004 death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. Savio's death was originally ruled an accident.
Brodsky has said he will move to get Peterson's bail reduced to somewhere between $100,000 and $500,000. He asserts Peterson isn't a flight risk, saying that if was going to flee, he would have done so long ago.

What Peterson said could go a long way at trial. Even if he doesn't plan to testify in his defense.

(excerpt, Fox News)

In fact, he's seemed to relish the spotlight, often giving reporters a joke or smart-aleck remark — like smiling and calling his handcuffs "bling" when he was led to his first court appearance earlier this month.

And that, attorneys say, could be one of Peterson's biggest problems.

"If one wife goes missing and (another) wife is dead, those aren't usually the subject of jokes," said Roy Black, a defense attorney whose clients have included Rush Limbaugh and William Kennedy Smith. "People are going to think this is a very bizarre person, who's more likely to have committed murder than someone who is in mourning."

Peterson is accused of drowning Savio, who was found dead in a dry bathtub in 2004 with a gash on the back of her head. Her death was initially ruled an accident, but after Stacy Peterson went missing Savio's body was exhumed and authorities ruled her death a homicide staged to look like an accident.

Marilyn Brenneman, a senior deputy prosecutor in Seattle's King County, once won a murder conviction after showing jurors a video of a news conference given by a man charged in a drowning death.

"We used it to show his attitude was blase," she said. "He was kind of wooden and didn't show any emotion. ... That is not really an appropriate response."

Injustice Everywhere has launched! It's an excellent site on police abuse and misconduct at the national level and was created by the author of Injustice in Seattle. So check it out, check both sites out. Feeds involving police incidents all across the country as well as links to resources on these critical issues are available.

Another excellent site, is Blue Must Be True which is a blog created by a former law enforcement officer and whistle blower of corruption and misconduct in his department. Now he's an instructor for law enforcement officers on subjects such as ethics. His site is excellent and features lots of videos depicting police actions where he asks for and also provides analysis.

Carlos Miller's blog is another excellent one addressing police abuse and misconduct.

Cast your vote in this special state election on Tuesday, May 19.

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