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

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Quiet Days of August

With all that's going on in Riverside, including budget cuts on city departments and a slight curtailing of the Riverside Renaissance train, there are some issues that are currently by the wayside. Perhaps it's a summer thing.

From the "in limbo" file...

[The front of the Metropolitan Museum in downtown Riverside. The loss of two more long-time museum employees brings the total loss of department employees to about half its work force in just the last couple of years and brought a large group of dedicated and long-time museum volunteers to a city council meeting in protest. With that and the renovation of the museum placed in the somewhat distant future, many city residents and employees speculate on whether or not the institution has a future in the "City of the Arts and Innovation". It's also mind boggling that if the city was doing seismic retrofitting of a building that they would choose the city council chambers over the museum which has a masonry facade, so dangerous in quakes that many earthquake insurance policies (which usually feature huge deductibles) no longer cover them. One reporter details experiencing a quake inside the museum. Other buildings in need of seismic makeovers include the downtown library (which is set to be razed and rebuilt some day) and the Orange Street Police Station which houses dispatchers in its basement who would serve a critical role after any disaster provided they survive it.]

[The Greyhound Bus Lines sign at its digs at the downtown bus terminal. Its future's currently in limbo but at present, the bus passengers seem to still be waiting for buses there as Riverside's war against the poor, the disabled, the seniors and the families who dare set foot in the "redeveloped" downtown to come and go via bus without a chauffeur to the tune of 80,000 trips a year goes on apparent hiatus. Fortunately, the recent elections might have quieted those with the "Let them Eat Cake" attitudes to at least express them only in private but does Greyhound have a place in Riverside? No one seems to know.

Will it be included when the city constructs its multi-modal transit center at the Towngate Center in the Eastside? It's gotten awfully quiet at the 'Hall over this contentious issue but that won't last.]

Will it or won't it?

[The recently renamed City Hall /Police Review Commission meets to essentially quarrel with each other, glower at the public and slumber through one of its recent general meetings. Here, they act a little less than enthralled with a presentation being given by Internal Affairs Lt. Mike Cook. The commission under its new leadership cut back the number of its meetings even as the complaint backlog grows, it's dissolved its only two standing committees and the annual report becomes well, biennial.]

There's been some speculation that the Community Police Review Commission's investigative protocol might be back on a city council agenda soon and I've had many people ask me if it will be revisited in the future. The answer is, probably not without further reconfiguration of the makeup of city government. Not that the people who managed to get reelected won't vote in that direction but there's still a couple of anti-CPRC council members who would have to be sent packing. Fortunately, in 2011, there will be a couple opportunities for voters to do so and their record on doing just this has been rather impressive so far with the seventh ward being the most likely to see new representation.

Just ask those who were part of the mercifully brief regimes of GASS and BASS. Only one of them remains after two brutal election cycles either turned the rest out through votes or decisions not to run again.

If you'll recall, the city council headed by its former alpha male, Frank Schiavone voted 5-2 to change the investigative protocol which had been in place for over six years with no controversy let alone complaints to where the CPRC wasn't allowed to investigate incustody deaths until the Riverside Police Department had completed its criminal investigation. Casting the dissenting votes were Councilman and former CPRC commissioner, Mike Gardner and Melendrez who tried to push a counter motion preserving the investigative protocol.

First several members of the city council, current and former, had tried to stir the S.S. Hudson to manipulate the investigative protocol and come up with enough different reasons for doing so to fill a multiple choice test or two. And remember the cast of characters from Chief Russ Leach to several council members and assorted city staff who one by one paraded up on stage and castigated the investigative protocol that not a single one of them had whispered a complaint about during the previous six years? All of a sudden, the practice in place for six years was a disaster without proportion!

In fact, Leach was asked the same question about whether or not the CPRC should delay its own investigation until the police department completed its own back at one of the commission's meetings in August 2002. According to these minutes, Leach had said that it was the commission's "call" and that it should decide whether or not to conduct a "companion" investigation at whatever stage they felt it was necessary. When pressed on the issue by one former commissioner, he seemed reluctant to define the commission's role in these investigations, delineating his role as a department head who couldn't make those kinds of decisions for it. But then that's not abnormal behavior in a city department head at all to push for that kind of separation.

Oh what a difference six years makes when you have different people directing your actions. And clearly on this issue, Leach is receiving direction as an "at will" employee who unfortunately, has to be a "yes man" or Hudson would just find someone else to hire that he could control better like they have already done in other city departments from Human Resources to the museum to well, the CPRC. What the city manager's office has shown is that department heads are a dime a dozen and that county employees make the best department heads of all.

Then after the behind the scenes discrete approach didn't work and the public started pressing, Schiavone and two other city council members had to release an op-ed piece in the Press Enterprise selling its reasoning for changing the protocol to the city's residents. When that created greater controversy than it resolved, the city council members were forced to out themselves when they referred the issue not to the Public Safety Committee (then chaired by Melendrez) which had reviewed the CPRC between 2005-2007 but to Schiavone's own pet committee, Governmental Affairs.

That committee was forced from pushing its own measure authored by the S.S. Hudson and his $150,000/year marionette, CPRC manager Kevin Rogan to taking it to community members, the body first said it would review the process through a transparent and then behind the scenes created an ad hoc committee that met in complete secrecy and was packed by one "city resident" who had been an independent contractor hired by the Mayor's office to review the practices of another city commission. No one in the city outside this committee, the police department (which sent Asst. Chief John De La Rosa to chair the "objective, fact-finding" committee) or the city manager's office even knew when or where this committee ever met. Of course, it backed the one-sided presentation given by the Punch and Judy show because the cloistered nature of the proceedings allowed any input from outside the police department or City Hall (which ran the police department).

Most people believe that the Riverside Police Officers' Association engineered the changes through its financial support of elected officials including Schiavone. But that's not a very likely scenario given that the members of its board and even Political Action Committee can't come to a consensus on whether they like or hate the commission with disparate views on the subject which added nuance to the PAC's endorsement process this past spring. In fact, some of its board members may be as surprised by the turn of events as anyone else even as they might cheer them. This process that unfolded piece by piece during the past year probably has much more to do with risk management than with labor discontent. After all, witness City Attorney Gregory Priamos' prominent role in the situation and reducing civil liability to the city is second only to his role of protecting the mayor and city council in his list of responsibilities.

The cherry on the micromanagement sundae involving the ad hoc committee took place when Schiavone refused to allow any CPRC commissioners to serve on the ad hoc committee when Commissioner and naughty boy, John Brandriff volunteered to participate. Schiavone and his merry men apparently had a change of heart and invited the first team of officers ever to be elected to lead the CPRC by teleconference vote, Sheri Corral and Peter Hubbard (who hopefully at least stayed awake for the two meetings) to take part. A recipe for a purely manipulated process which not surprisingly is exactly what happened.

More public pressure and an election year for Schiavone forced the issue to city council where for the first time in recent memory, it made a policy and procedure decision for a city board and commission in the stead of those on the commission.

If you want to see a version of the revisionist history of the CPRC that's truly a work of literature, you'll have to wait until the biennial report issued by the CPRC comes out if that ever happens.

But elections are funny things, and Schiavone's coronation that he and his supporters no doubt expected to take place, didn't and voters in several neighborhoods cited his actions against the CPRC as reason not to support him when he had carried these areas in past elections. And there was talk that with his departure to parts unknown, that the pressing urge to change the CPRC's investigative protocol left with him. Some people also said that the votes had actually shifted from support for the revised investigative protocol to support for the one that had been in place since 2002. But no one on the dais wants to push the issue unless someone else brings it up first.

None of the city council wants to make any waves unless it comes out of subcommittee so once again, it comes down to either Chair Chris MacArthur of Public Safety or Melendrez who now chairs Governmental Affairs. MacArthur's not likely to take any action because it appears that his legislative aide pulls his strings and his aide appears to hate the CPRC even more than Schiavone did. Probably even more than former Councilman (and current mayoral candidate) Art Gage. Members Melendrez and Councilwoman Nancy Hart (who's vote is among those rumored to have shifted) probably wouldn't move on it if MacArthur hadn't expressed any need to bring it to that committee. As for Hart, she's more likely to shift her vote at the council level than in subcommittee.

The biggest political vacuum has been MacArthur, who some thought, would shift into making a play to be the new alpha dog on the city council but Gardner's made more moves in that direction than MacArthur had (and has any council member been quoted in the Press Enterprise the past few weeks beside Gardner including on city labor issues).

When asked about it after a city council session, Melendrez said that the issue wouldn't be revisited by his committee because it lacked the votes to take it out of that committee to the city council. And that's probably true given that Councilman Steve Adams, a retired police officer on disability has always opposed it and Councilman Rusty Bailey is so busy looking for another mentor that any vote would turn out being against it even if Melendrez supported revisting the issue. Also, Melendrez as chair can only lead meetings and bring items to the committee, he can't propose a motion and neither of the other two would consider doing it.

So the answer to one of the most frequently asked questions by readers is no, the CPRC despite what anyone including those on the dais might say is a long way from being restored from the damage inflicted on it by a city council member just sent packing by his ward's voters. In two years, several wards will have the opportunity to hand out more pink slips. After all, Schiavone said that he hadn't received any emails or phone calls about the CPRC from his constituents but after losing Casa Blanca (a neighborhood which had voted for him in the past) by over 10% with the CPRC being listed as the reason he lost so many votes, it's clear that the city's voters are speaking as loudly now as they did when they voted in 2004 to place the commission in the city's charter purportedly to protect it from politicians like Schiavone.

In fact, it's rumored that Adams won't even run again, because one of the reasons why he ran again was to increase his pension and benefits from City Hall. Not to mention that his 13 point squeaker in 2007 over former mayor, Terry Frizzel who he outspent about 20 to 1 would leave any elected official feeling politically vulnerable. The chances of him pulling off a victory against a moderate to strong candidate are about next to none and he probably knows it. His low point came when at a meeting, he accused the commission's investigative firm from the dais of fabricating evidence in an officer-involved death case. After the investigative firm found out, it took some serious damage control from the city manager's office and Rogan to undo Adams' action.

Two officer-involved deaths turning a year old as a commission remains idle.

Back when politicians on the city council dais pushed these changes in the investigative protocol, they and representatives of the police department's management assured the public that investigations wouldn't be delayed indefinitely, perhaps six months. But in reality? At least two investigations will be commemorating their first year anniversaries in September and a third will be in October with no end date in sight. But then there doesn't have to be, because the police department can now delay release of its investigations to the CPRC (and its two involved investigative divisions are split on the protocol change issue) until after it's likely that a decision has been made on the outcomes without violating the Peace Officer Bill of Rights and Governmental State Code. The police chief? He both supports and opposes the protocol change depending on who he's talking to, but his body language when doing either makes it clear where he stands on the issue.

Even the most recent incustody death occurred nearly seven months ago. Compare and contrast that with the 2003 shooting death of Volne Lamont Stokes which until recently was the longest lasting officer-involved investigation with the case book taking 10 months to reach the CPRC (and actually it took a few phone calls just to locate it where it had languished in the Internal Affairs Division for weeks awaiting pickup by the head of the Investigations division).

This situation has left the commission unable to fulfill its charter mandate to investigate these cases, but then if you watch the city council long enough, you come to the unfortunate conclusion that apparently there are members on it (surrounded by a silent majority) who believe that the city charter (not to mention voter-passed initiatives like Measures C, R and II) are pieces of paper with writing on them. And even though it's shoe leather and not high-priced donors who win elections for politicians, it's likely that if you want to figure out why the will of the voters comes a distant second to the agendas of certain elected officials, you have to honor that old but apt adage, Follow the Money! Just don't be surprised if it leads you in a rather interesting direction.

When Riverside Fire Chief Todd Laycock retired earlier this year, it was for medical reasons. Smoke inhalation from his job had caused him to experience serious health problems.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"I would limit him from being exposed to any type of smoke or dust, which may aggravate his reactive airway disease," wrote Dr. Ramesh Karody.

Laycock left office on Feb. 20, and Steve Earley was appointed chief on June 17.

Laycock did not return calls in February to explain why he was retiring, nor did he return calls last week seeking comment on his workers' compensation appeal.

In May, Laycock filed a claim with the Worker's Compensation Appeals Board. Weeks later, he was granted a total permanent disability award of $49,461.50.

City Attorney Greg Priamos did not return calls seeking comment.

The Riverside Police Department is purchasing new cars and motorcycles from stimulus money it's receiving from the federal government like other law enforcement agencies in the Inland Empire.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

The cash will come as a relief to three area police departments in particular -- Banning, Beaumont and Murrieta. All were denied similar payouts from the U.S. Department of Justice in July, when their city's crime rates were considered too low to meet requirements.

"The fiscal need was there, but we didn't receive funds because our crime was down," said Banning Police Chief Leonard Purvis. "It became a question of, 'Do we wear this as a badge of honor?' "

This time, money was awarded to state and local agencies based on a different formula that weighed population. Crime statistics and a minimum share for each state were also considered.

Purvis said for Banning, the money will pay for overtime costs for officers participating in the department's activities league, which is responsible for community outreach and youth programs, and its emergency tactical unit.

The federal program requires that money be spent within four years. Because of that fixed time-frame, some departments are spending the money on equipment rather than personnel.

The Riverside Municipal Airport is working on its long-range master plan while San Bernardino's airport struggles to have a future.

The Press Enterprise Editorial Board is steamed about former San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus' claim for damages that he just filed.


Against that background, Postmus' claim that the county owes him recompense represents either exceptional hubris or a startling disconnection from reality. Postmus' arguments in the claim offer a bizarre mix of the petty and paranoid. He argues, for example, that the investigation of his office and his subsequent prosecution are an effort by political rivals to remove him from contention for a congressional seat. The county's lawsuit against him is another politically motivated act, he argues. Postmus also says the county's lawsuit broke an oral agreement not to sue him if he voluntarily resigned from office.

But the most telling aspect of Postmus' claim is the lack of any sense of responsibility for what happened. The former assessor has repeatedly blamed his travails on political enemies, without contrition or admission that his conduct was morally wrong. Demanding a big payout for the results of his own failings is merely another illustration of Postmus' self-serving approach to public office.

Postmus' allegations attempt to divert attention from his own mistakes and obscure the issues involved. The political narcissism that suffuses former assessor's claim is vividly clear. And so are the reasons for rejecting any public handout to a politician who abused elected office and the public trust.

But the Editorial Board wasn't finished yet. It also scolded San Bernardino County for not being more aggressive in handling the corruption scandals breaking loose in its midst.


Such behavior is hardly unknown in San Bernardino County: Former Assessor Bill Postmus, after his 2006 election, packed his office with cronies who ran a political operation on the taxpayers' time, to cite a recent example. But that history is precisely why the county cannot afford to cloak the latest incident in secrecy.

Misconduct at the highest levels of the county casts suspicion over the entire county government, which can ill afford another blemish on its record. The trailer incident needs a thorough public airing, unless the Board of Supervisors truly disdains the need to restore public trust.

Police officers in a town in New Jersey pulled over singer, Bob Dylan and asked for his ID.

(excerpt, CNN)

"She recognized the name, she just really didn't believe it was Bob Dylan," Ahart told CNN. "He was soaking wet because it was raining and he was wearing a hood."

So Buble asked the musician for identification, but he had none.

Buble and her partner, Officer Derrick Meyers, 24, then asked Dylan, 68, to accompany them to where his tour buses were parked. Once they arrived, Dylan showed them identification.

"Dylan was really cool about the whole incident," Ahart said. He said he asked the singer why he had been walking in the rain and was told, "I just felt like going for a walk."

A civilian oversight plan for San Francisco's BART Police Department has been approved eight months after the shooting death of Oscar Grant by a BART police officer who's facing criminal charges for the incident.

(excerpt, San Francisco Appeal)

In January, San Francisco Democrats Senators Leland Yee and Tom Ammiano initiated legislation to form a civilian-based police oversight body. The oversight body would be based on SF's Office of Citizen Complaints.

BART has since then held committee meetings and has drafted a model of this Citizen Oversight. The document was presented to the BART Board of Directors, and was approved on Thursday.

The independent auditor would investigate claims of "police officer misconduct regarding unnecessary or excessive use of force, racial profiling, sexual orientation bias, sexual harassment and the use of deadly force (and) suspicious and wrongful deaths."

Though the initial proposal called for an independent auditor to regulate BART police, it did not call for civilian oversight. But a more recent draft of the plan includes the latter.

The new and improved draft goes something like this:

BART's two police associations are to assign a member of the civilian board to oversee their officers. The plan also requires a two-thirds vote from the Civilian Review Board and the BART Board of Directors to appeal discipline decisions made by the chief of police and general manager.

But Ammiano feels that BART still has it wrong and has not implemented a strong enough plan for police oversight: "BART fails to understand that its reluctance to reform simply further diminishes the public's already poor perception of the agency and shows an unwillingness to make change in even the most obvious and tragic of situations. BART must salvage its remaining integrity by supporting strong civilian oversight."

BART officials had been eager to wrap it all up, before approving the plan.

A controversial onduty shooting of a New York Police Department officer by his own colleague resulted in no charges being filed, a decision which has led to protest.

(excerpt, New York Daily News)

Undercover cop Andrew Dunton, who fired a half-dozen shots during the deadly Harlem street showdown, faces no criminal charges in the May 28 killing of Officer Omar Edwards.

The NYPD quickly announced it would launch an internal review of the slaying, including plans to interview Dunton and other officers present during the 125th St. shooting.

The police probe couldn’t start until the criminal investigation ended. The Rev. Al Sharpton, among others, wants an additional investigation by a special state prosecutor or federal officials.

“It remains questionable whether the grand jury examined the actions of Officer Dunton, or merely the actions of the alleged thief in a confused, mixed presentation,” Sharpton said.

“The grand jury’s finding that Officer Dunton had not committed a crime did not mean that race was not a contributing factor in Officer Edwards’ death,” said Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem).

But the president of the NYPD detective’s union, Michael Palladino, said the grand jury got it right.

“The case is similar to Sean Bell: tragic, but not criminal,” he said.

The head of the Spring Lake Police Department is facing a probe joining in on the growing epidemic nationwide of chiefs and sheriffs under investigation for various forms of corruption and misconduct.

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