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, November 30, 2009

Forman Trial: The People Rest; Now It's the Defense's Turn


Former RPD officer, Robert Forman testifies and denies involvement in two incidents and said the third was consensual. More information to come.

The Trial of Former RPD Officer Robert Forman

Day 10

Riverside Police Department Sgt. Julian Hutzler testified further on the stand as part of the ongoing criminal trial involving former police officer, Robert Forman who has been charged with three felonies and one misdemeanor. The prosecution was heading into the home stretch while presenting its own case and after it rested, then Forman's attorney would put on the defense.

The focus of his testimony involved written records of CAD reports, the downloading of digital audio recordings and cell phone records tying Forman with the third victim who had testified last week.

Hutzler said that the Computer Aided Dispatch reports detailed information about officers who were sent out to respond to either an initiated contact or a call for service. Or as Hutzler testified, any activity by the police department that goes through the communications dispatch. He explained the abbreviated codes and designations that were included both in the CAD reports as well as the listings provided of the history of recording downloads generated from Forman's belt recorder.

One of the incidents included in the list of downloaded recordings was the February 15, 2008 incident that was referred to on that list as a civil problem and involved an altercation between the third victim and an African-American man over money that she had allegedly stolen from him with Forman's assistance, according to her testimony. The location of the incident had been Mission Inn and Eucalyptus Street. According to the CAD report, Forman had been the primary responding officers and at some point a call for backup had been issued and other officers including Felix Medina, Richard Glover, William Zackowski and his trainee, Danny Suerez responded.

Hutzler also testified about the database known as CLETS and said that the third victim's name had been "run" on Feb. 20. The CLETS provides different screens containing information on the individual in various areas including DMV records, restraining orders, violent crimes and other criminal offenses. When Prosecutor Elan Zekster placed it on the Elmo, presiding Judge John Molloy called the lawyers into chambers. Faux pas, maybe but it showed the jury how seriously the confidentiality of these records is supposed to be taken.

CLETS information is considered confidential and access to it is very limited, including by law enforcement officers. The CLETS information on the third victim was withheld from the jury during further testimony by Hutzler.

Forman had run the CLETS on Feb. 20, 2008 at 3:52 a.m. according to departmental records presented in court. Also warrants were written for phone records for the third victim and for Forman's cell phone. The phone records showed one phone call made from the third victim's cell phone to Forman and then multiple phone calls made by him to her cell phone as well as a land line where she was staying. The phone calls to the land line phone were blocked by *67 according to the phone account records whereas the phone calls to the victim's cell phone were not blocked in this way. What was the reason for that, because the victim hadn't given him her land line phone number? If this is true, how did he obtain it? And why does it appear that he started calling her on her land line at around the same time or not long after he accessed her CLETS file?

Ever file a complaint and wonder where those hang up phone calls come from especially those with interesting sound effects like oh, dispatch noise? Well, most of the time it's perhaps coincidence or telemarketing calls but it's interesting how testimony in an instance like this can make one wonder. What happened in this case? Did he ever speak to her and if so about what? Or did he simply call her repeatedly in an attempt to keep tabs on her and hang up after a period of time? In my case, the phone calls did cease after the investigating sergeant was notified about them. But was this person even aware that he was trying to call her? If she wasn't communicating with him (and so far beyond the first call, it doesn't seem like she called him back from either number), then she might have had no idea that he was calling her.

Information written in a notebook taken from Forman's workplace locker showed the victim's cell phone number but no land line number. How he got the information on this phone number is not clear.

The phone calls appeared to have started on Feb. 20, at about 3:47 a.m. on the same morning as the CLETS report was generated. They continued onward into March 6, 24 and 28 on both phone numbers linked to the third victim. Phone calls were apparently made to the victim's phone number on days that Forman wasn't working.

Hutzler also testified about the process of downloading recordings from the officers' department issued digital audio recordings into the mainframe database of the police department as well as the documentation created on the downloads done by each police officer. Documents of Forman's own history of downloading recordings (or not) were displayed while Hutzler testified. He spoke about whether or not the recordings themselves could be erased and whether or not that removed all trace of their existence from the memory of the recording device. The answer is yes to the first, no to the second as it turned out.

"You can erase it off the media disk but you can't reset the clock," Hutzler said.

What that means is that even if the officer believes he or she might be erasing a recording off of their media disk inside their recorder, that it leaves a trace behind that it existed and individual recordings are tied with specific numbers that allow employees to differentiate between which recording belongs with which incident.

In February 2008, about five recordings were erased earlier that month which was shown by the sequence of file numbers being interrupted and some of the numbers were missing. Later in the month, about 24 file numbers were missing, showing that those recordings had been erased.

In April, there weren't any files downloaded, meaning that there was not a single recording downloaded during that entire month. However, when May's list of files are shown, the sequencing numbers have skipped about 20 head, meaning that there were at least that many recordings made during the month of April but that they were never downloaded. Whether they were erased or simply were never downloaded from the media disk isn't clear. But they are so far, unaccounted for, bringing the total to at least 50 recordings that are missing. But then there's also recordings missing according to the download report.

About three recordings were missing in early May as well including one from May 7 between 1-1:30 a.m. and recordings on May 8, 2008 as well.

Departmental policy requires that field officers are required to turn on their belt recorders any time they initiate a contact with the public. In addition, any officers who are responding even as backup to an officer who initiated that contact are required by policy to activate their recorders as well. Yet during the month of April 2008 when Forman wasn't downloading any recordings the entire month, there were at least a half dozen or so "traffic" stops which are pretext stops which are initiated by patrol officers. When the policy was mandated under the stipulated judgment through the State Attorney General's office, the target of this policy were specifically pedestrian and vehicle pretext stops in part because there were allegations raised by the State that the department was violating state law when conducting its pretext stops.

The prosecution played the second audio recording of the incident involving Forman, the third victim and several other backup officers involving the incident where an unnamed African-American man was upset at the victim for allegedly taking his money without performing a sexual act. Even though all five officers were required to activate their digital recorders, only two of them did. What's heard on it is that the only thing that can be done is to take a report. But ultimately, the call was cleared as a "civil problem" as listed on the Forman's CAD activity sheet and no report was ever taken of it.

Forman's defense attorney, Mark Johnson argued that Forman wasn't the only officer who didn't comply with the department's audio recording policy as evidenced by the failure of several officers in the incident involving Forman and the third victim to follow that same policy.

Officer Richard Glover testified next. He had been employed with the department for about four years and 10 months and had worked with Forman during 2008 on the graveyard shift. On Feb. 15, 2008, he had responded to a call for backup to Eucalyptus and Mission. In this case, the call for backup was issued by the primary officer at the scene, Forman. Glover said that when he had arrived, he had seen a White or Hispanic woman and a Black man of medium build. He heard from Forman a brief description of the incident including that Forman had been talking with the Black man who Glover said, was a bit upset. Did he remember what happened?

"Not real clear," Glover testified, "I remember bits and pieces of it."

Under cross-examination, Glover said that Forman didn't appear to be hiding his activities and that he didn't see the woman doing so either. She appeared to be connected with the Black man. He testified that he had received training in drug use recognition and that he didn't believe that Forman appeared to be under the influence of drugs. If that had been the case, he said he would have been obligated to report it to a supervisor.

He hadn't tested either Forman or the woman for drug intoxication and he didn't remember ever seeing any money.

The prosecution soon rested its case and the jury was sent on an hour long recess while Johnson submitted a motion to dismiss all the charges against Forman. He argued that the petty theft charge should result in an acquittal because the victim was at best an accomplice to the crime and thus could serve through testimony as sufficient evidence unless there was independent evidence. He argued that the sexual battery charge involving the third victim should be dismissed because she was free to leave when she wished and made the same argument with the second victim.

Zekster argued that the petty theft charge was evidenced independently by the fact that Forman said he would take a report but never did as well as the fact that he was present at the scene and the money was never recovered. Concerning the three felony charges, Zekster told the court that Johnson forgot that Forman was a police officer and his authority constituted the sense that the women wouldn't feel free to leave.

Molloy told the attorneys that he would take the petty theft case under submission but that ample evidence had been shown during the trial to leave the decisions on Forman's fate on the three felony charges up to the jury. His argument was based on the testimony by two victims that Forman had driven them in his squad car for a period of time before the alleged assaults under the color of authority or sexual battery and stopped at unfamiliar locations.

And with that decision, after the break the defense began to present its own case. It began by calling Sgt. Paul De Jong to the witness stand.

De Jong has been a law enforcement officer with several different agencies including the Riverside Police Department for a period lasting about 27 years. He was hired by the Riverside Police Department in 1997, promoted to detective in early 2000 and then to sergeant. He worked in field operations for a period of time before being transferred to the family violence center downtown where he supervises the domestic violence unit.

On April 18, 2008, he said he responded to the home invasion robbery call in downtown but it took him a while to get there because he was far away from the location. By the time he arrived, there were officers along with Sgt. Ruddy already on the scene and they had surrounded and contained the scene. He had contact with more than one woman at the residence, including the first victim and at some point went inside the apartment where he remained for about 15-20 minutes. The entire time he was there, the victim was seated on a couch or a chair in the living room and he had no recollection of exactly what her demeanor had been as he didn't pay much attention to her. When asked if he said she would be arrested, De Jong did have some memory of that.

"I don't believe I ever told her she was going to jail," De Jong said.

De Jong said that he had talked to Forman and when asked if he had been trained in drug use recognition, he said that he had been. He didn't see that Forman was high but said he wasn't looking for signs.

"I never noticed that," De Jong said.

He said that the woman had been viewed as a possible victim at least initially.

Under cross-examination, De Jong was shown a picture of the victim and didn't recognize her. Nor did he remember very many details of the police incident that he had responded to involving her apartment. He said that he had told investigators during an interview that it was his belief that the victim had been arrested.

De Jong said that he had left before all the officers had left and that Forman who had been in charge of the investigation of the incident had remained there after he had departed. His officers on his shift were experienced and he trusted them to do their jobs. When asked about how he would have handled the situation with the syringes that were found in a bag in the victim's closet, he said that they would have been taken as evidence unless there was a legitimate reason to use them. He said that he wouldn't have left them or the spoon with residue on it found right next to the bag (which he said could be evidence of the use of heroin or other drugs).

"Yes, it should have been collected," De Jong said.

Would he have left the syringes with an individual on felony probation? I wouldn't, he testified. He did say that the woman was made aware of things she could be arrested for by someone. When asked again if he thought she had been arrested, he answered.

"That's what I thought, yes," De Jong said.

Would the drug paraphernalia found have been enough, he was asked.

"If I were the investigating officer, it would have been enough for me," De Jong said.

He was asked why when he reviewed the report the next day, he hadn't gone back and said that the victim should have been arrested. He said that he would have addressed the issue with the reporting officer. But later said he had to face a high quantity of reports each shift that he worked.

The defense is actually in the process of eliciting direct testimony from its second witness, a police officer and former trainee of Forman's but already there's the sense that Forman's own witnesses are not exactly working for him or even testifying for him. The sergeant testified that he would have arrested a woman that Forman did not and the trainee testified that he was a strict taskmaster when it came to including details in reports, which simply draws more attention to the times when Forman wasn't quite so...meticulous.

Trial testimony continues today in a trial that possibly might reach the jury for deliberations by sometime Thursday, even though the courtroom is on Wednesday.

'Bad Apples'?

Rumors in one area of the city have a certain police officer moved out of that neighborhood because of an investigation involving an officer he worked with. Whether that's true or wishful thinking on the part of the area's residents, isn't clear. Seriously, if the rumor mill is true, that's the least of his problems in terms of his behavior. Properly supervising an officer can go a long way, though. Is that the case here?

The majority of the Riverside Police Department's officers are hard-working and conscientious and risk their lives on occasion as law enforcement can be like flying a jet airliner. Hours of work, filling out lots of paper, lots of interpersonal communication and following procedures interspersed by periods of excitement or fear and anticipation of when those moments take place. Which makes it harder when one of them goes "rogue" as some call it and it seems that inadequacies or deliberate actions to subvert the department's accountability mechanisms aid and abet them in misconduct. That's why it's difficult to blame it all on "bad apples". There's been a lot of discussions about these so-called "apples" including two RPD officers arrested in the past year on criminal allegations and about any other officer who might be skirting proper behavior. Believe it or not, communities, neighborhoods and precincts do know the difference between good officers and those not so good. Names of both come up in nearly every neighborhood in this city.

One way to encourage good policing would be to recognize it officially when it takes place by restoring the "public safety officer of the month" award at city council meetings. One caveat, just don't give it to an officer who was suspended on misconduct committed not long before receiving this award as happened several years ago. And if Chief Russ Leach, the department or city wants a list of officers who do good work with communities to protect and serve them, there's plenty of people in the city to provide them with lists to draw from.

A new bicycle path in Riverside?

More information into the corruption probe involving San Jacinto's politicians and players.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"We've already got indications that the people that we've interviewed have already been coached and spoken to by some of our suspects in the case," said Kim Robinson, a district attorney's investigator, to Riverside County Superior Court Judge Helios Hernandez, according to transcripts of an Aug. 19 closed-door meeting.

At the same meeting, Elaina Bentley, chief deputy district attorney with the special prosecutions unit, expressed concern that investigators might lose "documentary evidence that could be destroyed if the individuals knew they were going to be targeted for potential investigation."

The Press-Enterprise sought release last summer of five search warrants issued in April. They covered the office and home of San Jacinto Councilman Jim Ayres and the homes of two businessmen, all indicted earlier this month in the case, and the home of a bookkeeping business owner who was interviewed in the case, according to court records.

Inside Riverside writes about the trail of Supervisor to be John Benoit's campaign funds.

The city of San Jacinto asks to postpone a key annexation hearing.

HazMat Alert

[Police, Fire and a Hazardous Materials Team appeared at City Hall in Riverside, closing down the portion near the utilities payment center and the women's restroom after a suspicious item was discovered containing white powder by a city employee. It was collected and sent off to be analzyed at some scientific laboratory.]

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