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


My Photo
Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Robert Forman Trial: He said; She said and Joking about Women's Lingerie

Testimony continued in the ongoing trial of former Riverside Police Department officer Robert Forman who has been charged with three felonies of sexual misconduct under the color of authority. Riverside County Superior Court presiding judge, John Molloy apparently recovered from his illness convened court for the first time in a week. The court days are already cut shorter than usual because the trial is taking place inside the old civil courthouse and it's judges who are assigned to civil cases who are presiding over the trials. Which means that they hear a civil calendar until mid-morning and then switch over to conducting a criminal trial. Not exactly how they conduct business in most counties but then this is Riverside.

And sure enough on the tables, there aren't placards that read prosecution and defense but plaintiff and defendant. The jury seats are slightly more comfortable and the design of the courtroom is much different with fewer seats for the audience and no adjacent holding facilities for incustody inmates like in the newer building.

Not that this trial has exactly been packing the seats but a few people have dropped by to observe the proceedings of the latest trial involving a former law enforcement officer who is being prosecuted for alleged onduty crimes that took place between February and April 2008.

Sitting in the back of the room were Internal Affairs Division sergeants, Pat McCarthy and John Capen dressed in business suits along with Investigations Lt. Mike Perea who sat in for a while, as witnesses testified for the prosecution in this case. The presence of the Internal Affairs sergeants was duly noted by some of the parties in the case although the two sergeants remained silent during the proceedings even as people talked about them and pointed them out to the jury. Given how backlogged Internal Affairs is with its investigations, it's significant that the division is having two of its five sergeants spend the entire day sitting in a courtroom to testimony by several of the department's officers although it's probably a given that they're going to hang out at any venue where a police officer is providing a statement or being interviewed about an incident even if it's at the witness stand at a criminal trial. They weren't sure whether or not they'll be back on Monday.

And so with all that, another day of testimony began in the case of the People of the City of Riverside vs Officer Robert Forman.

The Ex-Trainee

Former officer, Megan (Edwards) Meyers took the stand and continued her testimony, much more composed than she had been a week earlier when she broke down on the witness stand and cried after three hours of testimony between lawyers from both sides who switched back and forth through out the afternoon as her account of the incident unfolded. Though it seemed that an admonition by Molloy about her testifying style set her off, she had been getting increasingly agitated and impatient as the day went on.

Meyers testified that she spoke with the reporting party and discovered that this individual had erroneously or falsely (and she was asked both during her testimony as if they were interchangeable) reported the call as a home invasion robbery. Meyers said she didn’t consider the victim in this case, a victim of a criminal action or involved in criminal behavior herself but somewhere in the middle. As such, she also testified that she didn’t hear anyone else threaten to arrest the victim at any point nor did she do it herself. Among the officers in that reference were Officer William Zackowski and Sgt. Paul De Jong.

At some point, some officers were standing near a dartboard in the living room posted by the kitchen door about eight feet away from Meyers and the victim. And so her testimony began about what's becoming the infamous lingerie incident. Not in itself a crime but something that took place only several hours before a crime was alleged to have taken place. An example of sexist behavior by officers on the scene of a crime just hours before an alleged act of sexual assault under the color of authority and thus testified about during the trial. At times, the testimony particularly by the current and former police officers seems to resemble an administrative proceeding of the lingerie incident as much as it does a criminal trial about an alleged sexual assault by a police officer.

As it turned out, it didn't appear that Meyers approved of this behavior by some of the male officers on the scene judging from comments that she made during her testimony even as she had some recollection issues.

“I saw lingerie on the dartboard,” Meyers recalled, “But I didn’t see who placed it.”

She said that she overheard an officer ask out loud if the lingerie belonged to the victim. Saying something like “Oh are these hers” in a joking fashion.

“I remember hearing them joking but I don’t remember who said it,” Meyers told the jury.

She said she remembered thinking that these guys are being “immature”. Fortunately, she apparently wasn't the only officer in the room who felt that this behavior was problematic as it turned out.

She was asked if Zackowski put the lingerie on the dartboard and she said she didn’t know who did it nor did she remember if he spoke with the victim. Under redirect by the prosecutor, Elan Zekster, she was asked about the relationship between Forman and Zackowski and she said she thought they were “pals” and that “they talked a lot”. Something Zackowski would later modify in his own testimony by saying that the belief existed that the two men were closer friends than they actually were.

Zekster asked her about when she, Forman and Zackowski had left the scene. One of them had gone back to the victim’s apartment to retrieve something and she said she wasn’t sure which officer. She just remembered walking with only one officer and then the second one coming back. Zekster made a reference to an interview she had given to police detectives where she had said her memory was fuzzy but when she thought about it later, she had believed it was Forman who had gone back to the apartment. Testimony which as it turned out would be contradicted by one of the other officers who had left the apartment with her.

Meyers was questioned a lot about why the victim, who was on felony probation for drug possession hadn’t been arrested for violation of probation when the drug paraphernalia was found in her closet. She said that she had approached Forman about whether or not the victim would be arrested.

“He told me we wouldn’t be arresting her,” she said, though he didn’t explain why, “I didn’t pressure him no.”

The police did seize a computer tower for investigation on suspicion that a check fraud or counterfeiting operation was being done inside the victim’s apartment. But they didn’t arrest her on the drug charges because they had asked the victim if the hypodermic syringes they had found in her closet were hers and she said no.

“End of story,” Zekster said.

“Yes,” said Meyers.

Meyers was asked if she would lie for Forman and she said no.

“I would never lie for anybody,” she said.

That's what every officer or former officer who testified said in one form or another even as they contradicted each other in several key areas of the testimony including whether or not anyone or who returned to the apartment to retrieve a forgotten item as the officers left the scene and what happened involving the aforementioned lingerie incident. There's the spirit of the words and the letter of them because the combined testimonies don't come together well to create a single portrait of the events which took place in the early morning hours of April 18, 2008 but a variety of different ones. So which one is the truth, or is it a combination of different accounts that is indeed what happened? And what is or is not attributed to memories fading and recollections becoming weaker during an 18 month period or was it the Thin Blue Line at work?

The Senior Officer

Next up on the witness stand was Zackowski who said that he had been a police officer for 15 years and with the police department for 11 of those years. During his tenure with the department, he had taken drug recognition classes, arrested over 500 people for methamphetamine offenses and also was very familiar with search terms for parolees and probationers including through his involvement with the department’s Parole and Corrections Team (PACT). He had known Forman for his entire tenure at the department and had ridden with him 2-3 times. In April 2008, they had both been assigned in separate vehicles covering the University Avenue corridor area during the graveyard shift.

On April 18, 2008, Zackowski said he was responding to a home invasion call of an uncertain location so he went to the general area and saw a parked car with people inside parked on the street in the general area near where the report originated. He shone his spotlight on the car and about 3-7 officers including Sgt. Ruddy, Sgt. Dan Russell, De Jong, Anthony Watkins, Forman, Vivian Tate and Forman’s trainee (Edwards) responded to the scene. Zackowski testified that a woman, the victim, came out and said she owned the residence. The police ran a search on her at some point and discovered she was on felony probation.

Because of the nature of the call, several police did a protective sweep of the house to uncover any potential threats and secure the residence. Once they accomplished this, they began a secondary search. What they uncovered is that the victim had said some individuals had come to her house to use their computer and overstayed their visit. Based on the probationary status of the victim, the police decided to search the house.

Forman who had responded to the call because he had a trainee took over the scene once he had arrived with Edwards assigned the task of writing the primary police report. Zackowski who brought a wealth of experience with probationary searches due to his PACT history searched the bedroom and during the search found several syringes in a dresser drawer. Knowing that they posed a hazard to himself and other officers, he confronted the victim as he should have to ensure the safety of the officers in the apartment including himself.

He talked to the victim in the bathroom, with her sitting on the toilet and him standing by the sink in a stern manner asking her if there were other syringes that might create a safety issue for him and other officers while searching. He told her that he didn’t want to be stuck with needles because several of the syringes had blood on them.

He told her if she didn’t cooperate with him, he would violate her probation, arrest and send her to jail if they found any more needles which they did in a bag inside her closet which contained between 20-30 of them as well as a used syringe sitting outside the bag on a shelf in the closet. Zackowski said he also found a spoon which had methamphetamine residue on it. He called over Meyers and explained to her what he had found, what the spoon was used for, that it contained drug residue and what it meant so it would help her recognize similar things in the future as she gained experience in her career as a police officer in the department.

Zackowski testified that he did tell Forman about the syringes at some point but wasn’t sure whether he did it separately or whether he showed him all the syringes together. He said that he believed that eventually the evidence including the syringes would be collected and processed in an evidential fashion. When asked if there was enough evidence for him to have arrested the victim, Zackowski said yes and when asked what that evidence was, Zackowski said it was the syringes.

Then Zackowski was asked about the lingerie incident.

Zackowski testified about seeing lingerie around the bedroom and that at some point he had picked up a pair of underwear and placed it on the gun belt of Officer Anthony Watkins. It appears that the intention behind the action was that the officer wearing it wouldn't be aware of it at first and then the others watching would laugh at him as a joke. Only the joke isn't on the officer, it's on the woman whose lingerie is being used in this manner by professional police officers assigned to the Riverside Police Department while no less than three field sergeants were somewhere onscene during the incident involving what was originally a home invasion call. It's also a joke on the officers in the police department who do not act in such a matter when responding to calls for service or interacting with the public, while wearing their badges and uniforms telling everyone where they work and what they represent.

When Zackowski was asked about it, he admitted what he did and when asked if he had regrets, responded that yes he did. Maybe on his part it was an impulsive act without clear thought until after. But this wasn't one of the police department's highest points in its history and it's only come to light because of a criminal case that's held in a public forum known as a courtroom.

Watkins then walked out of the bedroom with the lingerie on his gun belt into the living room and that it somehow wound up on Officer Lonnie Battest’s gun belt. Battest then took the underwear off his gun belt and put it on the dart board, according to Zackowski who said that Battest hadn't seemed happy with what the officers had done.

“He wasn’t entertained by it,” Zackowski said.

He said he couldn’t recall if the victim had been in the area where this was taking place but that she had been sitting in a chair near the front door and he wasn’t sure she could see what was on the dart board. But Edwards had already testified that she had been seated at the chair by the table near the dartboard for reasons of officer safety while the officers were inside her apartment including when they were conducting the search. Still, Zackowski said he wasn't sure of where she was at the time of the lingerie incident.

“I didn’t look at her,” Zackowski said, “At that point, I wasn’t happy myself.”

If that's the case, then at least Zackowski admitted it. There's actions and then there's reactions to actions, even if it takes time for them to catch up with what's been done. And the fact is that playing and joking around with a woman's lingerie in her own home under the color of authority sends the message that the police department views women not as victims, perpetrators or even that "in the middle" that Meyers testified to, but as objects to be used for entertainment or to alleviate the boredom that might arise from spending hours in the earliest hours of morning when most of the world's asleep, dealing with a crime scene.

After he left with Forman and Edwards, Zackowski said he didn’t remember anyone going back upstairs to the apartment while they were leaving. He said he drove back to the Orange Station but didn’t recall going to the jail nearby although he was told that he was taped by a surveillance camera while he was there. He did recall being with Forman in front of the station and must have had a conversation with him but that he didn’t recall Forman saying anything about going back to the victim’s residence. He remembered what he had talked about with Forman but not what Forman had said to him. A lot of his recollection appeared to come from reviewing interviews.

Johnson cross-examined Zackowski and asked him why the two Internal Affairs Division sergeants were sitting in the back of the courtroom or whether he was ever notified that they would be present during his testimony. He responded no, to being notified that they would be showing up at the courtroom. Johnson asked Zackowski if he been put on notice about the department not believing that he didn't remember or did remember things that happened.

And that 20 minutes of missing time has been called into question by the department's investigators because he couldn’t recall where he was during that time in interviews with them. He was told that he had come back to the Orange Station about 45 minutes before Forman had and Zackowski said he had a vague recollection of a conversation with Forman about his personal life.

He had been interviewed twice by investigators about the incident in the summer of 2008 and after the first interview was told by a sergeant that “they don’t think you’re funny and you need to go back after lunch”. The concern by investigators had been over why he remembered specific details about the home invasion robbery call but not after that incident.

Zackowski told the jury he would never cover for another officer. He also related an incident that happened when he was out at the movie theater and received a phone call from Forman’s investigator when he hadn’t given the number out and he had asked the investigator how he had gotten his number. He had told the investigator he had not planned to cooperate with him and said that the investigator told him that he might have to work with him in the future. Zackowski took that as a threat he said, because the man worked for the law firm that represents the Riverside Police Officers’ Association and thus him as an officer. An allegation was made through questioning during his testimony that he had said that most attorneys who were ex-police officers were fired from their jobs.

He was excused subject to recall. He seemed to be relieved to be off the stand.

The Camera Man

Lonnie Battest testified next and said he had responded to the home invasion robbery call to take photographs of areas and items that other officers told him to document, usually arriving after searches had already been conducted. He saw the victim in passing and to him she didn’t seem very upset. He said that during the 30-45 minutes he had been at the scene, the atmosphere was normal and relaxed.

At one point, he looked down and saw a pair of pink underwear on his gunbelt. He didn’t think it was funny and knocked it off of his belt. To his best recollection, he said, he didn’t put it on the dart board. He didn’t see putting it on his belt or the dart board as appropriate conduct and said he conducted himself in a professional manner at the scene.

“From what I remember, I knocked them off my belt and continued walking,” Battest said.

When he left, he saw that several officers remained including Forman and Edwards at the time he had left after knocking the underwear off. What was interesting about his testimony was that he had been adamant in his testimony that the underwear on his gun belt had been pink while the victim had mentioned that it had been black. Was Battest confused about the color? He seemed absolutely set in saying that it was pink. Or was there more than one pair of underwear involved here? The questions continue as the testimony does.

It's interesting watching the legal strategies unfold by both the prosecutor and the defense attorney but curiously enough, the defense counsel seems to be assisting the prosecution more with its case than with its own. It's not clear if Forman is planning to testify in his defense but in most of these cases, police officers don't take the stand. They usually hope that their attorneys will try most of their own case through cross-examination of prosecution witnesses. In many cases involving police officers this has been enough, given that juries are reluctant to convict police officers for on and off-duty crimes and the alleged victims in these cases often have criminal records which are used to impeach them.

But the defense attorney is making it seem like Forman wasn't in the apartment at all by side-stepping his client's actions or inquiries about what he was doing while focusing on those of the other officers, which will leave the jury with the tendency of wondering why this is so and asking themselves why there's so little mention of the leading character in this ongoing story that is unfolding in front of them. What exactly was Forman doing in the apartment while the police officers were there investigating the home invasion call? It's much more clear at this point in the trial where every other officer at the scene was positioned, when and what they were doing at the victim's apartment than is the case with Forman whose actions actually matter most. The jury's biggest questions running through their heads at this point in the trial surely must be where was Robert Forman when all this was going on and what exactly was he doing inside the victim's apartment? And most importantly, did he return later?

The Detective

Linda Byerly has been a detective in the Riverside Police Department for seven years and employed as an officer for about 20 years. Currently, she's assigned in the Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit and has been assigned to this case. She spends the days at the trial sitting in the role of assigned investigator at the prosecutor's table. She testified after Battest had been excused (and he actually was, not just subjected to recall like everyone else) and her testimony seemed to set some foundation on evidential issues involving the use of the police department's Honeywell security cards.

She testified that security cards were required to obtain entrance at both the Orange Street Station and the Lincoln Field Operations Station and that the department kept records on each officer's use of the cards at the different facilities.

She testified and reports of card activity were produced that showed that the actions of both Forman and Zackowski were highlighted, showing that Zackowski returned to the Orange Street Station at about 7:18 a.m. and Forman a bit later, at 8:10.40. am. The issue of the time cards was raised in earlier testimony including the fact that Forman and Zackowski went to the jail to book a woman from the residence into jail for a felony violation but Zackowski returned to Orange Station about 52 minutes before Forman did. Unless Forman testifies, his lawyer has a couple of choices which is to discredit an electronic security system or to have other witnesses besides Forman account for the time he spent missing from Orange Street Station.

One of the biggest issues at the trial has been where was Forman during this time period and how much did he say or not say to Zackowski about where he was going and what he was doing at the point where they parted ways. And whether or not this officer is aware that his former colleague seems intent on selling him out down the river which is odd behavior from an innocent man. Of all the witnesses so far, Zackowski seems to be the most caught between a rock and a hard place, stuck answering difficult questions 18 months after the alleged criminal incident in front of Internal Affairs sergeants. Is he testifying honestly and are his gaps after the home invasion robbery car genuine or is he covering up for another officer and if so why?

And what is he thinking in that Forman's lawyer is trying to make it seem like he's the one who acted suspiciously that day? Whether it's making innuendos that he was the officer who returned to the victim's apartment and had more contact with the victim than Forman did or even trying to make it appear as Zackowski was involved in misconduct, it seems clear that for whatever reason the defense strategy is to place Zackowski in a particular role, probably not one that fits him. If Forman was indeed his friend, there's a saying about that. But Forman's in the fight of his life and his freedom playing a role inside a venue that he never expected to be. Everyone else is supporting characters.

Perhaps Zackowski's refusal to help the defense team or be interviewed by them is a reflection of his realization that something's not quite right. Because after all, there's something stronger than the Blue Code and that's self-preservation. But Zackowski's been the hardest testimony to watch because he's an officer who put in 11 years in the department and probably accomplished a lot during his tenure and made a difference in the city who sat on the witness stand looking like he's watching his career is slipping away.

Testimony is set to resume on Monday morning.

Does blogging about the Forman case make a person popular? Not exactly and apparently it hasn't in some circles on this case either. When I first wrote about Forman's arraignment last year, I received the following comment on Inland Empire's Craigslist.

So now Shelton follows one of RPDs officers through the courthouse? Sits close and eavesdrops on a handshake between a prosecutor and the officer?


Her true intentions ring out again. She is infatuated with the thought of an officer being charged with sex crimes. "This cop abused his authority," she screams. Just like he (that authority figure from her past) did to me!" Oops.

You might ask why. We have a hunch. Maybe she's reliving her Army days? Yeah we know all about that. Don't act surprised.

Sick, Shelton. You really ought to get some help with your spirits of the past. oh and get some clean clothes and get yourself clean. Your disgusting.

Eh whatever. And you of course, are cute and sexy even if you can't spell. You might want to shave once in a while though.

How the political ambitions of one key player in the San Jacinto scandal led to his downfall as the tendrils of the latest political scandal to hit the Inland Empire expands ever so outward from its epicenter.

What's going on with those red light cameras in Riverside?

Local Political Buzz

Yes, the Riverside Ward Six election is nearly four years away but there's already buzz that one candidate, Frank Corral is running for office in that ward when that seat is up in 2013. Never too late to plan ahead.

And the usual rumors about everyone and his mother planning to run in the mayoral election in 2012, the first without incumbent Ron Loveridge in the running. At least eight names have been tossed about in speculation.

Rumors are too that Ward Seven incumbent, Councilman Steve Adams might try his hand at running for the state assembly seat again which he attempted to do but failed to make it out of the Republican Primary. Perhaps he believes the second time is the charm. Probably not. It's like moving up from little league to the pros.

The Orange County Sheriff's race which takes place next year is heating up. Like both Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, Orange County has an appointed sheriff rather than an elected one. All three counties are set to hold elections next year.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older