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 16, 2009

Update: Trial of Former RPD Officer Robert Forman Sidelined by Flu

"Yes we are."

---Riverside Councilwoman Nancy Hart when asked if the city council was going to vote on the appointment for the Community Police Review Commission before taking public comment. Not one elected official countered Mayor Ron Loveridge's directive to do this, which provides proof positive that the word "community" in the CPRC is truly extraneous after all. Now imagine if the mayor and city council followed this procedure on items on the discussion calendar.

The trial for former Riverside Police Department officer Robert Forman was set to resume on Monday at 1:30 p.m. but the presiding judge, John Molloy and a juror became ill and it was rescheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 10 a.m.

But alas, the next morning rolled around and Molloy was still stricken ill having to hand off his civil calendar to Department 2 and the Forman trial has been delayed until Wednesday, according to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department deputy assigned to that department. However, tomorrow is the monthly furlough day for the downtown courthouses though a judge can waive that furlough if necessary. It remains to be seen when this trial will be back on course especially if this contagion (most likely influenza) sweeps through the rest of the jury like wildfire. The ill parties are doing the right thing by isolating themselves from the rest of the population but one wonders what the impact will be on the Forman trial given that next week is Thanksgiving week, with the courthouses being closed on Thursday and possibly Friday as well.

Former Riverside Police Department officer Megan Edwards Meyers is set to resume her testimony on the next court date followed by Officer William Zackowski and possibly others. Current testimony surrounds an incident that allegedly took place involving one of the women and Forman at her apartment after a home invasion was reported and police responded around April 18, 2008 at 3 a.m. Meyers had testified that she had been partnered with field training officer, Forman and they had responded to the call in downtown Riverside along with other units. The alleged victim in this case had asked if she was going to jail and Meyers had testified last week that she wasn't, but then had said in a police interview that she hadn't talked about it with her. Meyers like most of the witnesses in this case had been on the stand for a long time and as time went on, she became more irritated as she may have been a hostile witness for the prosecution. Finally at 4:15 p.m. when she had been on the witness stand for nearly three hours, she broke down in tears, turned away from the court and said she couldn't remember everything that happened 18 months ago.

The prosecution seemed to key in on two key moments in the time line involving the home invasion call for assistance and that was the time period when she, Forman and Zackowski had been walking back to their cars and Forman went back to the apartment to retrieve an item he had forgotten. Meyers had testified that she had been gone for less than a minute but she didn't see him carrying anything when he returned.

The other focal point had been when Meyers testified about writing the report which she did as junior officer on the scene and she said that Forman had been with her, sitting next to her but at one point had gone to transport one apartment resident for booking at the Robert Presley Detention Center next door.

This case has been ongoing for over a year. Forman was arrested on Oct. 14, 2008 and charged with three felony counts of oral copulation under the color of authority and sexual battery after investigations were conducted by the Riverside Police Department's Sexual Assault and Child Abuse unit over the previous six months. A Riverside County Superior Court judge determined during the preliminary hearing that there was enough evidence for the case to go to trial which is where it's at right now.

CPRC Commissioner Interviews

On Tuesday, Nov. 17, the city council will be interviewing and selecting the newest commissioner for the Community Police Review Commission, in this case one to represent the third ward. As you can recall, former commissioner and chair, Sheri Corral resigned due to change of residency and the process to replace her proceeded more quickly than that to replace former Commission Jim Ward who resigned last March and whose replacement wasn't installed until October. More information on the candidates is included in this report. The candidates are Dale Roberts (no not that one), George Perez and Janice Bielman.

Dale Roberts was on deck first, the financial analyst from JPL who was the first interviewed. She told the city council and mayor she believed she would bring a "fresh perspective" to the panel and that she was used to dealing with disparate opinions in her work meetings. Although she's a third year law student and works for a company in Pasadena, she said she would have enough time to serve.

She believed the commission serves as a "sounding board of community to air their issues".

What was interesting is that the city council and mayor were impressed with her interview, and then immediately began asking each other who she was or whether any of them knew who she was, which mirrors the closed country club system often put on display during the applicant selection process which takes place at the Mayor's Nomination and Screening Committee. She mentioned minority reports in general but wasn't asked about her opinion of them and believed in independent investigations but didn't commit to them being done before or after the police department had completed its own investigations but noted the CPRC had several outstanding investigations.

Janice Bielman, the nomination of Councilman Rusty Bailey, was interviewed next. She said she had worked close with the police department in the Neighborhood Watch out of Beatty Street as well as spent time involved with the Magnolia Area Neighborhood Association. She had been studying the CPRC for several years and was fascinated by the machinist operations.

She told them she had signed up a long time ago and thought she would never get the chance to appear for an interview. She said that there was a lot going on with the police department, a lot of investigations and she wanted to be part of that. The department gets a lot of heat, she said and the law fascinated her. The interesting thing is that she said a lot in her interview but didn't really answer many of the questions posed by elected officials but her responses seemed to satisfy most of them anyway.

But she did support the commission's ability to do an independent, parallel investigations of the officer-involved deaths and her reason why was interesting. However, her answer to this question pretty much knocked her candidacy out of the water.

"When I do commit to something, I commit 100%," Bielman said.

George Perez was the final candidate and he didn't believe in parallel investigations but wavered on minority reports at first saying he didn't support them, then he did but when pressed on it in an impromptu line of questioning by Councilwoman Nancy Hart said he was fine with minority reports not being published. He didn't really answer the questions either but it was an interesting interview.

The mayor skipped over public comment and when asked about it, Hart backed him up. They then voted 7-1 to appoint Roberts. The mayor dissented, casting his vote for Bielman citing her history of public outreach.

Then the mayor asked for public comment but it's pointless to provide it on an issue once it's been voted on. Hart was heard complaining after that people who want to speak before they vote on an island are trying to influence their opinion. As if that were a bad thing and it's truly shameful if she believes that's the case and it was probably the two elected officials with political science training and civics training who should have explained to her that taking public comment from constituents before an item is voted on is part of the democratic process that one would hope to see in a city like Riverside. But guess what, one of them gave that directive while chairing the meeting. And what's clear about the mayor and the city council is that he gives the directives and they fall in line like a line of ducks.

But it was a bit disturbing to see the mayor defer on public comment until after the vote, especially after he ran on open government as part of his reelection bid. Open to whom? His campaign supporters, perhaps?

Because if the public's opinions aren't heard because it's not seen as being valuable or even seen as bad, then what opinions are "good"? It sends a disturbing message when the public tries to use its three minutes to weigh in on an issue or even to influence an elected body's vote or individual elected official's vote and that's seen as bad or not allowed (which was essentially what happened at the city council meeting) while developers and other people with thick wallets can donate hundreds or thousands into political candidates' campaigns and that is seen as welcoming. Then we see the council members turn around after getting donations from two developers in the downtown area and Doug Jacobs and try to as a body seize properties under threat of eminent domain including homes and try to hand them off to these private developers.

Is that kind of "influence" seen as good, while public comment by city residents before a vote is taken is seen as bad?

Is it influence through the more financial channels like political campaign contributions? Is the "good" kind of influence that which motivated the four elected officials indicted for corruption in San Jacinto? It would be interesting to do a study to see how this majority body of individuals governing San Jacinto conducted themselves in public meetings. Whether or not they fully allowed public comment before votes were taken on items that impact this city. Whether any of them spoke out rudely from the dais with their colleagues not challenging them on their conduct. Whether the city council of San Jacinto minus one saw public participation and comment as an albatross around their neck rather than as a privilege and a responsibility under a democratic system.

To find out the truth about that would be interesting indeed.

Is the CPRC the Laughing Stock of NACOLE?

The NACOLE organization which consists of civilian oversight and police review mechanisms had its recent annual conference in Austin, Texas. None of the CPRC members attended due to bans on out of state traveling in the city due to budget cuts. However, it was well attended overall and the news coming out of it is that especially among the well-represented California contingent, the foibles of the CPRC in Riverside are among the worst kept secrets. Many people apparently knew about the terrible problems with the CPRC in Riverside and asked what would be done about them. So among other things, Riverside's being known as the city that's destroying its own form of civilian oversight. Perhaps when it comes to adopting yet another slogan or catchy title, the mayor and city council should keep this in mind as a source of creative inspiration.

Mixed Sentiment about the Downtown Library Plans

The Library Board of Trustees public hearing on the design of the downtown library elicited a mixed response.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Some residents said they were pleased to see the project going forward, but others worried that the new building would take up much of the existing front lawn.

Barbara Purvis said she was disappointed that plans don't include underground parking, because the current lot is usually full.

"True, (underground parking) can be expensive, but you don't have the money for the library, let alone for the parking," she said.

About 92 parking spaces are in the present plan, a slight increase over what is now available.

Doug Shackelton, a former city planner, suggested a basement to keep the building from overpowering the site. The new design pushes out nearly to the street, which Shackelton said would interfere with views of its historic neighbor.

"Our most important architectural building in this community is the Mission Inn," Shackelton said. "It's a very sensitive façade and this doesn't respect it."

The RPD's Strategic Plan Update

As you might know, the Riverside Police Department is working on its next Strategic Plan which will be implemented after the current one (which was mandated under the consent decree with the state) expires in December. It was originally supposed to pick up where the other one left off when it left off but as too often is the case, there was some static by a faction at City Hall which blocked its creation until just recently which means that now it won't come back to the city council for a unveiling and a vote until March 2010 at the earliest. There still seems to be somewhat different interpretations of "public input" between Chief Russ Leach and City Manager Brad Hudson (who spoke on it recently at a city council meeting).

That being the case and due to the somewhat less than stellar prior history of the original Strategic Plan's implementation post-consent decree, regular progress reports will be solicited on the progression and status on this vital blueprint and the process getting it into place. It would be nice to leave it up to the professionals but that mistake has already been made and learned from so this is the procedure that's to be followed to ensure that it continues without any more drama or interruptions.

It's also important that the components of the stipulated judgment that are still in effect are included as integral to the plan as well as related issues pertaining to the staffing levels of both the civilian and sworn divisions of the department which are somewhat sorely lacking right now, not to mention that it be made crystal clear who actually is encharged with running the police department. The "too many chiefs in the kitchen" is absolutely unacceptable and as research has shown, it is not common practice among law enforcement agencies in this country to have city managers and city attorneys or even elected officials running them.

Fallout in San Jacinto

It turns out that people in San Jacinto aren't too surprised with the huge scandal breaking there involving the majority of their city government. Seriously, sometimes the people living in these scandal ridden burgs can see that something like this is coming down the bend.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Jessica Francia, 41, owns the Donut Pantry Café on Pico Avenue. She said customers talked about the charges as they ordered their coffee.

She heard "comments like, 'It's about time,' and 'I'm not surprised,' " she said.

Many knew that some city officials were under investigation, but they are unhappy about the black eye they believe the case is giving their city.

"It makes the community look bad," said Roy Neugent, 83, who lives in Hemet but likes to come to San Jacinto to do his grocery shopping. "It hurts everybody."

Betty Jo Dunham, 79, has lived in San Jacinto all her life and works at the San Jacinto Museum. Her family came here by train in 1888, the year the railroad reached the area and the city was incorporated. She's taking a wait-and-see attitude on how the new charges will affect the city she loves and knows so well.

Now with a population of 39,000, for most of its history San Jacinto was a small farming community. Dairy was the main industry, Dunham said.

A tip to an investigator got the ball rolling on disclosure of the San Jacinto scandal as the one elected official who hasn't been indicted seeks advice from the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.

Developers will see their fees getting cut in many different venues.
Tis the Season to be Jolly.

But at a time when the relationships between developers and their elected officials will be scrutinized more closely throughout the Inland Empire including Riverside to ensure that this latest bonfire is truly an isolated event.

Press Enterprise
columnist Dan Bernstein conduct an experiment with Riverside's AT&T wireless service.

If you happen to be going downtown, stop by the Back to the Grind Coffee place for some java, food and to check out the first posted ad for this Web site that is on display there on the counter. The ad was designed and produced by the excellent professionals at PIP Printing located on Market Street just a block or two away from City Hall. Remember, to shop Riverside including when you're running for office and need to buy campaign materials.

Two more earthquakes hit the desert. Never a bad time to check your stash of emergency supplies.

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