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, December 07, 2009

Election 2009: RPOA Gets Itself a New President

RPOA Holds an Election

The ballots which were cast for the biennial presidential election held by the Riverside Police Officers' Association were counted last week. The election results showed that challenger Det. Cliff Mason defeated incumbent Det. Chris Lanzillo in the final count. This marks the third election in a row where the incumbent's been voted out of office during what some have called the most economically and politically challenging years in the city's history.

Given that an election is a significant event within the police union and the police union plays a large role in the police department, there will be further analysis of this election, its results and what the future holds in future blog postings.

Trial of Former RPD Officer Robert Forman Rests Evidence

The trial of the former Riverside Police Department officer, Robert Forman concluded its presentation of evidence today with the prosecution having Sgt. Julian Hutzler testify as a rebuttal witness, in the wake of Forman's testimony which took up the entire or part of three court days to complete.

Forman's been charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor in relation to three incidents where women alleged he sexually assaulted them while onduty. He testified for an hour or so as both attorneys took turns questioning him. As the re-directs and re-cross examinations continued, the information provided through testimony becomes more fragmented and less of a narrative as parts of information provided in earlier testimony is targeted by either attorney for more scrutiny.

While still under initial cross-examination, Forman testified that he had about a dozen contacts with the second victim while he was onduty. But it was only during the shift when the alleged incident occurred that she rode in his police car. She rode in the backseat where there was a barred separation between that section and the front seat with the doors only able to be opened by a police officer. He was asked if the back seat had ever been referred to as the "cage" and Forman said, he hadn't heard it called that. He did say that the provisions for the back seat which carries people who are being arrested or taken to jail are done for officer safety. Forman however said that he transported people either in the front seat or the back seat for other reasons.

According to the accounts provided by two of the victims, they either rode in the front seat of the squad car or the back seat. The second victim rode in the back seat according to Forman for a specific reason.

"She didn't want anyone to see her in the car," Forman said.

She had asked him initially at the Circle 1 store for $10 and he said he wouldn't give it to her for nothing but would if she gave him information on drug dealers. She got in the car and drove around with him before he dropped her back at the Circle 1 to go to a bank near 14th street and Lime before returning to Circle 1 where in previous testimony he had said he had exchanged a $20 bill for two $10s inside. When asked why he didn't just use the ATM machine at Circle 1 to get the money to give the second victim there, Forman responded by saying he didn't want to pay the fees for using the ATM. When asked why he didn't have the second victim wait inside the squad car while he got money out of the bank's ATM, he said he didn't know and he just dropped her off. After he gave the second victim the $10 for her information, he saw Officer Henry Park drive up.

Prosecutor Elan Zekster listed the parks and schools with grassy areas that were within five minutes of Circle 1 and they included Hunter Park, Bobby Bonds, Bordwell, Patterson and Fairmount Park.

Forman said he had worked in that area of the city which was the University Corridor (near Circle 1) off and on during his entire 11 year career.

The third victim, who Forman said didn't have a beverage in her hand rode in the front seat with him.

Forman's defense attorney then questioned Forman under redirect and asked him if he had chosen to take the witness stand even if he didn't have to do so and Forman told the jury, yes. None of the documents presented on the case were news to him at the time of trial.

Forman said that he thought that the third victim had been in Riverside mostly "partying" and that he enjoyed his conversations with her because they seemed to get along.

He said that the second victim initiated contact when she came up to him and said, "Hey Forman, give me $10." Forman said she had never asked to leave the car. Did she leave of her own free will, Johnson asked.

"After I let her out," Forman said.

On Feb. 15, 2008, Forman said that he had his "seat organizer" in his squad car filled with equipment. In order for someone to sit in the front seat of his car, he would have to move the organizer between the two bucket seats. Otherwise, it would be very uncomfortable for someone to sit on the passenger side of the car.

When asked if he had said anything that was unfavorable to himself, Forman agreed.

"A lot of what I said about myself was unfavorable," Forman said.

Under recross, Forman said that he had called talked to the third victim on his phone when she had called him, a month before he started calling her.

"I never spoke to her again after that night," Forman said.

When asked about why he tried to call her one month after she had contacted him, Forman responded.

"She seemed like a fun person. That's what her attitude was," Forman said, then added later, "I don't know why I called her."

Zekster asked Forman if he thought she was fun even when she was talking about her rape allegation or giving him a false name or after the incident with the angry man. Or for hanging out with a prostitute and drug addict, and he said yes.

Sgt. Julian Hutzler returned to the witness stand after Forman was excused but this happened much later as the court suspended the trial portion of the case and sent the jury on a long recess while two witnesses were evaluated in terms of whether or not their testimony would be admissible to be heard in front of the jury. With one witness, who according to minute records was Federico Mata, who was one of the parties involved with the first victim, there was some concern about whether his testimony would be compromised by possible Fifth Amendment invocation. As it turned out, that was the case. Mata apparently declared his Fifth Amendment rights and didn't testify.

Two oral motions were then made by Johnson to first continue the trial and then second, to declare a mistrial and both were taken under submission by the judge and denied. Before the motion for a mistrial was denied, witness Robert Tufano was asked to testify outside the presence of the jury and then he was excused without providing testimony to the jury.

When Hutzler took the stand, he was asked about the missing media disk from Forman's department issued belt recorder. Forman had been on administrative leave at the time and was supposed to have an escort with him when he visited police facilities but Hutzler said he had been aware of instances when Forman had been escorted and others when he had not been including one incident at the Orange Street Station when he had accessed the email system from a computer in the report writing room.

After Hutzler left the stand, the trial was closed to further evidence. Then started the discussion over jury instructions which appears tedious but actually is a critical part of any jury trial. Most of the instructions are done by the judge, in this case John Molloy but others are submitted by both sides or one side and then both sides present their arguments for inclusion. There was also discussion of lesser included charges which were simple assault, battery and attempted assault. This discussion wasn't completed by the completion of the court day so it is set to resume on Tuesday, Dec. 8 before closing arguments by both sides are presented around 10:30 a.m.

Throughout this trial both attorneys conducted themselves in very civil fashion and even though some criminal trials can be very contentious and have been, the attorneys in this case even when they disagreed, they remained polite without sacrificing their commitment to their task at hand. Such behavior allows for both the prosecution and defense cases to proceed in the manner which they need to in order to have a trial of the facts under the law.

Since blogging about this trial, I've received feedback both negative and mostly positive from different parties including an email I received through the blog from a former Riverside Police Department officer who had worked with Forman some years ago. I was pretty surprised to hear from this individual which just goes to show that life can be both interesting and surprising at the same time.

He stated that he had known Forman for a long time and had respected him but was very disappointed in his conduct. That seems to be a common observation particularly after Forman testified about allegedly engaging in consensual oral sex with one of the victims while wearing the uniform and acting as a Riverside Police Department officer. The people following the trial including police officers have a couple of choices, either to believe what Forman has testified to during his time on the witness stand or to believe that he's guilty of the crimes. And like Forman said in his testimony (as did Johnson), his representation of his own conduct with the first victim who testified left a lot to be disappointed with in terms of what he described. And that's the lesser of the two evils, with the worse being that he committed all three crimes that he's been charged with.

But neither of the portraits of Forman as a bad officer in an administrative sense or as a bad officer in a more criminal sense presents a flattering image of a police officer. It's likely that most police officers wouldn't want to accept either misconduct as appropriate and professional behavior by a law enforcement officer. Forman's entire defense is based on the presentation of himself as essentially a "lazy" and somewhat bad officer and that's not going to win him much support in his profession. Because even with what he admitted to, it's difficult to believe that he could be the good officer he insisted he was when he finished out his first day of testimony. Even his own attorney chastised him for his behavior while questioning him.

Riverside Unified School District cuts over 120 teaching positions while Lake Elsinore plans to cut schools.

Perris Police Department (one of the Riverside County Sheriff's Department contract cities) Capt. James McElvain met with Latino leaders to discuss their concerns about racial profiling. Last year, he met with African-American leaders to discuss their concerns about incidents involving officers including one where a teenaged girl was struck in the face with taser darts.

Why Stating that Gays and Lesbians Can't Lead is Wrong

This blog posting on why homosexuals shouldn't be in positions of leadership
deserves a response because there's much in it that's a generalization on the vile actions of a relative few members of this demographic and it touches on the larger issue of sexual abuse or assault under the color of authority or public trust while completely misstating it as a reason to support homophobia.

Because a minority of gay priests molested children (as did heterosexual priests but heterosexuals are still allowed to be leaders oddly enough and not, sent to their "beds"), an entire demographic that is already persecuted by this society most often in the name of religion is being told they should stay in their "beds" and not be leaders. And this post just about hits on every myth out there about Gays and Lesbians when it defends its points including that they're not people with equal rights or standing but simply faceless entities shaped and defined solely through sexual orientation and how that is identified by others who are not part of their demographic. But to use what's happened or is being misrepresented as happening in the Catholic Church for example as proof that Gays and Lesbians have no "morals" is absurd. It's an issue of engaging in abuse of power, authority and public trust that shows a lack of morals and that's not defined by the sexual orientation of the perpetrator of those violations.

That's what scandals like those impacting religious, educational, political and law enforcement institutions are all about, not sexual orientation. It's about the abuse itself and the code of silence (and some of the religious institutions rival law enforcement in this area) of an institution that is what should receive the attention not sexual orientation of the perpetrators or the victims.

If Forman's guilty, like former Officer Adam Brown was guilty, then does that make all police officers guilty?

Forman is presumably straight. Brown might not have been. But if Forman's guilty and knowing that Brown was, both would have used their authority as police officers while onduty or off-duty to victimize other people and that's a much larger issue than their respective sexual orientations.

But the majority of law enforcement officers like the majority of priests, teachers, doctors and psychologists don't commit these crimes. Just like the majority of Gays and Lesbians or heterosexuals don't commit these crimes. Just like the majority of Catholics or religious leaders don't commit sex crimes.

This is an issue that impacts cases like the Forman trial and impacts the cases of allegations made against religious leaders, school teachers, physicians, psychologists and others who hold positions of authority or trust in this society. In these cases, the issues of control and power are paramount. The issue with this type of crime is not the sexual orientation of the individual who commits it nor is it even the sexual act itself, it's the power and public trust that these institutions hold in various segments of society whether it's one police department or a particular church.

It's highly unfortunate that Gays and Lesbians have to deal with misconceptions and myths being portrayed by them in the media. These myths are hateful and they're destructive. Maybe something a person like Matthew Shepard who was killed of homophobic bigotry could explain better if he hadn't been beaten and left to die on a fence. And then his family had to suffer through having a hateful bigoted self-designated religious leader and his followers threaten to picket his funeral toting "God Hates Fags" signs. But as long as there's ignorance, they'll be bigotry. That's pretty much a given unfortunately.

And let's be real here. When you read about sexual abuse scandals or sexual misconduct scandals, who are the main offenders? Heterosexuals. But there's nothing in this posting about prohibiting them from leaving their homes and becoming leaders in society.

Nor should there be in that case either. The focus on theses cases is the violation of public trust and often that's rewarded by them being cast out of their positions of power by voters or other mechanisms.

My blog might not be as popular with city governmental officials or some of their staff as this other one is, but if intolerance towards Gays and Lesbians is what feeds that, then I'll settle happily for being somewhat less popular among City Hall. This blogger once told me that I was making enemies at City Hall because of my "nasty personality". That might be (as I did once receive a hateful email which originated from a city employee internet network) and people are entitled to their opinion. But if this is what being tight with City Hall is about, stating that an entire demographic can't be leaders because of who they are sexually attracted to (which is the number one trait used to define Gays and Lesbians as opposed to heterosexuals) then that's cool.

This blogger does make some insightful comments in his blog and does bring some issues to the forefront that need it and speaks at city council even when the climate's not warm there. But this, however isn't one of them insightful comments in the least.

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