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 14, 2009

Is the RPD disciplining officers who testifed in the Forman Trial?

*****UPDATE***** More indictments in the San Jacinto corruption scandal

This article continues to elicit interesting comments about the recent criminal trial and mixed verdict against former Riverside Police Department officer, Robert Forman as the discussion has turned towards whether or not officers who testified in the case received legal representation. Were police officers who testified at the trial assigned to desk duty after testifying about standard procedure? Well, if that is true, it wouldn't be the first time in its history that this took place.

After all, a former Riverside Police Department employee who happened to be injured by a police officer offduty who was charged with a crime in relation to it allegedly tried to bring that situation to public attention (which initially was squashed quickly) and was bounced out of that department's workforce so fast and quickly assigned to work elsewhere in the city. The truth about what happened with that officer came out anyway months later, months after the fact and people wondered in the communities if the department had tried to cover it up. Why didn't the department admit it initially, as criminal charges lodged against police officers are much more public by nature than are administrative investigations especially since in almost all cases, the public finds out the truth anyway and then becomes naturally more suspicious than it would have been if the department was more forthcoming earlier.

One former police officer had already been out of a job by the time she testified at the trial and that was Megan Edwards Meyers, Forman's trainee who "failed to make probation" in the summer of 2008, about a few months after the alleged incident. After some of the behavior she described witnessing, it makes a person wonder why she "failed" given that at least one other female police officer similarly disappeared after being assigned to a training officer years ago who routinely engaged in sexual banter and joking. After examples were apparently made out of more than one female officer who did complain of sexist behavior and practices during the past 20 years through severe retaliation.

At any rate, allegations of retaliation against police officers who testified in the trial including the "SWAT officer" who was the first officer to have his testimony viewed by the Internal Affairs sergeant continues...


hscoach wrote:

CAGIRL, Why don't you ask what if anything has happen to them....YOU WILL BE SHOCKED. Especially for the SWAT officer.

After someone writes asking what happened to the SWAT officer, ForensicNut chimes in:

hscoach, I do know. I want the PE paper to read the comments and do a story on that! Remember the quote "I've never seen better detective work in my career," Deputy District Attorney Elan Zektser said of Riverside police, who had to investigate their own officer. "This shows we represent all victims." WHAT A JOKE! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Officers that DID testify, they became victims within their own deparment and they are NOT being shown represenation as a VICTIM!! Riverside PD will do what they want until they themselves are investigated which should be done, to much back scratching within the department. I don't feel officers that testify should be taken off patrol and assigned desk duty, nor be taken off a list to better his/her career within the department. SO having IA in the courts did damage to officers called to the stand, they told the truth about "standard procedure" and then they themselves get lowered within the department because the "higher up management" did not approve. ...the community is not aware of these things going on until myself or others bring the information out!

Once, a lieutenant testified during the racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation trial involving Officer Roger Sutton and he announced his retirement which would take place a little earlier than scheduled. Other officers were prematurely retired after testifying on the "wrong" side during arbitration cases. Most of the officers in the court cases at least were subpoenaed either as adversarial witnesses or simply with the intention of having them testify more freely without concern of retaliation.

During the trial, quite a few officers testified about a variety of things including departmental practice. Some of them testified under oath that they committed violations of policy and procedure, most notably the audio recording policy. If they did violate it, then they should be disciplined for that just as any other officer would be in that circumstance. Just as other officers who don't get called to the witness stand to testify have been disciplined for failure to record or download recordings. They should be on equal footing as those other officers who committed that violation, but not on lower footing than them simply because their transgressions became public in a court of law.

You can't reward officers for telling the truth by admitting to misconduct (as rumor has it, the Community Police Review Commission has seen fit to try to do on various occasions) because if you do that, then you're treating truth telling and veracity of officers as being something less than what is expected of every officers. The ability of a police officer to do his or her job is dependent on their honesty and integrity to be honest in situations even difficult ones which can be extraordinarily difficult but without that, the public trust in law enforcement will erode as it has in other cities. Truth telling should be expected practice by police officers not something to be rewarded because a lot of public trust is placed on their truthfulness which is assumed through their profession which is one of the reasons why violations of this public trust through dishonesty hit the public so hard.

Lying officers (which one always hopes are in the minority) do tremendous damage to an agency whenever they pop up. There's no way around that. Each time an officer lies, the department he or she works for will be viewed that way unless it shows through practice that it expects its officers to not lie when writing reports, arrest and search warrants and testifying on the stand and to be honest. Officers don't like it when the public points fingers at those with in their ranks who are caught lying in public arenas but the public does that mostly because they don't see the agency or its employees doing it. Inside a profession where veracity is everything. After all, what happens to an officer who's been branded as being less than honest testifying on the witness stand or in report writing for example? Does their career become somewhat shorter than expected?

What shouldn't be done is that officers shouldn't receive more discipline due to their testifying to policy violations than they would if they had admitted it in confidential or more private situations. Because a policy violation and telling the truth about it in a public arena are two different things. The policy violation may require discipline but the truth telling part in the courtroom is doing exactly what any police officer should be expected to do in court. If the department does punish or retaliate officers in addition to policy violations by admitting them on the stand, then what will happen is that the department's management will promote a practice of being less than honest in these cases by showing officers that telling the truth is worse than lying and the penalties for telling the truth are higher than those for lying.

One officer also admitted on the stand to violating a policy in place regarding response to police calls. That officer shouldn't be disciplined at all because the city has created the situation through budgetary necessity (as it has claimed) or otherwise when the patrol force is not able to respond to every call or is forced to use more discretion in minor calls so that they can be more available to respond to major ones. The city created that situation through its decision making practices and bears the brunt of the responsibility for any violations of that particular policy or procedure.

Officers confessing to engaging in sexist or sexual behavior including what happened in the lingerie incident should be disciplined for the behavior not for testifying about it. If the department is so preoccupied with worrying about incidents like this being brought to light in a public arena like a courtroom, then it should be doing the work inside it to ensure that incidents like playing with a woman's underwear right in front of her don't happen, period. Rather than foster an environment where these incidents don't happen and then start punishing people only because it comes to light in a way that potentially embarrasses them (as frankly it should but they should feel as embarrassed behind the shield of confidentiality as they do when it's lifted).

But unfortunately, if retaliation is going on behind the scenes against officers who testify, the public's no more likely to find out about it just like the misconduct itself because law enforcement is the most shielded profession from the public eye of any other profession out there. And it's police officer unions that fight hard and spend a lot of money including up in Sacramento to keep it that way. And this confidentiality might be necessary in some circumstances, it certainly is desirable but it can also bite officers in the rear in situations where management engages in serious misconduct.

Which is ironic as one retired law enforcement officer once told me because laws like the Police Officers' Bill of Rights were originally intended and absolutely necessary to protect the police departments' rank and file against abuses by those who managed them. But over time, this list of rights for officers has been used more to shield officers against the public and it's tied the hands of many officers to be able to have a forum where they can report retaliation and related misconduct by management or supervisors so that it can be remedied. Because face this fact, the only way to truly stem or discourage retaliatory behavior behind the scenes is to drag it from the darkest corners and bring it out into the light. Time and time again through many examples, this is the only effective way to stop it in its tracks is when practices like that can see the light of day and then be scrutinized by the same public law enforcement seems to want to protect itself from the rest of the time.

And speaking of retaliation or threats of retaliation, the police union leadership should look into allegations raised by Officer William Zackowski on the stand that he was threatened by the defense investigator through a phone call to work with that team lest they have to work together in the future (meaning that Zackowski might need their services). These defense attorneys had a contract with the union when Johnson worked for the union's retainer firm, Lackie, Dammeier and McGill and it's not clear whether that contract would allow the attorneys and their investigators to make judgment calls on which officers to represent but it would seem clear that every member of the police union would be entitled to represention under that contract regardless of whether or not they helped them in the past.

Incidentally, also included on the bio list of attorneys at this firm was former Riverside Police Department officer, Chris Gaspard who was fired in 2005 and wasn't reinstated in 2007 by the arbitrator.

Speaking of desk duty, another officer, Vincent Thomas has apparently been relegated to a civilian assignment although he's allowed to be armed with a gun. He was rehired by the city last year after spending six years away from the department being tried twice in a sexual molestation case in San Bernardino County. After two deadlocked juries, the District Attorney's office declined to retry him and charges were dropped. He was reinstated during the summer last year by the Court of Appeals but through his lawyer, refused to have a background check covering his six years away from the department. Until he had that done, he couldn't return to the field so he was assigned a spot in the Personnel and Training Division. Is he still working in the civilian division, which is very understaffed due to vacancies and hiring freezes or is he just filling in?

And why fight a background check anyway if that's required of officers who have been off for a period of time through being terminated from employment?

Finance Committee Meets Again!

[The Finance Committee met with the city department heads to discuss the issue of raising users fees in this city. The meeting was moved from City Hall to the Public Utilities Building on Orange Street]

The Riverside City Council's Finance Committee met on Monday, Dec. 14 although initially there was some confusion about the meeting's logistics. The meeting is usually conducted on the seventh floor of the City Hall main building but in an apparent last minute change, it would up being relocated to the boardroom at the Public Utilities Building on Orange Street. One city resident expressed disappointment that she couldn't attend the meeting because of a city generated email notice that listed the meeting as being at 3:30 p.m. instead of 2 p.m.

Representatives from the City Manager's Office, the City Attorney's Office and most of the department heads or their designees met to discuss the thorny issue of increasing financial recovery on user fees.

But the Finance Committee has met again! If they aren't careful, this might be a regular gig! Uh Oh!

Maybe giving Chair Nancy Hart a gavel to pound gave her some more assertiveness because Asst. City Manager and Financial CEO Paul Sundeen only ran about half of the meeting.

DA Building Dedication (and street) Closed to "The People"

[This is the closest that the "People" of the state of California could get to the dedication of new Riverside County District Attorney's office paid for by city and county residents' tax dollars.]

The Riverside County District Attorney's office finally dedicated the new building and closed off the thoroughfare of Orange near 10th Street to accommodate the crowd of people who stood by and dutifully applauded speakers including Mayor Ron Loveridge of Riverside and no doubt, District Attorney Rod Pacheco. But what about the "people" that this office always states that it represents?

Well, I saw the crowd and curiously decided to see what the fuss was about so I proceeded to the event. Two Riverside City employees from some department told me that I was unable to go to the area and that it was restricted only to "county employees". Trying to be helpful, I pointed out that there were elected representatives including Loveridge (who was speaking at the time) and Councilman Steve Adams not to mention numerous Riverside city employees standing around. So one of them amended his invite list for "city and county employees" which was somewhat helpful but I couldn't leave without making just one more statement which was to tell these impromptu bouncers that I and other people who were being barred from even approaching the dedication ceremony were those individuals who with tax dollars in the city and county coffers pay for buildings like that and the employees and equipment which fill them throughout the county.

It's like throwing a charity fund raising party and like not inviting the fund raisers themselves? How silly is that? Most people know that Pacheco is a politician who uses "victims" as political tools when necessary (which comes from having an elected position as a department head) but it doesn't make sense to claim to be an advocate for victims' and their rights and all that and then bar the classes which include the largest number of victims from attending a dedication ceremony for a building that these classes of residents in this area paid for. The city and county residents which are the ones who make it possible for the District Attorney's office to do its important work should be the first in line to be invited to a dedication ceremony which would have been much more meaningful than one which resembled a garden party.

But Pacheco in case he has had a memory lapse, needs to remember the "People" who have paid for his newest digs and open up his dedication ceremonies to the public that pays for his office just like they do every other county department to do its work.

Texting Heads off to SCOTUS

The infamous texting case involving employees in the Ontario Police Department heads off to the U.S. Supreme Court.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Three Ontario police officers and another employee sued the city after the police chief read text messages -- some of which were sexually explicit -- from one officer to the others.

The justices will decide on an appeal from the city over a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last year that sided with the officers and found they had "a reasonable expectation of privacy."

A ruling is expected by June.

"You're talking about privacy rights in the workplace," said Dieter Dammeier, an Upland attorney representing the officers. "It's certainly going to have an impact on all employment."

At issue is how much latitude employers have to regulate employees' use of technology such as e-mail and text-messaging, said Kent Richland, a Los Angeles attorney representing the city.

In the Ontario case, in 2001 officers were issued pagers that were capable of sending text message. But they were told they should have no expectation of privacy, according to court records.

Although the city had no policy on the use of text messages it did have a policyforbidding inappropriate language in e-mails.

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