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

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

When It Rains, It Pours: The RPD and its Five Arrests

On Dec. 24, 2009, two Riverside Police Department officers had arraignments that were added onto the criminal calendars at the Riverside County Superior Court. The first to come to light, was Det. Scott Impola who was the focus of an arrest warrant signed on Dec. 17 for charges of assault with ability to commit great bodily harm, trespassing in a noncommercial building and unauthorized disclosure of information, all misdemeanors.

But Impola was not the only arrest of a police officer that day. Officer Anthony “Rod” Fletcher who had worked as a patrol officer and on the shooting range since his hiring in April 2003 was also arrested on two criminal charges of Lewd Act with a Minor and a charge of annoying or molesting a child. In this case, the alleged victim was his 17 year old daughter who had told her mother that he had been molesting her for over two years, according to an arrest warrant taken out by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and signed by a judge.

The warrant stated that his daughter initially related the alleged molestations to her friend and then later to her mother. Her mother then initiated a temporary restraining order against Fletcher which as served at the police station and his supervisors went to his residence to confiscate his gun collection pursuant to the restraining order. Earlier, he had called his supervisor, Sgt. Russell Schubert and had told him that he was going to resign from the police department but later changed his mind. He returned to Riverside from San Jose to do as Schubert advised him to do, address the allegations. He accompanied his attorney, Mark Johnson to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to be interviewed and has denied the allegations made against him by his daughter. He is set to be arraigned on these charges and undergo the process that four of his colleagues have already started in their own respective criminal prosecutions. Fletcher's fate like some or all of the others might lie in the hands of a jury.

To date, there have been five arrests involving Riverside Police Department officers since Oct. 14, 2008 and four of the arrests involved felony charges. Of those four arrests, the Riverside County District Attorney’s office filed felony charges in three of them and misdemeanor charges in the other. Lt. Bruce Loftus, who serves as the area commander of the Central Neighborhood Policing Center told people who attended a community meeting in Casa Blanca that the department essentially recruits from the "human race" and that means that some officers get into trouble like members of the human population. That's certainly true, in ways that mean that you will probably have a majority population of officers who are professional and not engaging in illegal activity and you will have a smaller (and hopefully very small) population that is committing crimes on or off the job.

This discussion came in the wake of the Oct. 14 arrest of former Officer David Reeves, Jr. had been arrested at the scene of an auto parts store by Moreno Valley Police Department officers who were responding to an armed robbery and kidnapping in progress. Reeves had already been apprehended by some of his intended hostages and victims by the time the police arrived. Reeves had spent several years working in Casa Blanca before he was removed from active duty by the police department's management due to an off-duty physical injury and a resultant drug addiction to pain killers sometime earlier last year.

A woman at this same meeting talked about a male officer repeatedly harassing her because she was female and the response from the lieutenant was apparently to chuckle and say well, that was because she was "beautiful". So if this is this area supervisor's attitude on the issue, then it's no surprise that some of the most pervasive rumors coming about sexual harassment by officers are coming from inside his NPC. With that kind of attitude, those kind of rumors won't get checked out because with his attempts to turn a woman's serious concern into a joke, he has essentially shut off an avenue of complaint. The department has a responsibility to investigate those complaints. If they're true or they're not, that's what an investigation is supposed to uncover but joking about it doesn't accomplish that. It effectively shuts that process down and that's really unfortunate for everyone involved. The person making the complaint doesn't get due process, the officer has an allegation hanging out there against him without resolution and the department appears that it doesn't care and is covering something up. Which part of this equation provides a benefit to the department for not taking something alleged seriously? Perhaps that can be explained at a future community gathering.

However, with all the rumors flying around about a couple of officers, the department really needs to start listening to what's going on and paying more attention to how some of its officers are treating women because rumors about Forman's own alleged interactions with women existed several years before his arrest and ultimate conviction for sexual abuse of a woman. Rumors aren't always the truth but they do need to be paid attention to if they involve your employees and their interactions with community members. And the behavior of a few particularly if it's negative, has the tendency to often be read by people witnessing it as representing the entire police force. It's because when seeing officers, people don't really necessary focus on the faces, the human aspects of who they are, but the symbols that represent their agency and their police powers. The badge. The stripes or bars. And the uniform, the marked police cars.

But what needs to be done is to support police officers who are professional and doing good jobs in the difficult situation that the city's economical decisions have placed them in but to also ask questions about what's going on with the department that employs them in particular its relationship with various factions at City Hall. Because some times the best way to show support is to ask questions about what's going on and why.

Arrests in the RPD, case by case:

Oct. 14, 2008: Officer Robert Forman, oral copulation under the color of authority, sexual battery, theft, convicted of one count of oral copulation under the color of authority, petty theft.

March 1, 2009: Officer Jeffrey Adcox, Misdemeanor DUI

Oct. 14, 2009: Officer David Reeves, Jr. Armed Robbery and Kidnapping

Dec. 24, 2009: Det. Scott Impola, Assault/Trespassing/Unauthorized Disclosure of Information

Dec. 24, 2009: Officer Anthony Fletcher, Lewd conduct with a minor/child molestation

News of the latest arrest have hit the city still reeling from news of the arrest a week ago involving Impola. Currently, there are two former police officers sitting in Riverside County detention facilities and there are two upcoming arraignments for both Impola and Fletcher, a preliminary hearing for Reeves and a sentencing date (which has been continued past Jan. 11) for Forman. Some people shook their heads ruefully with one woman saying that the RPD was up to its shenanigans again. Others wondered why the city government wasn’t actively involved in trying to figure out what’s been going on with the police department this past year. And the overwhelming sentiment appears to be that no one is surprised anymore that there’s been yet another arrest involving a police officer in this city’s department. What is the city council going to do about it, more than one person asked. I’ve received some comments and emails recommending and even demanding the ouster of Chief Russ Leach, City Manager Brad Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis due to the spate of arrests in the police department. It's the first time that sentiment's been raised at least that I'm aware of so far. But it's clear that the police department is attracting some attention in that the news about it in the media lately has been dominated by the recent arrests.

Are these assertions and in some cases, strongly worded recommendations correct? That’s hard to say and it’s probably too early to tell but the sentiments behind them are pretty strong as is the sense that this police department isn’t exactly heading where it’s supposed to be and that needs to be addressed.

That nearly four years after the dissolution of the stipulated judgment with former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s office, things have gone well, a little bit awry and not for the first time. But even the five arrests since late last year by themselves may not be indicative of serious problems intrinsic within the police department. They could indeed be isolated and poorly timed incidents. Some have said that the higher number of arrests means that there’s been greater accountability in the investigations against officers for misconduct within the department. That might be true in some circumstances. It's harder to make that argument in this case only because as far as the five last arrests were concerned, three different law enforcement agencies were responsible for carrying out the arrests or drafting the arrest warrants and for doing the criminal investigations. The department probably found out about the arrests when notified by the other agencies under a mutually reporting practice.

Two of the arrests were done by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and another, by the California Highway Patrol. Three of the arrests involved alleged crimes conducted off-duty and the arrest of another officer involved onduty conduct. As for the other, the situation is not as clear and it might not be as cut and dry because while the officer purportedly was off-duty when he committed the alleged assault and trespassing of his wife’s residence, before he engaged in that behavior, he had used his police authority and powers to obtain confidential information from a DMV database from an unsuspecting police dispatcher. In other words, he was doing what police officers often do on the job which was “running a plate” which makes it hard to really determine whether he was really on or off duty, even if he wasn't officially on the clock, given that policing can really in some cases, be a 24/7 job.

Still, isolated tragedies or not, many members of the public are looking at these arrests not in this fashion but as involving everyone in the police department.

That’s unfortunate for a variety of reasons. The truth is, the vast majority of police officers in the Riverside Police Department don’t get arrested for committing these crimes or other types of crimes. The majority of them are doing very good and very important work and the arrest of a few within their ranks makes it more difficult to do this both practically and personally as well. Which makes the arrests which are bad enough even worse because what’s happening is similar to when you drop a rock in a pond, in that there are ripples extending from that action in every direction. And that was a point I raised in comments I made to the city council during its afternoon session in that when these crimes happen, where an individual or small group of police officers are the alleged perpetrators, there are many people who are impacted by their actions. And that includes officers who do their jobs professionally who are not engaging in crimes. Councilman Steve Adams lambasted me for my comments...twice as it turned out that day and it's a shame that his focus isn't on what's going on with the department but then wait a minute! There's allegations out there against him for threatening officers in the police department that they wouldn't be "fuckin promoted" for backing a rival candidate against him. And if this is the case, well obviously his priorities are elsewhere. Perhaps that's on performing the very important duty of deciding who in the department should be promoted next...if the supervisory and/or management positions ever get thawed out. After all, he has a reelection bid coming up soon.

Each arrest impacts everyone that the person arrested works with inside a police agency and not in a good way. But what needs to be looked at is what's going on inside the department when a rash of arrests is taking place, especially at who's running the shop.

Are the arrests isolated events, meaning that everything else is running as it should? Are the arrests taking place in an environment where other systemic problems are coming to the surface? And what needs the closest examination in this situation more than the work force of officers themselves, is the department's management beginning with its police chief. Only in Riverside, that situation can get a little more complicated than it usually is in most departments because of the unusually higher number of people who have their hands in the police department's kitchen. Allegations have been raised in one lawsuit that a former elected official, a current elected official (and one with some unresolved anger issues) and several individuals in the city manager's office have been heavily involved in engaging in behavior including that which is usually under the purview of a single department head, the police chief like promotions.

And what's interesting involving the elected officials in that lawsuit is that they are former councilman Frank Schiavone (who's getting ready to host Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff's next campaign party) and current councilman, Steve Adams. Both individuals who have lashed out at city residents from the dais, so it's not surprising that these allegations of inappropriate comments to police officers have arisen. It might be a little bit surprising if say, Councilwoman Nancy Hart was a focus of that same lawsuit, because she doesn't have a visible history of behaving in that way.

Another lawsuit is filed alleging that the department violated its policies and procedures when interviewing police officers suspected of misconduct or violation of the departmental policies such as the report writing policy for example. And also that officers being interrogated in connection with investigations that are considered to be criminal investigations as far as the Community Police Review Commissions' investigative mandate is concerned for officer-related deaths, are not actually considered potential criminal suspects by the police department's management and/or City Hall. They in these cases are either classified as victims or as officers giving police reports and not being interviewed by investigators.

Both avenues of litigation have raised some questions as they should, and how the city litigates both lawsuits in the upcoming weeks and months will answer a lot of questions in itself. But it's hard to know where to aim some of these questions because it's very hard to be sure these days exactly who's at the helm of the Riverside Police Department even as it does the very important work of developing and implementing its next five-year strategic plan and in fact, is holding a series of semi-public meetings with various populations of the city including African-Americans, Latinos and business folks. There's already been some question about what meeting will you be allowed to attend if you don't fit in that demographic, not to mention which one should you attend if you fit in two groups, because African-Americans, Latinos and business folks aren't necessary mutually exclusive groups. But if you don't fit in those groups, you'll probably be filling out a survey at the police department's Web site which is due at the end of the month which is a start.

But there are people who are making the effort to do the important work of putting together that action plan for the future, a process that was stopped in its tracks only several months ago. One reason why the police department or city management office might not be so inclined to even put together or allow to be put together a strategic plan is because there might be a greater focus on simply doing the day to day operations rather than in long-term planning and thinking, the type of process which leads to the production and implementation of a Strategic Plan. After all, the city allowed the first strategic plan to stall after the dissolution of the stipulated judgment in 2006. And the same nearly happened to its replacement, just a few months ago.

But still, it's hard to create some suggestions for certain objectives in the blue print for this strategic plan if you are not sure what the management structure of the department really entails. Especially when you have city employees outside the police department and perhaps an elected official or two who want the perks of micromanaging the police department but don't want to take on any of the responsibilities when the consequences of that micromanagement are becoming so readily apparent. Though one lawsuit holds them all responsible by referring to them as "de facto policy makers", which appears to be a pretty accurate description of that management infrastructure at this juncture.

The truth is, that there’s clearly a cast of individuals who are responsible for what’s going on with the police department and at the very least, perhaps the serious issues which have plagued the agency for a while might be detracting the attention away from looking for signs of problems exhibited by police officers in the days and weeks, even months before they are getting arrested. If not directly contributing to the arrests, they might be more of an indirect cause. But at the most, they could be creating serious problems even if they aren't related to the recent group of arrests at all.

Even off-duty behavior or problems can impact onduty behavior as everyone’s heard the story about the police officer who has had no problems with the public for years and then because of some stressful life event, racks up dozens of complaints within a short period of time. In part because of that situation, that is why the department was asked and then later mandated to create what’s called its Early Warning System. This internalized and computerized system for tracking officers based on parameters that signify both positive and negative events in the hopes of determining whether or not those events signify a pattern or trend of problematic behavior over a period of time. But if the infrastructure that is supposed to be overseeing this system and other mechanisms put in place, is so distracted doing other things, then important things begin slipping through the cracks. And one of those accountability mechanisms which created concern during the recent trial of Forman for example, were the digital recording devices that all field officers and their supervisors carry including the downloading process into the department's mainframe. Testimony and documentation at the trial showed that several officers including field training officers including Forman did not activate their devices when required to by departmental policy. Forman himself testified that he had been flagrantly violating the policy since its implementation by both failing to activate his recorder and by deleting recordings including over 50 in 2008 before he was taken off the streets and put on administrative leave during the sexual assault investigation.

It's difficult to watch and write about these arrests because the department really is much more than a group of officers getting arrested and in one case convicted for criminal behavior. But it's not something that can be ignored either because of other ongoing issues inside the police department, these arrests aren't happening completely in isolation. The department spent years and over $26 million was put in this effort to create a much better law enforcement agency including one that was compliant with state laws, the state constitution and the Peace Officer Bill of Rights. But after that valuable process was completed, the department stumbled out of the blocks in 2006, as Hudson went directly against a city council vote to implement an action plan to implement the department's strategic plan and had to be redirected back on course, but not before representatives from the State Attorney General's office read about the situation under a posting titled, "What would Lockyer Think" during the autumn months of 2006.

And earlier this week, for whatever reason, there were visits to entries on this blog from the State Attorney General's office. This blog posting was visited during the week earlier by another California state agency, the Treasurer's office under a search for "Bill Lockyer". Lockyer's the current state treasurer.

Domain Name (Unknown)
IP Address ? (California Department of Justice)
ISP California Department of Justice
Continent : North America
Country : United States (Facts)
State : California
City : Sacramento
Lat/Long : 38.5765, -121.4445 (Map)
Distance : 395 miles
Language English (U.S.)
Operating System Microsoft WinXP
Browser Internet Explorer 7.0
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Time of Visit Jan 4 2010 8:05:01 am
Last Page View Jan 4 2010 8:05:01 am
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Visit Entry Page http://rivercitycopw...her-rpd-officer.html
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Visitor's Time Jan 4 2010 8:05:01 am

But the questions that many people are beginning to formulate involving the police department need to be asked. Not that they'll receive answers any time soon.

On a related topic...

Steve Adams Tantrum Update

Riverside Councilman Steve Adams was apparently so proud of his verbal ranting at me during the afternoon session that he celebrated his appointment as mayor pro tem by repeating it, just in case people in Riverside didn't know he had ranted at me. It's heartening to know that Mr. Adams has found something that he can be so happy about...that day.

However, there's been no reliable reportings that Adams repeated his performance at any public appearances today.

Press Enterprise columnist, Dan Bernstein writes about the Fox Theater's opening.

The trial of a Los Angeles County Fire Department assistant chief on animal cruelty charges began this week.

A San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department undersheriff is retiring this month.

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