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, January 28, 2010

When Past Becomes Prologue: Will former RPD Officer Robert Forman Be Sentenced?

***UPDATE Robert Forman sentencing postponed; Motion for new trial denied by Judge John Molloy who said 3-4 officers might have "self-destructed their careers at least partially" on the witness stand.

[One week after the cessation of the El Nino fueled storms, Arroyo Street becomes the setting of Riverside's second river. Nature proving once again, it won't be thwarted and given time, this new river will soon boast both plant life and perhaps even animal life as well. Toss in some minnows and you have maybe the next wilderness preserve. ]

The site welcomes its readers from the Riverside County District Attorney's office and the United States Department of Justice.

One day after the multi-agency raids that took place largely in the Eastside yesterday as the latest targeted enforcement against East Side Riva has led to much discussion in that neighborhood and lots of anger at the lack of response from police management and city leaders afterward including Councilman Andrew Melendrez who said he was hit by a barrage of phone calls yesterday. Most of it seems to be aimed at the lack of communication between this leadership and the community's leadership, even shutting them out of a press conference held by the Riverside County District Attorney's office yesterday. So the Eastside Think Tank and Melendrez will apparently be hosting some gathering of sorts but not until next week. And it's just as likely that once again District Attorney Rod Pacheco will ignore any invitation and won't discuss what's going on in the Eastside unless he can discuss it at a meeting held some place outside of it.

The other source of ire has long been the department and D.A.'s office unilateral focus on East Side Riva as the scourge of the Eastside and the source of all the killing and injuring being done there. In fact, there's more than one gang including the one that didn't exist, 1200 Bloc and Georgia Street Mafia, which apparently doesn't exist either. Members of one or both gangs are rumored to have killed two young Latino men who were attending a party in December 2008, a case where no arrests have yet been made. The reason by the department being that people who were witnesses to the shooting were too scared to testify.

Although ironically, that problem doesn't seem to prevent arrests and prosecutions of ESR members including one case where a dog was shot and killed less than a month after the two teens were killed. Over and over to anyone who's listening, this argument's been raised that Latino gang members (who should be the focus of enforcement) and Latinos (including those who aren't gang members but are often viewed as guilty by neighborhood association) are the focus of the police's efforts at enforcement even as the city recently disbanded its only gang intervention and prevention program several months ago.

And it's hard to know how to respond to inquiries of why a case involving the fatal shooting of a dog cleared after than the killing of two young men nearly a month earlier. People aren't so much against enforcement against gangs including ESR but they just wish it that it didn't seem that one group of victims was worth more than another. That a life taken by a 1200 Bloc gang member was worth as much as one taken by an ESR member. That the life of two teens was worth at least as much as a dog's. Does it come down to being able to find people who will testify against ESR and not in the cases of 1200, which makes you ask does one gang really scare that many more people than the other? At any rate, this is a concern that comes up an awful lot among Latinos in the Eastside including leaders that there seems to be a lot of focus on one gang while the others don't receive that. That's what I've been hearing the past day or so just as I've heard many times before. I'm not going to be the one to tell them how wrong they are or what to be frustrated and upset about. Hopefully, the community meeting next week will be well attended including by civic leaders and police department officials.

But a Press Enterprise article this morning did two things, it stated that several members of the 1200 Bloc gang were arrested albeit by local efforts not as part of this task force's actions and that 1200 Bloc once again apparently does exist and has about 200 members. This admission comes after years of the department and city reassuring everyone including as of last year when the teens were killed that the 1200 Bloc gang didn't exist, that there were no Black gangs based in the Eastside, that any of them engaging in shooting, killing and dealing drugs were just "passing through" from Moreno Valley or San Bernardino on their way some place else. But last year, Gang Sgt. Gary Touissant said at a forum held at the Orange Terrace Community Center that 1200 Bloc did exist, the first statement from the police department of what most of the people in the Eastside have known for quite a while. But he deserves credit for making that statement even as the police department blamed ESR for the murders of the two teens in the Press Enterprise coverage of that death because after all, the killing by its rivals occurred on its turf. With that argument, then the killings by ESR of either innocent people or gang members could be blamed on the 1200 Bloc because they killed on their turf, which was mentioned by the representative of the United States Attorney's office in its press statements regarding the federal indictments.

So now it's official, the 1200 Bloc gang exists. And maybe some day soon, Pacheco will wipe off his podium and hold a press conference announcing an arrest and prosecution in these killings as well. He would be making history by doing so. That might come as good news to a segment of the neighborhood that thinks that no one cares.

But one woman's efforts to bring information about the raids and the impact on community members to the Community Police Review Commission was met with a lack of attention by several commissioners and derisive chuckles by its chair, Peter Hubbard whose behavior as the head of this commission at its public meetings is absolutely atrocious. Yet it goes unaddressed by any of the other commissioners and by the city employees in attendance.

CPRC Manager Kevin Rogan did send me an email apologizing for giving the wrong information to Hubbard about how agenda items are conducted by the CPRC but the problem wasn't just that, it was also Hubbard's statements about how it didn't matter what the procedure was (that had been voted upon by the commission), he was chair and he would conduct the meetings any way he saw fit, thus endorsing the violation of their set procedure. It's pretty clear to the community why Hubbard behaves in this fashion and it has largely to do with the tremendous conflict of interest and that's most likely why he's rude, derisive, sarcastic and at best, inattentive (when he's been awake) at most meetings. People subjected to the treatment of him and his "me too" squad like Art Santore often walk out of the meetings before they are even over.

But why would a man laugh derisively when told about people being traumatized by a police raid including children? Because it's easy for many people to conflate the entire neighborhood of the Eastside with its gang members (who are its vast minority). Unlike in White affluent neighborhoods, there's not much attempt to separate the two, so consequently, it's okay for people like Hubbard to behave the way that they do and few people outside of that will blink. And these people won't change their minds until it's them that are lying on the ground during police raids or that they are in the middle of police officers running all over a street with guns. Then it will suddenly become the biggest injustice in the world to be treated as part of what's bad in your neighborhood rather than a means to an end for getting violent criminals off of the street. I've seen that change in people particularly Whites just too many times to believe otherwise. The personal becoming political.

While I was doing what the commissioners should have done and correcting Hubbard on holding a sidebar conversation while people were addressing him, Santore kept telling him not to "bite". Bolstering their "us versus them" mentality against the public even further. Honestly, how do they pick these people? That will be the subject of an upcoming blog posting or two, although not long ago the Riverside County Grand Jury allegedly sought a lot of paper documents involving the CPRC including a minute record from a city council meeting where one of its more recent appointments to the CPRC was made, involving the individual current representing the fourth ward. It's not clear why the Grand Jury wanted all these record and it might never be known for sure, but it's certainly very interesting.

The latest news about the commission gone horribly astray was sent out to the NACOLE mailing list and I received several interesting emails from members as what's been going on with Riverside's civilian oversight mechanism has been the talk of this state and at the annual NACOLE conference in Austin, Texas. Where news came out at the conference by several directors of civilian mechanisms in California who seemed to be surprised to learn that they didn't conduct independent investigations after officer-involved deaths or shootings, given that the city said that only the Los Angeles Police Commission did. Some of them from different cities in the state who attended the conference said, no actually we do it too. Which doesn't surprise me at all because this matches the results of an email inquiry I did to many of the same agencies in California. After all, just because it didn't match the city's results (and I heard so many insinuations about the "weaknesses" of my query method), doesn't make it less true or the study conducted by the city, the truth.

The commission incidentally had a whole roster of things to discuss or fight about including further restrictions on public comment at their meetings. I'm not sure what happened with that because after a while, Hubbard's poor conduct got so tiresome, I walked out of the meeting. It's just a waste of time because this commission really doesn't do anything at all and the city and probably majority of the city government (who either hates it or doesn't care about the will of the voters being subverted by City Hall) would like to keep it that way.

And it's most definitely clear that those who are responsible for the seriously bad state of the Riverside Police Department in the face of multiple officers getting arrested, violations of labor practices including the chief's powers (i.e. promoting people when he's out of town, allegations of offering promotions for campaign endorsements) and severe budget cutting would like to keep that status quo as well. It's probably the biggest conflict of all to have the same entity control both at the same time and it likely will become clearer further down the road if not now, just how detrimental these conflicts of interest and resultant decision making will be once the full truth plays out. Which is a real shame because most of the people in the department work hard and are trying to do their jobs in a situation that's worsening. But while elected officials tout public safety as the main concern in Riverside, they are either ignoring the micromanagement and mishandling of the police department by their subordinates or in a couple of cases, might even not be ignoring it all but the attention that they are paying isn't of the good kind. And what will be done to address these and other issues before the morale in the department declines further because of the damaging impact of the budget cuts and other acts of intrigue that have been done involving Riverside's public safety agency in the past several years.

As far as any voiced support of the CPRC including by city officials running for office, no offense but I'll believe it when I see it and frankly it's past time to either put up or you know, be quiet about saying that they are supporters of it. And I'm not the only one. But it's clear from getting emails of support from Oregon to Wisconsin and in between, that Riverside's not unique in having a majority of people wanting independent and transparent oversight and also having a minority view at City Hall intent on shutting it down.

Robert Forman to be Sentenced?

Today, Jan. 29 at 2 p.m., former Officer Robert Forman is scheduled to be sentenced for his convictions of felony oral copulation under the color of authority and petty misdemeanor theft. The probationary report mentioned that the recommended sentence was between 120-160 days. The sentencing has been postponed several times while the court awaits a letter from a doctor who's evaluating Forman. The letter must be submitted to the court in order for Forman to avoid a mandatory prison sentence under state law. It's not clear what sentence presiding judge, John Molloy will ultimately give him but often times, judges do closely adhere to the sentencing recommendations given by probational officers. So it's conceivable that Forman could get time served and a few weekends sweeping leaves on sheriff work detail and some probation time. Not entirely uncommon in cases like this one. Molloy could also go the other way and sentence Forman to a term in state prison.

Also being heard is a motion for a new trial filed by Forman's attorney, Mark Johnson who alleged that the D.A.'s office and police department engaged in witness tampering, pertaining to the ex-boyfriend of one victim, who was expected to testify for the defense about the woman's demeanor on the morning of the sexual assault by Forman, in terms of bolstering Forman's testimony that it was consensual. The D.A.'s Appellate Division filed a response but it was not made available online to the public but it did elicit a terse response filed by Johnson.

In his rebuttal to the rebuttal of his original motion, Johnson stated that Forman's right to a "full and fair trial" has been denied. The trial played out not "unlike what good conspiracy stories stem from, complete with daily press coverage, the presence of Riverside PD Internal Affairs sergeants upon the testimony of the first sworn witness who was identified as adverse to the People's case, and general witness intimidation that was present throughout the trial, ostensibly orchestrated by the Riverside Police Department." It went further in the next sentence.

"The theme generated by the District Attorney's Office and Riverside Police Department was to get Robert Forman at all costs."

Daily press coverage? I guess that's a compliment given that the only regular coverage of the Forman trial was by this blog. But I'm not clear on the rest of it pertaining to the daily press being part of this "theme". Were we invited or told by the police department to write about this trial? Hardly, the last thing the police department and city would want is anyone to actually attend a criminal or even civil trial involving any of its employees especially its police officers. The Press Enterprise lacks the ability to really cover courts regularly anymore due to the massive layoffs and re allotment of its remaining reporting staff. So it was mostly myself and a blogger based in San Diego who showed up several times. Not that the trial didn't prove to be very popular reading material during its duration. But no, the police department doesn't issue press releases or any instructions directing the media to show up at trials where its officers are being prosecuted. Nor does it issue press releases inviting the media to arraignments of officers who are arrested either. It didn't seem that the police department was out to *get* Forman but it did seem that it had a strong impression of his guilt for whatever reason.

If there's any pattern of behavior that's happened in the Forman case that's been disturbing, it's the sense of deja vu that this former officer was on trial on charges in relation to sexual assault under the color of authority when several years ago, a homeless gentleman said that Forman had been engaged in sexually harassing homeless women in a city park and then later added that he believed the department had taken care of it by transferring Forman to another assignment away from that park (which was also the setting for a 1997 assault under the color of authority by three former police officers). If this man's statements were indeed the truth, then where were those women when he was on trial? If the defense lost one witness in some sidebar discussion that took place behind closed doors, then the prosecution lost any prior victims that might have existed along with any record that they existed. Rumors about officers and sexual misconduct are very rare and at the moment, there have only been such rumors out in the city about two officers in the department and Forman was one of them.

Johnson who's a pretty astute trial attorney mentions that he noticed the presence of sergeants who are assigned to the Internal Affairs Division. Two or three of them began attending when the first officer began testifying about the conduct in the apartment of the first victim, the one that Forman was ultimately convicted of sexually assaulting.

Having watched the testimony of that first "adversarial" witness in question, which was Officer William Zackowski, he might have been testifying with the Internal Affairs Division sergeants sitting in the audience but Johnson appeared to treat him every much as a hostile witness as anyone else did. While on the witness stand, Zackowski did relate an incident where he was in the movie theater and he received a phone call on a number that he had kept private from the defense investigator telling him that he had better cooperate with the defense because they might have to work together down the road. Zackowski took that statement as a threat according to his testimony and that indeed sounds like behavior that's quite shady by the defense investigator towards a member of the labor union that retains this defense firm.

It's a bit strange to start advocating for an officer, whose testimony likely did attract Internal Affairs sergeants because yes, they did show up for the first time when he took the stand, when the defense investigator allegedly made those kind of comments. And it's a bit odd when Johnson made comments throughout the trial implying that it was Zackowski not Forman who had committed the criminal behavior as that makes it clear that he didn't think Zackowski was his witness. Zackowski may or may not have been Forman's friend but if that's the case, it didn't take long for his "friend" to sell him down the river to save his own skin.

It's clear that Zackowski's in a very difficult situation involving the department given the content of his testimony especially under cross-examination as he didn't really appear to be a witness for either side of the case and that was the case for other witnesses like former probational officer, Megan (Edwards) Meyers as well. Meyers didn't seem to be advocating or testifying for either side and seemed most impacted still by her firing from the police department in August 2008. Perhaps because when something controversial or out of policy happens, the probational officers are usually the first to go. Even Forman had a longer career trajectory than she did after the incidents that took place in the apartment of one of the victims several hours before she was sexually assaulted by Forman.

Though the officer who sounded the most questionable on the witness stand was former CHP officer, Anthony Watkins who came up with some testimony about an encounter he had with one of the alleged victims where she said she was looking to make money off of Forman. The account that he provided on the witness stand in December turned out to be entirely different than the one that was paraphrased on a report of his statements by the defense investigator. Everyone even those on the defense team appeared shocked at his testimony, which also took place in front of the Internal Affairs sergeants. Johnson was left in the unenviable position of trying to make it look like he wasn't hiding evidence (which he probably wasn't) and then had to paint his own investigator as incompetent to rehabilitate that witness.

The testimony about the lingerie incident where several male officers played and joked with a pair of a woman's underwear in front of her inside her apartment finally placing it on the dartboard hanging on the wall in the living room was conflicting, with the only consistency being that Forman's name not being mentioned as participating even though the victim said he led it. In fact however, very little testimony was offered up by any of the officers on exactly where or what Forman was doing while he was inside that apartment.

But the victim that Forman's convicted of assaulting was according to the defense's missing witness putting on makeup and shooing people out of her apartment in anticipation of Forman's return for recreational and consensual sex (even though this witness also said that she told him Forman "forced me to suck his dick" which is what she told others after it happened) and this creates a huge problem for the defense. Why, because if the woman is anticipating that Forman would return, it meant that some kind of conversation took place between them before he left the apartment hours earlier. Which of course would contradict Forman's own testimony that his decision to return to the woman's apartment was a spur of the moment decision after his food run to Del Taco and having time to kill. Forman never actually testified that any understanding was between the two of them of either a sexual act in exchange for no arrest or consensual sex. In fact, he testified that the sexual act was on the spur of the moment as well.

So essentially the defense through this motion has mentioned testimony by a man who never testified in court that would have contradicted the account of events that day by Forman, which doesn't sound like he would have helped Forman's defense at all. Because the only person that testified that they understood that Forman would be returning to the apartment for any reason was the woman. Why else would anyone have an expectation that an officer would return to an apartment when he had cleared the scene of a call for service hours earlier?

But one question that might not be answered is actually one of the most important from the trial and that involves the over 50 digital audio recordings that were erased by Forman from his department issued recording device or were still on the missing media disk that has never been found. What was on those recordings and why were they really deleted? And how long did it take the department to notice they were missing, and was Forman being tracked under the department's Early Warning System at the time?

When and how did Forman realize that downloading recordings from his belt recorder was such a huge liability?

Answer that question and it will tell you a lot about 1) the Forman trial and 2) why the city will likely be paying out a huge settlement on lawsuits filed in relation to Forman down the road.

Over 500 of Riverside's homeless showed up for an event sponsored by Project Homeless Connect.

The Riverside Police Department is searching for a man who kidnapped and sexually assaulted a young girl on Tuesday night.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older