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

Thursday, February 25, 2010

CPRC promises to play nicer to little avail, reduces public's access to meetings

****UPDATE***** Six City Employees Laid off: Five in Public Works, one crossing guard supervisor this week.

[CPRC Vice-Chair Art Santore listens to a point raised by Commissioner Dale Roberts, clearly not liking it that she's not marching lockstep with THE program. He threw a straw man or two her way which she easily deflected.]

[CPRC Manager Kevin Rogan (l), Commissioner John Brandriff, Commissioner Chani Beeman listen to public comment. Later, the majority of the commission voted to move its meetings to begin a half hour earlier even when one community member said she wouldn't be able to come.]

Riverside's Best Ongoing Stage Show Debuts New Act

but hours subject to change

Riverside's Community Police Review Commission held one of its regular monthly meetings and Chair Peter Hubbard (who works for a company that contracts with the city manager's office) laid out the new rules of how the meetings would be "congenial" but instead of explaining what the standards of conduct would be for the commissioners including those who have made personal attacks against people in attendance or acted in violation of their established procedure for meetings, they forbade the public from doing among other things, clapping or booing their staged performances.

All that was well and good until Vice-Chair Art Santore apparently forgot about what Hubbard had said and attacked a speaker while she was still speaking during public comment, over something that happened at his neighborhood watch meeting some time ago. Not exactly conversation under the rather reduced purview of the commission.

No one on the commission challenged him on his rude behavior which is a violation of the oath that Santore and other commissioners take when sworn into their positions. But then the CPRC members except Brian Pearcy (who doesn't seem to attend much anymore) and Chani Beeman voted for Santore to be its vice-chair during an afternoon session of its meeting. The election could have been held during an open session of that meeting less than two hours later, but there's very little interest in transparency from this commission since City Hall co opted it several years ago not long after the city council voted to hire Brad Hudson as city manager. There's very little interest in doing what they're supposed to be doing in line with the city's charter. There's very little interest in doing anything apparently but to put on display what's happened with the CPRC since it's been under the purview of Hudson.

City Attorney Greg Priamos apparently thought it was very funny given the expression on his face while this was taking place. The speaker ignored Santore's latest meltdown and tried to keep speaking but Santore kept at it.

At its next meeting, it's fully anticipated that the majority of the commission if not almost all of it will nominate and reelect the Hubbard/Santore slate to run the commission even further in the ground during its year term. Even those who oppose will likely vote for them (except for perhaps Beeman) because they're not thinking like the communities they represent but as politicians and that's one reason why perceptions exist throughout Riverside that the commission is run by Rogan (which isn't true, because he's "at will") or an essentially toothless tool of City Hall. Because if you're a commissioner or board member voting against your conscience as part of a strategy to "win" something later on, you're acting like a politician. There may or may not be a place for that on the city council dais but not on any of the city's boards and commissions.

New commissioner, Dale Roberts has clearly gotten an earful and eyeful of how dysfunctional this body is and it was interesting to see her hold her ground in the face of Santore's domineering attitude (which Hubbard amazingly reined in at one point) and keep to the point that she raised about the commission as a "quasi-judicial body" needing to receive both majority and minority opinions. Her words didn't please Santore who clearly would rather try to stamp out all minority opinion at least until the day comes when it's his own, who tried to snap back by saying that the commission wasn't a "court of law". Then about 45 minutes was spent arguing over how to define a "fact".

This was during a discussion of the evaluation process involving officer-involved deaths which is mired in minor details on how to handle different aspects of it. Commissioner John Brandriff ruffled a few feathers when he said that the past two weeks were an example of what could be expected from police reports from the department. He said that the situation involving Leach was "poorly" handled and had attracted two outside investigation which provided food for argument in the importance of an independent investigation. People in the audience, well most of them agreed and wanted to say so but alas, clapping is now forbidden at meetings.

Watching paint dry is much more thrilling than watching that dialogue which mainly involves the commission serving as the dog chasing its tail while discussing the limited topics that City Hall allows it to place on its meeting agenda. Instead of watching a commission that's supposed to represent the community and serve as a conduit for them, what you have is a rather entertaining showcase of overinflated egos. Which is why community members who attend one meeting rarely return and many asked how can anyone speak at these meetings given the way that people are treated. But with the high priced entertainment at the newly renovated Fox Theater and the rising costs at the Cineplex in popcorn futures, at least this entertainment is almost free.

Later on in the meeting, Hubbard, Santore, Ken Rotkins and Robert Slawsby voted to begin the meetings earlier, including having the general meeting begin at 5:00 p.m. and end by 8 p.m. regardless of whether or not they have completed their agendas (which they haven't done for months anyway). Commissioners Brandriff, Chani Beeman and Roberts voted against the move which was no doubt done in large part to discourage community attendance including that of Leslie Braden who addressed the commission saying that she wouldn't be able to attend because she didn't get off work in time. Some months ago, Hubbard and several others tried to change the commission's general meetings to early in the morning at about 9 a.m. That measure failed when several commissioners including Beeman and Brandriff said they would then have trouble attending the meetings themselves.

Given that Hubbard is loathe to call special meetings so that the commission can actually catch up with its agendized business, the commission will likely fall even further behind and slide even further into being completely useless to the communities of Riverside even as it might serve as a public relations tool for City Hall. But if City Hall thinks that the commission can perform even that rudimentary function, it might find out differently if the police department has another critical incident. What was interesting is that when this latest situation broke involving former chief, Russ Leach and his accident broke, people called for the feds, the state attorney general's office and county grand jury to investigate. They didn't call for the CPRC because most people do know that it's essentially controlled by City Hall and thus useless to operate in any fashion associated with this situation. Much like in the 1990s when the police department split wide open, the city's residents didn't go calling for the equally useless LEPAC.

But it's not lost on most people how as the CPRC continues to collapse on itself, that the police department has been hit with a crisis that has shaken the public's faith in it and has sent City Hall off scurrying off to find a new police chief to sign up and take the helm of an agency at what what Riverside Police Officers' Association President Det. Cliff Mason said was at a particularly delicate time. The city's going to be holding public forums and there's one public forum being held by Councilman Paul Davis being held in two weeks asking what people want to see in their next police chief. It's important for the community to provide input in this process even as community leaders have been shut off of the planned interview panel by City Manager Brad Hudson who wants law enforcement officials, business leaders (most likely only those beholden to the Chamber of Commerce rather than a more broad representation) and CPRC members (who are mainly political appointments). But no community you know, ask any prospective applicants any questions on community policing from their perspective.

Not exactly inspiring much confidence in Hudson's procedure for picking his next police chief, because make no mistake about it, the next police chief will belong to him unless enough members from the city council tell him that is not appropriate behavior and unless some serious dysfunctional dynamics within the department and between the department and City Hall are addressed. And that's not likely to take place anytime soon because guess what, City Hall really has no desire to let anyone let alone its constituents and true employers know what's really going on (the part that it doesn't know) because enough elements inside were either happy with the status quo or chose to remain blissfully ignorant.

Hudson's a bright guy and very skillful at playing his bosses which has given him much more free rein over running the city departments that he oversees than any of his most recent predecessors. That task is facilitated by the city council pretty much handing off most of its accountability mechanisms especially for financial operations and expenditures off to the city manager. It's very interesting to watch it all play out but it's impact has been detrimental most particularly on the police department.

There's no evidence that Hudson and his assistant, Tom DeSantis knew about what happened with Leach and his ill-fated drive through Riverside until some time afterward, at least this time. Hiding the incident from this micromanaging duo might not have been an easy feat. But it appeared to have worked for a while even though the department apparently violated a city policy involving "high profile" peeps to do so. It appears that the police department made the decision not to report the accident and traffic stop to Hudson's office and perhaps Hudson and DeSantis would have remained in the dark for longer, if Mayor Ron Loveridge hadn't received that anonymous phone call and another elected official hadn't received a call as well. But Loveridge's instinctual reaction would have been to stamp out the spread of the news outside the 'Hall just like the police department had clearly tried to hide it from City Hall by not notifying Hudson's office. By that time, it was probably too late.

Loveridge's pushing may or may not have catalyzed Sgt. Frank Orta to write his "traffic collision" report after he had provided a disposition at 4:44 a.m. that no report was to be taken, according to the very limited portion of the CAD report provided to the Press Enterprise by the city. Or maybe Orta had written the report earlier before the mayor notified Hudson to conduct an inquiry. While the copy of the report released by the Press Enterprise (which received its copy from City Hall) contained no reviewer's signature, there's been an allegation raised that the report had been signed by a member of the police department's management which if that were the case, would be a rather unusual circumstance for a police report.

But as the city's white wash and completely behind closed doors (where it will stay) probe continues, there's many questions that the public needs to have answered about this troubling incident and its aftermath.

There's been a lot of discussion of what's been going on and the city's so-called "sweeping" investigation into the mess which will be under the so-called "independent oversight" of Best, Best and Krieger Attorney (and former Riverside County District Attorney) Grover Trask, who of course is under contract to Hudson so really, how independent can he be? About as independent as the next police chief will be perhaps. But there's been many comments and discussions about the written report put out by Orta since it's been online at the Press Enterprise Web site. One of the questions most asked is how can a written report which included two "potential" or "possible" misdemeanor violations be written in such a fashion where it's clear that neither one was even investigated by the officers on scene including the supervisors before the incident was to be "filed" away by the department.

Here are the suspected violations introduced in the report are broken down.

"Potential DUI"

Misdemeanor #1: VC M23152(A)

Sgt. Frank Orta's statements about Leach's statements that he made after being pulled over by two patrol officers looking for a "potential DUI" reported to them. He writes about how Leach thought he had been driving in a field and dirt road and that it was evident that his vehicle had suffered "major damage" in a collision. Yet despite being a court recognized DUI expert, he never conducts a sobriety evaluation on Leach after taking over the situation from two patrol officers after he arrived onscene at the traffic stop. Why not, is the question many city residents have asked. Is it because he was the police chief? On Feb. 21, one of the patrol officers involved conducted a DUI investigation and arrest on a motorist driving on three flat tires who had been reported as a possible DUI. Writing the description of that incident was his supervisor, Orta. A solidly handled situation involving most likely an ordinary person not the police chief.

"Possible Hit and Run Traffic Collision"

Misdemeanor #2: PC M20002(A)

This section of Orta's report contains statements about Leach's vehicle having been possibly involved in a hit and run traffic collision at Central and Hillside three miles away from Arlington and Rutland, where his car which was being driven on two rims was stopped by two patrol officers. Yet there's nothing further in the report about whether or not there was any indication that Orta viewed it as a hit and run collision or that it was really investigated as such. He instead blamed the initial accident on an unsafe driving maneuver by Leach while driving near the intersection in the face of Leach's vehicle which suffered "major damage" (as checked off on the report) and the driver's apparently memory loss. So you have "major damage" to the car as the photographs clearly showed and the driver suffering memory loss who was noted on the report as having been drinking and yet you have no DUI evaluation let alone a DUI investigation conducted on Leach by Orta or anyone else at the scene. And you have no real investigation into what was clearly a hit and run accident involving Leach crashing his car at point A and then driving to point B. For most of us, that would be called "hit and run" but those words never appear anywhere except for the initial suspicion. There's again nothing about an investigation into that misdemeanor violation to see if it took place and it's perplexing to see a report listed to be filed away with not much to say about the investigation of these two misdemeanor violations.

Orta even helps out by drawing a picture of what he believed happened with this "unsafe driving maneuver".

And in the report itself, Orta provides a more verbal discription. He blames the accident on "combined violations" meaning vehicle infractions and seems content to leave it at that. Never mind the heavy damage to the car, never mind Leach's memory loss (except for the dirt road and the field), never mind that Leach's damaged car was pulled over three miles away from the point of impact. But curiously enough, Leach isn't even cited for these so-called "combined violations" by Orta or anyone else.

"Leach's Unsafe Turning Movement"

No, Leach isn't cited for the "combined violations" nor is he investigated for the "potential DUI" or the "possible hit and run traffic collision". Instead this is the recommended action provided by Orta at the end of his report.

Disposition/Recommendation: FILE

Now what if this had been an ordinary person? Would he or she had been treated this way? Would they have had potential violations of DUI and/or hit and run ignored by responding police officers and their supervisors if complaints had been made by witnesses and there was enough tangible evidence including a wrecked car that crashed elsewhere and a driver with memory loss? Not likely. In fact, most of the city's residents either through experience or just common sense know the answer to that question. The police department knows the answers too especially given in light that it abruptly canceled a planned DUI checkpoint that had been scheduled for Feb. 17 with apparently no immediate plans to reschedule it.

The Press Enterprise wrote this article about the upcoming sentencing of former Riverside Police Department officer David Reeves, Jr.

Wi Fi Outage Enters Fourth Week

An area covering part of Canyon Crest and areas around it to the north and south has been impacted by a Wi Fi outage that stems back three weeks to the rain storm that took place back then, which flooded a box containing equipment which broadcasts the internet signal to these areas. The total area impacted covers a two-square mile area. AT&T has sent out repair teams on at least two occasions recently but service has not been restored to much of this area. When the repairs will be completed is not known at this point.

Inland Empire Weekly investigates whether the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department buys equipment from a company that uses sweatshop labor.

Someone connected with former San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus faces criminal charges.

Gates separating two areas of Alessandro Heights may some day be opened.

A new way to generate power from water could come to Riverside.

The history of censorship battles in Southwestern Riverside County is a lengthy one.

Community Forum

Thursday, March 10 at 6:30 p.m. at Orange Terrace Community Center, there will be a "search for the new police chief" public forum.

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