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

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Help Wanted: Riverside Hunts for Its Next Police Chief or Puppet

Update****Six officers promoted to fill one lieutenant, three sergeant and two detective positions in the Riverside Police Department. Lt. Andy Flores, sergeants Ben Shafer, Michael Barney, Chris Wagner and Detective Don Nelson and Dan Koehler will be moved up officially into these ranks later this month. The filling of supervisory positions in particular was much needed in the RPD which had seen these levels of staffing decline over the past two years. ***

UPDATE: Mayor Ron Loveridge vs Mayor Pro Tem Steve Adams: Who will control the meetings? To check out who wins this tussle, check out the afternoon session of this week's city council meeting...

[Exhibit A, the wrecked Chrysler 300, was it one of an alleged number of eight such cars of which the police chief had access?]

One "Traffic Collision" Report

[Exhibit 2. Excerpts of police report on former Chief Russ Leach's "traffic collision" where Sgt. Frank Orta recommends that it just be received and filed away without any investigation.]

Entire police report by Orta is here.

Here's one route from Central and Hillside to Arlington and Rutland.

The city manager has absolute power? City council wont discuss the vetting process? Rod Pacheco suddenly can't be think (objective)? The Mayor is silent? I just moved back and clearly this gorgeous town is a fiefdom. A bunch of cowards, and yes, I'll do something.

----"Astute" at Press Enterprise site

Riverside, Could you please give me a gift of $390,000 too? When I listed the city's favorite charities, which include both developers and American Medical Response, I forgot about UCR, which some say is the most subsidized campus in the University of California system by its host city. It's important to support important scientific research but there is fellowship and grant money, both private and public, for that. The article did say it wasn't coming out of the city's general fund but did not really name the actual source. And it's not a loan apparently but a gift, during the same season the city has announced more cuts.

And guess what, this decision has come through another rushed vote due to some urgency. But hey, at least the city council will be voting on this in public unlike the decision to hire former Riverside County District Attorney Grover Trask to serve as "independent oversight" over some "sweeping" but belated internal investigation being conducted by the Riverside Police Department involving the handling of a traffic accident just after Superbowl Sunday involving former Chief Russ Leach. The criminal investigation that should have been initiated on Feb. 8 has been handed over to the CHP which has already commented on how it's found the investigation conducted by the police department somewhat lacking.

Investigating From the Inside but Not Out

By turning its own probe over to Internal Affairs, the city has assured that the public will never know the truth about what happened that night because internal investigations are by nature and by state law, confidential. The city led by city manager and now de facto police chief, Brad Hudson and City Attorney Gregory Priamos will clamp down on any information being provided to the public who pays their salaries and who at the moment, feel a bit betrayed by the city and their police department. Priamos even extends the restrictions on information about police investigations of their own towards statistics of the investigations the department conducts. Even though state penal code 832.7 allows statistical information to be provided by choice, Priamos chooses not to allow this release and then sends out letters saying that state law compels him to deny this information which is inherently dishonest. That's not the truth, which is in actuality that he simply chooses for reasons of civic liability to not even release that statistical information.

So if you're a resident of this city, the last thing you're going to hear about this so-called "sweeping" investigation is that it's being conducted and that's really the end of the story. You won't know what the findings are, what if any actions are taken and if any supervisory or management culpability is involved. It's perfectly fine for the department to do its Internal Affairs investigation although it should have started later that Monday morning, not when the department was feeling some serious heat on by Wednesday, only one day after the department decided to hand off the "traffic collision" incident to the CHP. And when it's completed, it will go for final disposition to Hudson who some feel is responsible for much of the current upheaval in the department that began long before this incident. But the problem is, that many people in this city do not have faith in the department's ability to self-investigate and then hand it off to an individual who should be investigated himself for any information he had of a former department head who imploded last week.

Another shortfall of the investigation is that the highest ranking person in the Internal Affairs Division is the lieutenant who runs it. So it will be limited to investigating only officers of that rank or below but what if information comes out that someone ranking higher than the investigators is involved? The investigation would then revert to the Personnel captain who is Michael Blakely. But among the city's residents, a lot of the suspicion is towards the management directly beneath Leach and it's clear an investigation is needed at that level to either sustain or refute any allegations which have come up about any such involvement of upper management in this incident and any prior questionable incidents involving Leach. A dark cloud of uncertainty sits over them now. So if Internal Affairs is handling the investigation, that means that upper management will not be investigated for its conduct that may or may have not followed departmental policies and procedures.

That might have been the kind of behavior that got the department into trouble in the first place, if it's the case that management had any knowledge of this or other incidents involving Leach.

Cliff Mason: Support for Acting Chief John De La Rosa "unwavering"

Riverside Police Officers' Association President Det. Cliff Mason has assured us all along with his union members (who he speaks for) that the police officers' support of acting Police Chief John De La Rosa is "unwavering" and that everything happened the way that it should have happened involving the traffic stop and report writing. Mason is to be commended for making a public statement as he has done during the past couple of days, even if it's to back the department's leadership and/or supervisors which might have forced two patrol officers to act in questionable ways which is very interesting.

So with that established, then it appears that Mason is saying that the department's cool with the idea of Hudson making the final decision which is good to know that the department is happy with that, because Mason represents and speaks for the membership of the RPOA and probably consulted with his members on their feelings on the matter before submitting his official response on the union's behalf.

One of his predecessor's, then Officer and now Sgt. Pat McCarthy was left to fill that same role several years ago when the police chief needed the union's support while being investigated for an alleged domestic violence incident. Previously Mason had said that the officers were "extremely professional" even though two of them didn't submit incident reports for the traffic collision. Not to mention that a responding sergeant submitted a report where drinking had been suspected, the motorist didn't recall how he smashed his car and yet no field sobriety test was conducted. In fact, neither the words, "alcohol" or "drugs" were included in that report at all. The report was actually dated the previous day and apparently wasn't signed off by a supervisor. The officers might have been "extremely professional" as Mason said, but there has to be a distinction made between "extremely professional (officers)" and "extremely professional conduct" meaning that you can have the former doing the latter in most situations but clearly not all the time as in this case. Maybe you had professional officers who had conducted many similar evaluations of motorists before in a very professional manner but were told not to do so in this case because the police chief was the prospective suspect and future criminal defendant.

The question has been asked outside the department if not inside of it. What if you're a professional officer who's asked or told to behave unprofessionally by a supervisor or member of management? What are your avenues in the RPD? What happens if you say, "no"?

It's not clear whether Mason made that distinction between "extremely professional officers" and "extremely professional conduct". Otherwise it makes it seem that he believes that failure to write reports or failure to properly evaluate a "potential DUI" is professional conduct. But according to Mason, there appears to be no complaints coming from his troops about the decisions made by Hudson, who is the new chief because De La Rosa is his new "at will" employee.

Current president of the Riverside Police Adminstrators' Association, Lt. Bob Williams hasn't yet made a public comment even though at least one of the involved officers was a member of his union.

Will "Sweeping" Investigation Sweep it Under the Rug?

But what kind of investigation will Hudson really be conducting? Will it be like how he investigated his own assistant manager, Tom DeSantis after a woman called 911 on him for allegedly threatening her and brandishing a gun while wearing a city-owned polo shirt. Hudson's thorough and very transparent investigation of his employee in that case should go a long way to reassure the public that everything's a-ok with how he oversees the investigative process of his own employees including department heads. Alas, neither is likely to happen because it doesn't appear that there was any such investigation.

After reading about 600 comments in the Press Enterprise and elsewhere in response to what shook Riverside's rafters this week, there's been demands for outside investigations, both federal and state, instead of the inhouse white wash that the city authorized very early on behind closed doors. Even as the community leaders remained quiet, except to comment on Leach's legacy (see below). But it's strange to hear calls for state and federal probes of the department because the city's been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt kind of thing already and in fact, the consent decree with the state just ended nearly four years ago.

But Bernstein raises some excellent questions in his column including about where Leach had been before he was pulled over at about 2:50 in the morning apparently without much of a memory. He's raising a lot of the same questions that I've heard raised by community members if not by their leadership. But then oddly enough, most communities don't actually get to pick their leaders as it turns out.

(excerpt, Bernstein)

Now comes a "sweeping" RPD Internal Affairs probe, with "independent oversight" by ex-RivCo DA Grover Trask. This thing should be dissected to the bone. Where had the chief been and where was he going at 3 a.m.? Who pulled him over? What happened from there? Who else got involved? What decisions did they make? What are normal procedures? Were they followed? ("At this point, the physical evidence is gone.") Did the RPD bring in the CHP after realizing this couldn't be contained? I hear some RPD brass resisted any coverup. Good for them.

There's been a lot of questions asked about where he had been before his accident which happened sometime between midnight and when he was stopped by two patrol officers several hours later. If he had been intoxicated from either alcohol, prescription medication or both, did anyone else know it and did anyone try to prevent him from getting behind the wheel of a car and drive off? Because if Leach had killed someone or himself or harmed anyone in the accident, in certain cases whoever provided the alcohol or had served him while intoxicated could have been liable. When Leach was asked about where he had been, he had refused to say. Why?

The accident occurred at Central and Hillside while Leach was allegedly trying to make a turn and somehow wound up swinging into the opposite traffic lanes and then striking a fire hydrant and light pole. His severely damaged vehicle with damaged fenders and missing two tires on the left side then continued for an undetermined amount of time and about three miles before he was pulled over by units at Arlington and Rutland. Here, Officers Jeremy Miller and Grant Linhart pulled him over. No doubt after seeing who it was inside the car, the officers called a supervisor and at some point, Sgt. Frank Orta appeared to supervise what turned out to be a noninvestigation of what was called a traffic collision to be filed away even though there are indications included in Orta's report that there was suspicion that Leach had been drinking. Leach had no memory of the crash, just that he had to change a tire and had been driving on a dirt road and had no idea how badly he had damaged his city issued Chrysler 300, which had been trailing enough sparks to alarm motorists to call 911. Still, no field sobriety evaluations were conducted nor were any medical personnel dispatched out to perform a medical evaluation for any possible head injury which could have been fatal as documented cases like that involving Natalie Richardson the actress have shown.

There's no sign whether the two officers who initially responded to a "suspected DUI" (as described by at least one caller) filled out incident reports themselves. The CHP had said in initial comments in a Press Enterprise article that they had not documented the traffic stop.

Mason last week wrote a letter praising the city government for essentially halting the CPRC's ability to do independent or "parallel investigations" of officer-involved deaths, until the criminal investigations are competed. Even though three cases are pending review by the CPRC for investigations six months or longer after the criminal components of their investigations by the department were completed. What Mason didn't point out in his letter was that the CPRC managed to investigate OID cases from 2002-2008, about a dozen, without compromising one single criminal investigation. In fact, Leach, the police department and not even the Riverside County District Attorney's office ever complained that a criminal investigation was compromised or contaminated by the CPRC. People including ex-councilman and reemerging spokesperson, Frank Schiavone said it was done to prevent it from happening. Pity, the same care and effort wasn't taken to ensuring the same for the police department. But the CPRC didn't compromise a single case in six years, not because of luck but because of design.

And as unfortunately, we found out this week, that's a perfect record that the police department can't claim involving its ability to not contaminate or compromise its own criminal investigations.

Press Enterprise
Columnist Dan Bernstein wrote this excellent column on the situation involving the departure of Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach. It's too bad that most of the community leaders aren't asking any questions but at least they've stopped being silent. They seemed as intent as the city administration is to build anew on top of a faulty foundation which will only lead to further problems down the road. The community's anger might simmer down as days pass but it probably won't go away. As will become clear when the next foot drops or when they realize six months, one year or so down the road that this "sweeping" investigation overseen by "independent oversight" will be kept from them, locked up in a shelf somewhere. A truly independent investigation of this situation from outside the power structure which created and fostered this situation might be both very helpful at repairing the damage done and in also creating the situation of being able to "make the most of the opportunity" that one person spoke about.

Riverside City Manager Brad Hudson is also looking for a replacement chief, apparently "aggressively" but most people should understand that what he really wants is a puppet chief. Now that Hudson is more firmly in charge of the police department and solely responsible for its hiring a new chief amid a fairly quiet city government, that's exactly what will happen. Gilberto Esqivel recommended the use of citizen panels like are used by other cities but one was used to hire the current Community Police Review Commission manager who's a complete puppet of Hudson and DeSantis through virtue of two short words, "at will". Because before him, the city had a manager who didn't want to be a puppet and after being thrown out of an emotionally charged meeting at City Hall during his final month in that position by DeSantis, an announcement came out of the city manager's office saying that he was seeking out new career opportunities.

If you can't behave like an appropriate puppet of Hudson and DeSantis, it's bu-bye.

Community leaders Response

(excerpts, Press Enterprise)

"He may not have had the same energy level of late, but he had the same commitment.I don't want any of this to interfere with what he's accomplished."

----Rev. Jerry Louder

"It seemed he was working hard to replace problem officers on the force and build anew. He partially succeeded in that, and as long as the stipulation was in place, he had the power."

----Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability Co-Chair Michael Dunn

"It's another time where we can make the most of this opportunity, or we can squander it and take steps backwards. And I hope we don't do that."

---Chani Beeman, member Community Police Review Commission

"The department has professional people who do the best they can. but as far as leadership, they didn't have any."

----Gilberto Esquivel, Human Relations Commission

"The partnership that he developed and the credibility that he brought is going to be very difficult to replace. If he told you he was going to do something, he did it."

Former RPD Lt. Alex Tortes (ret.)

Leach's 10 year legacy is being recollected by various community leaders, now that they've found their lips and have started talking. Not that Leach didn't leave behind some legacy of service including accomplishments involved with leading the department during its darkest hours after the departure of its previous chief and the imposition of the five year stipulated judgment from the State Attorney General's office. He served a very important role during the stages of the department's consent decree when the department was being overseen by some entity outside itself and in fact, outside the city. But when the consent decree was over, so was his effectiveness for different reasons. What few deep roots community policing had made were soon enough budgeted away, beginning with the quiet disbandment of the department's Community Policing Services division. As far as gang intervention and prevention programs, they pretty much disappeared in the past several years which was highlighted by the ultimate demise of Project Bridge which was to have been expanded under the original Strategic Plan. PACT disappeared as well at a time when laws determining the release of parolees in California had been loosened.

I wasn't sure how to look at Leach during most of his tenure in Riverside. Sometimes he seemed concerned with how city residents felt but he alternately viewed me as an ally (in the sense that he viewed all community members as "allies" at certain times) but at other times, made it clear that he believed that I was a "problem" including in a sworn deposition he gave in the civil lawsuit, Ryan Wilson vs the City of Riverside in February 2007 where he told Wilson's attorneys that he demurred in giving Wilson an assignment to do a ride along with an NBC reporter because he said knowing his luck, "that a certain BVN reporter would see it and he'd never hear the end of it". I imagine I'm not the only city resident who is left with that feeling that he alternately liked and disliked us, viewed us as part of a solution and as part of a problem depending on what day it was. But it's hard to be as forgiving as the community leaders appear to be towards his conduct given that there definitely appears to have been a cover up involved. He's greatly injured the department that he was hired to help bring back accountability to, during a period of intense distrust both inside and out which is hard to reconcile.

Some days he welcomed community input and other days he appeared to resent it. There were times he pushed to do what needed to be done and others when he could have done it and didn't and others where he engaged in the wrong conduct. And allegations that the department including its management and the city management enabled his apparent drinking problems for at least several years which apparently worked until last week. Now those same people either control the agency or the investigative process which means that any meaningful progress in dealing with the serious problems won't happen. It can't unless the city council, the community leaders and the police union leaders push for it and it seems that the only ones who are doing that are outside these categories and that's the city residents. Everyone is trusting everyone else even in the face of behavior that's clearly not trustworthy.

There's been a push for investigations but the city hired its own legal counsel within hours without a public discussion. In part, because Hudson pushed to make a decision to preempt any decision that could be made by an outside agency. Why that is won't be answered through this white wash that will be done on tax payers' dollars. But perhaps, when addressing these issues no longer becomes a voluntary process but is once again imposed on the city and department from the outside. As for now, the only investigation is a white-washed one and the only part that you can predict is what the response from the city's residents will be when they don't get any answers at all because they'll all be shrouded in secrecy. And given how long these investigations might take, by the time that comes to light it will be much closer to the next election cycle.

For the most part, the response of these community leaders was devoid of any such questions. Did anyone in the article ask for a truly independent investigation of what happened or a truly independent hiring process for the next chief? It's great to say this can be an opportunity for something positive but pushing for accountability in a public process as community members have tried to do, is not necessarily taking a step backward except perhaps to try to gain a vantage point to look at the larger picture.

What do we want in our police department? Are we there yet? What do officers want, and is it the same thing that's expressed by Mason? Is having a "negative" peace really such a great thing until the next crisis comes?

My first experience with Leach was at the press conference when he arrived at City Hall. I had asked him only one question because it was pretty much the jousting free for all that all press conferences are and my question was that what would he do when his honeymoon period had ended and he was faced with his first serious challenges. Then I heard several weeks later that he had dropped by the office and asked employees there questions about me, asking what my angle was and left them mostly confused.

Leach's drive to be a chief seemed to disappear just before the end of the consent decree in March 2006. But there were problems even before that, some would argue. In the insulated world of the police department, it's not seen from the outside at all until it spills over the top.

Not long before the expiration of the consent decree, Hudson and DeSantis came riding into town and soon enough, the micromanagement of the department had begun in a way unprecedented in city management. If there had been any urges to micromanage the law enforcement agency in the past, that energy was redirected back on itself by the city council at the time.

Now, the city manager can micromanage to his heart's content even as the police department has clearly suffered in the process, and the city council as an elective body allows it. It's not "administrative interference" to prevent a city manager from going overboard with department management, only to prevent him from having any role in that management whatsoever. Hudson and DeSantis might have been able to influence the promotional process through their interpretation of language in the city's charter that gives the office the final say in the promotion, firing and hiring of department employees. Yet, past city managers never engaged in this practice to the extremes that these two men did, leaving a promotional process that seems more politicized than anything else.

One former councilman later said that he had told Hudson to stop micromanaging the police department several years ago and that Hudson had agreed to stop but kept doing it. It's not clear that Leach had any ability to do anything for the department at all, except damage it in his most recent years.

Leach is quoted both past and present in this article but what is most telling about what he said, is not his present comments which have their doubters but this statement he made some time ago:

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"The first day I got here," Leach said at the time, "I'm looking at lawsuits that have been left over, reports about the department, all sort of people walking around with scars from the past."

Which of course is now what his successor has to look forward to when he or she walks through the door that first day of arriving to work to serve as the department's next police chief. That is part of his legacy too.

The Press Enterprise Editorial Board writes about corruption on the other side of the Inland Empire.

Did you feel it? A 4.1 earthquake hits the Inland Empire.

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