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

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hudson Probe: Who is going to investigate the investigator?

****UPDATES***Riverside County Superior Court Judge Paul Zellerbach to run for the D.A. spot against incumbent Ron Pacheco***

RPD Cancels DUI Checkpoint on Feb. 17. No reason given why.

Ev'ryone can see we're together
As we walk on by (FLY!) and we fly just like birds of a feather I won't tell no lie (ALL!) all of the people around us they say Can they be that close Just let me state for the record We're giving love in a family dose

---Sister Sledge ("We are Family" 1979)

Finally, there's been some calling for an independent probe to be conducted of the Feb. 8 traffic stop involving former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach and its aftermath. It's been pretty silent from the leadership in this city, both civic and community based and most of that has been based on the search for a new police chief to take over the helm of a troubled law enforcement agency. We know that Mayor Ron Loveridge and City Manager Brad Hudson are out searching far and wide for a police chief after having picked a recruiter behind closed doors instead of allowing the city council to meet publicly and pick one firm from a list of competitive bidders as has happened with several job searches including that of the police chief in 2000. Both men most likely would like a chief that either one or both of them can keep a tight leash on so they don't get too independent and start well, acting like a head of a police department. What they will get remains to be seen. There's been cries from people like Community Police Review Commission member, Robert Slawsy for an insider to get the respect so it won't be seen as a slap in the face to the "commanders" inside of the department. But most of the comments appear to be that the city needs to hire from outside.

Councilman Mike Gardner's asked some questions about whether anyone besides Leach would have been treated the same way or would have been placed in the back seat of a police car, which are important questions to ask from a civic leader. Of course, Gardner's attracted a cyber-anti-fan of sorts who slams him on Craigslist complete with crudely inserted photographs and engaging in some hard to decipher rants against him but so much hasn't gathered much of a following. For the most part, the people on the dais are awaiting word on the inhouse probe being led by Hudson and his so-called "independent oversight" Best, Best and Krieger attorney (and former Riverside County District Attorney) Grover Trask. City residents have challenged the probe in different venues. Community and civic leaders have remained silent on whether it's best to have an internal investigation but along come some voices from another corner on the need to do a truly independent probe of the situation. If not exactly leaders, these entities do present their cases as to why they think the ultra-secretive probe being conducted by Hudson's simply isn't the right way to go towards restoring the public's faith in the police department.

Some things are just clearly more important than restoring trust in the law enforcement agency for the second item in barely 10 years and that is in protecting any high-ranking individuals in the police department and City Hall who might at the very least have some questions to answer about what happened with Leach. These include why it took so long for the criminal noninvestigation to be handed off to the CHP rather than calling them right away perhaps at the same time there might have been cell phones being whipped out. Why Leach wasn't given a field sobriety test or DUI evaluation despite a spate of evidence that it was necessary to do. Why Sgt. Frank Orta, a court trained DUI expert, wrote a report that Leach had been drinking but not field tested. A report that was hand written rather than done through a department computer. Why Orta's report wasn't signed by any supervisor or management personnel, although an allegation has risen that originally the report had been reviewed and signed on the day it was written (which if true, would contradict the report given to the Press Enterprise by the city which had no visible signature) by someone in management.

And the most important questions, how many people were aware of what was transpiring at the intersection of Arlington and Rutland including those at City Hall. And if Hudson and DeSantis are being forthright about being in the dark, then who in the department made the decision to not notify the city management office in violation of city policy. And did Hudson ever mandate that a drug and alcohol test be performed on Leach, pursuant to city policy that requires it of city employees who crash city owned vehicles or did he decide not to to so? And how is that going to be investigated if he's in charge of the inhouse probe?

The hundreds of civilian and especially sworn personnel of the police department are left being the ambassadors of a department with its reputation in shreds based on the decisions made by a relatively smaller number of them and perhaps inside City Hall. No covered up investigation of an alleged coverup is going to change that situation for the better. But then if the well being of the police department were ever truly a concern, this mess wouldn't have happened in the first place.

But before the truth can be known, because it's sure not going to be investigated by the city anytime soon, we have to deal with something called, public relations which has been a large part of some serious community policing done by the department since this has happened both out in the city and inside the police department.

RPD PR Blitz: 'We are a family''

You can't really completely blame some of the leaders across the city for their silence on the issue, given the public relation effort that's been making the rounds of various community meetings and apparently roll call sessions inside the department about how the employees of the Riverside Police Department are all one big happy family. Oh and not to talk to bloggers or the press because the members of the department are a family. This was allegedly said by the current head of the police department, at least the one who's not currently inside City Hall who has rounded up the not exactly thrilled department's command staff to attend these roll call sessions which might be just a little slice of history in itself for all of them to be filling one space.

In community meetings, it's more like the necessity of coming together to lift up the RPD as if this were some kind of mass revival. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew this situation when he saw it and referred to it as a time of "negative peace". That's when leaders of different stripes urge people to pretty much ignore what's in front of them and try to tell everyone to be happy instead. Not that it's not interesting to suddenly see police officers at community meetings to deliver this message to the masses. Some of the community leaders seem to be buying into it but what about their constituents?

Being positive is important but not as much as being realistic.

But what's striking about these publicity tours that are taking place in the wake of the emerging scandal stemming from the events of Feb. 8 and later on is that what this stumping is about seems to be about protecting the status quo inside the police department and perhaps inside City Hall as well. If it's about keeping family together, it's about doing so while keeping its dysfunctional roots intact. Now this is in the wake of evidence that's been pushed into the public arena that the status quo in the police department is at the very least, problematic and at the most, highly dysfunctional. Why then is there such a flurry of activity going on to try to protect it? Shouldn't the status quo stand up fine on its own without the need for these appearances?

When you start seeing this type of activity, that's when you really have to start wondering what really is going on. What is it that they don't want you to see?

You have these PR junkets by key individuals in the police department in different venues, covering their bases. You have an internalized probe being conducted by the police department of a select group of individuals who were involved with the Leach traffic stop but you've handed it off to a division, in this case Internal Affairs, that can only investigate a certain class of officers, that being lieutenant and lower. So what of those above who could have their finger prints on this situation? Who investigates them? What if so-and-so says during his interview with the inhouse investigators that someone higher up ordered him to do something? What if the Internal Affairs investigators learned that a finger had been pointed at one of their own bosses higher up on the food chain? What if the fingers get pointed outside of the police department towards City Hall? What if fingers get pointed at the man overseeing the investigation, City Manager Brad Hudson. Unless you have supervisors who are willing to fall on their swords for their bosses, that could happen.

Does this "sweeping" probe of the police department's handling of the Leach affair include investigations into any similar situations involving Leach in the past? If so, wouldn't that potentially disqualify just about everyone from handling this inhouse probe?

Not if the investigation is essentially a white wash, which is exactly what it is, because there's no part of it that exists to give the public confidence in its police department if you essentially have given the investigation over to some people who perhaps at the very least might have questions to answer themselves. And you have already given the keys to the police department to the city manager's office. Because that's one aspect of the police department that needs an independent investigation is why Hudson and his assistant, Tom DeSantis have been given license to micromanage the police department since at least 2006 much to its detriment as we have all seen.

The Need for an Independent Probe

The Press Enterprise Editorial Board asked if Leach had been given special treatment by officers in his own department who responded. The Board doesn't seem to have much faith in the city's handling of its inhouse investigation. That means someone has their thinking hats on.


The city plans to tackle the latter issue through an internal investigation. City officials say the findings of the Internal Affairs probe cannot by law be shared with the public. But if city officials don't answer questions about preferential treatment and integrity, it will only undermine public trust in the Police Department and City Hall.

Residents' confidence in the city's inquiry will depend on officials providing a candid and detailed account of police actions and the city's response.

How far up the chain of command, for example, went the decisions to skip a sobriety test and not cite Leach? Why did City Hall only find out about the chief's accident through an anonymous phone call hours later? City policy called for police to notify city management of the incident, so where was the breakdown in communications? Does the city have sufficient safeguards in place to ensure that police do not treat high-ranking officials differently from average residents? And if this case was merely an aberration from standard policy, as city officials suggest, how does the city plan to ensure compliance in the future?

Such questions are not a matter of finding scapegoats, but reassuring the public that city law enforcement is impartial and city government is accountable. Those issues matter, as Riverside should know: Leach came to the Riverside Police Department a decade ago specifically to rebuild public trust in a department many residents viewed as out of control. The 1998 police shooting of 19-year-old Tyisha Miller as she sat in her car stirred community protests. That shooting also led the state attorney general to mandate reforms in the Police Department's use of force, among other changes.

That's assuming there was actually a breakdown in communications and not a bunch of people scrambling around to protect themselves by distancing themselves from what happened. It's possible that Hudson and DeSantis (who said he usually handles the "high profile" stop calls himself) were in the dark for a while after the stop had taken place. But if there were any prior incidents where Leach was pulled over and not investigated for a DUI or given a sobriety test, were his direct employers as much in the dark then?

But it's intriguing seeing how Hudson and DeSantis in the Press Enterprise are saying how they were out of the loop and the proper procedure on "high profile" stops wasn't adhered to by the police department. But the problem with their attempts to put up defenses for themselves is that they can't have it both ways. They spent several years micromanaging the police department to the depths that can only be guessed by those outside of it, doing perhaps some serious and irrevocable damage to it in the process and no one from the city government stepped forward to address them on this issue.

One former councilman tried to stop Hudson from doing it by telling him not to do it anymore back in 2007 and Hudson promised but apparently didn't stop from doing it. So Hudson has this involvement and some say overinvolvement in the police department as it heads down its decline the past several years and then when trouble erupts perhaps in relation to this treatment, he tosses up his hands and tells the media that he had no knowledge of anything. Perhaps to maintain himself as the final arbiter of the inhouse probe. After all, if he aroused too much suspicion that his own behavior might have contributed to the need of this probe, then how can he be in charge of it?

In a city where the government truly cared about accountability and transparency, he wouldn't be. But in that regard, how far has Riverside really come? Has it made any grounds at all? The lockstep behind an internal investigation that's clearly compromised from the start doesn't yield much promise.

Former Managing Editor Mel Opotowsky of the Press Enterprise took it further and demanded an independent probe. He also raised some of the same questions that many other people have been bringing up the past several weeks. Questions unfortunately for him and all of us, the city and police department have no intention of answering anytime soon.


One reason may be that they will blurt out something harmful -- about the department. Indeed, they may be under orders now not to talk because police again are conducting the investigation into police behavior. This time City Manager Brad Hudson, who has a stake in the outcome and what is revealed because he is responsible for the department, is taking direct control, with former DA Grover Trask having "oversight." Translated: Trask, a very experienced investigator knowledgeable about police culture, does not have independent control; Hudson, who some say is obsessive about quelling dissent, says the investigators will report to him.

But don't expect to find out much soon. At the "appropriate" time, Trask says, which (translation again) means when things cool off and civic curiosity has waned.

Why can't we know now the answer to these questions:

How did Leach get home? Once home was he ordered not to drive?

Why wasn't he tested for blood alcohol levels? Because he ordered his employees to lay off? Did the lieutenant say to lay off? Or did that come from someone else?

Was the car or what was left of it searched for alcohol, drugs or weapons? Was the chief armed?

What are the protocols for an officer-involved incident?

Who at city hall, including Hudson himself, was in on the incident as it was unfolding, in on the decisions not to test, not to bring Leach to be booked, not to charge him with anything, but just wait until the dust settled?

Why is the city refusing to release the 911 calls?

Why are patrol car videos of the incident being withheld? Still pictures were released.

Many of the answers from Leach, who had issued a public statement urging Super Bowl celebrants to get designated drivers, have been vague, evasive or buried in a memory failure. But maybe he is being guided by his boss, Hudson.

Therefore lies the rub, if it's true that Hudson is "guiding" Leach on how to behave as his employee while at the same time placing himself at the top position of the ongoing internal probe of the events that took place surrounding Leach's car accident and traffic stop. Few people perhaps outside the leadership circles of City Hall have any faith in this internal probe being led by Hudson who said to the press that the results of that probe and any actions taken will never be released to the public pursuant to state law. That's too bad because on Hudson's watch (and most people know he was heavily involved in the operations of the police department), the department has plummeted in its stock in terms of public perception. It's become the butt of jokes that people say when they're not really feeling all that humorous. All kinds of allegations have been raised of inappropriate behavior stemming back at least several years including a complete subversion of the promotion process beginning with the classified captains positions in March 2007 and the lower ranked lieutenant and sergeant positions in the past year or so.

Will the probe by Hudson's office investigate that? Don't count on it.

Questions, Questions and More Questions


No Answers

It's interesting to see the list of information and questions that Opotowsky wanted the department to address or answer and it has chosen not to do so just as the city has opted out of explaining why Leach was allowed to crash a city car, drive three miles on rims, elicit 911 calls, get pulled over, suffer huge memory gaps of what happened, not know how he crashed his car and despite all this, not be given a field sobriety test let alone a DUI investigation.

Contrast that with a motorist on the evening of Feb. 21 who drove on three flat tires and was pulled over by two officers both tied to either the crash of Leach's car or the traffic stop that followed the accident. Those officers including Officer Grant Linhart did a DUI investigation on the motorist and wound up arresting and taking him to Robert Presley Detention Center to be booked on DUI charges. The summary of that incident and subsequent arrest was helpfully provided by Sgt. Frank Orta, the same supervisor who oversaw the handling of the traffic stop involving Leach. Orta, a court recognized DUI expert didn't conduct any such DUI investigation or even a field sobriety test on Leach even though his own report noted that Leach had been drinking. Who was the watch commander on this shift? Lt. Leon Phillips who worked the shift when Leach was pulled over by the officers.

It's good that these officers, Linhart, Orta and Phillips, know how to do a DUI investigation on a motorist and get an arrest or draft an appropriate summary later on, at least if the person's fairly ordinary. It's not clear why these officers didn't do this type of professional job when they were stopping Leach who as stated had a wrecked car that had clearly been in an accident in another location. It's not clear why these officers didn't do this type of professional job when they realized that Leach had been drinking (as noted on the report) and yet had no memory of his accident or knowledge about the damage to his car (aside from mentioning a flat tire from driving in some field or dirt road). It's not clear why in the face of all this, the officers did not do this type of professional job which would have included a field sobriety investigation and DUI investigation. Instead, Orta wrote it all up as a handwritten report to be filed away in some cabinet some place and pretty much forgotten.

Kind of what the city wants people to do regarding this probe and the ongoing problems in the police department. Forget about them and file them away in some dusty cabinet some place.

Perris is getting set to possibly lay off more employees.

The recall election in Lake Elsinore that led to action by the Riverside County District Attorney's office attracts voters to the polls today.

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