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, February 24, 2010

Paul Takes on Rod and a Former RPD Officer Prepares to Take a Plea Bargain

This news was kind of expected but it's interesting to hear anyway that Riverside County Superior Court Judge (and former prosecutor) Paul Zellerbach is formerly tossing his hat in the ring of the District Attorney's race that will pit him against incumbent, Rod Pacheco. His entry into the upcoming contest turns what is usually a preordained ordination into an actual horse race. Is this an extension of the D.A.'s office vs county judges rumble? It will be interesting to find out and to follow the election process now that there's actually going to be a bonafide election and not an appointment process.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"I think it is time for a change. The citizens of Riverside County deserve better from a district attorney. They are not getting what they are paying for," Zellerbach, 56, said in a brief phone interview.

Zellerbach said superior court records from the past two years show that the conviction rate for Pacheco's office is less than 45 percent at trial for all charges in combined felony and misdemeanor cases.

"The citizens of this county are rejecting the district attorney's criminal charges over 55 percent of the time," Zellerbach said. "That sends a message that he his not doing the job that the citizens of this county want."

A phone message was left for Pacheco to comment.

So is Zellerbach claiming that the conviction rate of the D.A.'s office has plummeted to 45% from its high point of 91% under his predecessor, Grover Trask? Everyone knows the ranks of his office have plummeted by 25% after that percentage of prosecutors including many with seniority have departed that office since he took the position. The inhouse union's members will most likely back their boss because if they believe he's going to get reelected, they'll believe it's career suicide not to do so. But this could be a very interesting election battle in the months ahead, in what is usually an exercise that would induce yawns and very low voter turnout.

Hopefully the two candidates will attend or even hold debate forums so that people can go to the polls to make an informed decision. Debates are interesting locations for fireworks as well. Expect Pacheco to hold another press conference where he's backed by his regular supporters in response to Zellerbach's decision to throw down the gauntlet.

Zellerbach used to be on the Human Relations Commission in Riverside and even chaired it. He participated very much in that process. He seemed intelligent and thoughtful rather than bombastic in his presentation. So his style clearly contrasts with Pacheco's (who remember, once boasted to the wrong crowd that it took a truly great prosecutor to get an innocent man convicted) which should make for an even more exciting political contest. But it will be very interesting to see a judge go up against the D.A.

More election coverage to come...

RPD DUI Checkpoint Canceled

Press Enterprise columnist, Dan Bernstein comments on the cancellation of last weeks scheduled DUI checkpoint by the Riverside Police Department. No reason was given by the department for why it decided not to hold this latest DUI checkpoint or when it plans to reschedule it. Maybe they anticipated problems at least of the public relations kind if they continued their campaign on cracking down on intoxicated drivers while they are being non-investigated for possibly trying to give their own former boss a free pass. But it's going to be a while before the public forgets that double standard of enforcement by the police department.

Bernstein's explanation is that perhaps the officers needed a refresher course on how to do DUI stops. But as we know, the officers who were either involved in responding to the ill-fated Feb. 8 accident or the subsequent traffic stop do not need that training. The supervisor who wrote the report involving former Riverside Chief Russ Leach and his sparks shooting vehicle does not need that training nor does the watch commander. It seems that they have the handling of potential DUI cases down pat already, at least for more ordinary people as was clearly shown earlier this week.

On Feb. 21, they did conduct a DUI stop involving a more ordinary person driving on three flat tires and did do the DUI investigation on that motorist. They arrested and booked him at the county jail facility without incident in downtown Riverside according to the summary of the incident written by Sgt. Frank Orta who wrote the report in connection with the Leach incident. In addition, the watch commander on Feb. 21 was the same as the one on duty two weeks earlier who was Lt. Leon Phillips.

People including police officials have argued that the officers involved were very professional officers and that could very much be the case. Officer Grant Linhart proved through his deft handling of the Feb. 21 stop that he can behave very professionally in taking an intoxicated driver off of the streets. Those two officers apparently didn't need to call for supervision so Orta was able to write a summary on the incident based likely on information provided by Linhart and Officer Jorge Sepulveda. It was a case handled very well by the officers involved, probably similar to hundreds of other such cases involving drivers under the influence in Riverside.

However, there's a difference between "extremely professional officers" and "extremely professional behavior" particularly if the former are being influenced or directed by others not to do the latter in one particular case.

And this situation and its handling just generates more questions into how professionally behaving officers can handle another potential DUI situation so unprofessionally. City resident Miguel Morales showed up at the last city council meeting with two shot glasses to talk about how alcohol is served at bars but mainly to castigate his favorite target, Councilman Mike Gardner, for comments he made to several media outlets after the incident had happened and the media descended once again on Riverside's City Hall and police department.

He blasted Gardner for saying anything was even remotely questionable about the handling of the situation involving Leach. In 2009, Morales hung out with former Councilman Frank Schiavone who came out in the Press Enterprise within a day of the incident and insisted Leach couldn't even have one beer because he was on prescription medication and thus could suffer severe effects. Maybe Schiavone would know given that Leach had spent some time living at his residence before Schiavone ran unsuccessfully for reelection in 2009. But if Schiavone wanted to be a true friend to Leach, enabling his behavior through his comments to the press wasn't the way to do that. The two are heavily rumored to be part of the old Sire's Restaurant crowd that allegedly conducted some share of the city's business inside that establishment during the past few years.

However that affirmation of Schiavone's was challenged by both the owner of Club 215 (where Leach spent 3-4 hours some time before his accident) and his attorney that Leach had consumed four whiskeys including one that was allegedly "watered down". The club might have been interested in protecting itself from any potential legal action if it was proven that Leach had been intoxicated when he left the establishment before his accident. But then the owner and attorney said they had provided video footage of Leach's whereabouts while he was at the club to CHP investigators.

Morales chastised those namely Gardner who questioned the validity of the stop on Leach, as an insult to the department. I disagree with his assertion believing that to not question it is a greater insult to the police department. To not question it is to lower the standards of conduct by police officers on traffic stops where DUI is suspected. The police department's officers conduct hundreds of these stops as unfortunately, drinking and driving is not as uncommon as it should be. The incident on Feb. 21 clearly shows that the officers involved with the Feb. 8 stop of Leach clearly know the expectations of how to conduct stops and DUI investigations on motorists suspected to legally drunk or intoxicated in ways that impair their driving functions to the point where they become a danger to themselves and others. Especially having lost Officer Claire Connally to a legally drunk driver and having had several officers involved in accidents where drunk drivers hit their vehicles while they were coming to and from work or actually onduty in their squad cars.

But this case involving Leach didn't go nearly that way. He was a suspected DUI by at least one or more reporting parties who either witnessed the accident at Central and Hillside or saw him driving around in one of his black Chrysler 300 vehicles throwing up sparks over at least three miles before he was pulled over by two patrol officers who likely had heard calls broadcast over the dispatch about a vehicle fitting that description, down to the rims. They didn't know who he was until they stopped him and approached him. But they knew from the damage and possibly reports on the radio of a prior accident that he had traveled away from the original accident scene, making him a possible hit and run offender. They said he had been drinking which was on Orta's report. It's hard to know much about what the patrol officers were thinking or doing because these aspects of them were filtered through Orta's report given that they didn't file reports of their own.

They knew he had memory loss of the accident, the damage to the car and where he had been beyond some comments about driving on a field or dirt road. Yet none of the officers who appeared on the scene looked at the two possible scenarios in this type of situation. Those being that he was intoxicated from some substance and crashed his car and left the scene, or that he had been in an accident, had suffered a head injury (leading to memory loss) and had driven away from the accident scene or possibly both. No evaluation for DUI or a head injury were ever done. The officers quickly called for supervision and then Orta, who is a DUI expert, did not conduct a DUI evaluation on the head of the agency that employed him for about 30 years. An agency he had been about to retire from in a few months.

Phillips had apparently arrived at or near the time that Orta had arrived and apparently they didn't know Leach had been involved until that point. It's possible that Orta being the expert could have said a DUI evaluation needed to be done and if he had done that, it was not the answer that those above him wanted to hear. What is clear is that at some point a decision was made by someone, and probably neither of the two supervisors involved, to not evaluate Leach for a DUI and to get him home and his car taken to one of the field operation stations for storage. But who made that decision? Were Orta and Phillips the type of supervisors who would unilaterally decide not to even conduct a DUI investigation in a case where the evidence showed it was clearly necessary to do so? Would they instead do as the officers did before them and ask for advice on how to handle it from officers higher up on the food chain than themselves? Were in fact the decisions made to handle the situation with Leach made by individuals not actually at the scene which would become Ground Zero in the resultant controversy?

And if that were the case, would City Hall ever reveal that? Of course not. Just like City Hall including City Manager Brad Hudson, Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis and City Attorney Gregory Priamos would never say anything about whether this incident involving Leach was isolated or whether there had been other alleged incidents including one where a member of the command staff received a late night call from Leach to pick him up from a desert town in San Bernardino County because he was unable to drive home himself. Or any of a number of alleged incidents including traffic stops involving other law enforcement agencies in Riverside County and perhaps others. If these people who have now put themselves in charge of a probe knew of prior incidents and didn't address them, then how can they possibly be deemed as being credible arbiters in this situation when it would provide for them at the very least a conflict of interest? Meaning that they're not just arbiters of the investigation, they are potentially its witnesses. Witnesses who may have questions directed at them that they need to answer. That's one reason of many while people including Mel Opotowski of the Press Enterprise have called for an independent probe of the whole affair.

Not the ongoing white wash probe which appears to be more about some parties protecting their own interests than at getting at the truth and putting themselves in charge of this probe was intended to leave them holding all the cards. Which will remain the status quo until the situation involving the police department is looked at independently which isn't going to happen soon.

Letters to the newspaper's reader's forum have been written for the following dates. Diverse viewpoints with some people thinking a police chief should be held to a higher standard and some believing that he should be held to a lower one.

Feb. 24

Feb. 23

Feb. 22

Feb. 20

Feb. 19

Feb. 17

Feb. 16

Former RPD Officer Pleads Guilty in Armed Robbery, Kidnapping Case

David Reeves Jr. Looking at 15 Years in State Prison Under Plea Bargain

On Feb. 23, former Riverside Police Department officer, David Reeves, Jr. plead guilty in court in front of Riverside County Superior Court Judge Richard T. Fields and will be formerly sentenced on March 11 at 1:30 p.m. Reeves has been remanded to county jail on $500,000 bail since his arrest on Oct. 14, 2009. He had initially plead not guilty to the multiple felony counts and enhancements including the possession of a firearm but during the past month or so, his attorney Tera Harden worked out a plea bargain.

(excerpt, court minute records)

SENTENCING IS SET FOR 03/11/2010 AT 13:30 IN DEPT. 42.

At the time Reeves committed a series of armed robberies and attempted armed robberies, the department had allegedly been investigating him for an addiction to pain medications and at one point had done an evaluation on him and asked for a blood or urine sample for drug testing, which led him to file a lawsuit in court one week before his arrest. The city had been trying to get him to medically retire from the department without giving him a paid physical disability retirement because his injuries allegedly occurred while he was off duty.

Temecula takes the hatchet to its budget again in its latest round of cuts.

Why Shamu is not a puppy

A trained killer whale at one of Sea World's parks finally kills a trainer. I've heard that Kenneth Peters has some really impressive tooth marks left in his head during one of his forays to the bottom of the tank. He and the whales' previous trainer were attacked and dragged to the bottom of the tank numerous times.

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