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 10, 2010

Police Chief Leach Retires

*******Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach has Retired, for medical reasons***

"At this point, the physical evidence is gone. If there's any impairment, our investigation will be based solely on the interviews of witnesses, which will be Riverside police."

---Jeff Talbott, CHP to Press Enterprise

Chief Russ Leach responds: "I have no memory of the incident."

CHP seeks witnesses of accident.

[The car in question, which has probably seen better days.]

In the wake of the placement of Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach on medical leave, questions keep being raised in Riverside just days after he crashed his city-owned vehicle in the early morning hours of Feb. 8, not long after Super Bowl Sunday. The collision which resulted in severe damage to the left side of his car and a loss of both tires on that side took place near Central and Hillside when according to the CHP reports, he apparently drifted off to the left and hit a hydrant and a light pole. He then drove on his rims throwing up enough of a shower of sparks in his wake that alarmed motorists called 911 and officers were dispatched out to investigate the reports of the black vehicle being driven on its rims. One councilman Paul Davis was quoted in the article as saying that he received a call from someone who witnessed the car missing tires being stopped by police officers. This took place at Arlington and Rutland several miles away from the accident scene. Officers had apparently been tailing or trying to pull over the black 300 Chrysler for an undisclosed amount of time before it finally came to a stop. Then when the officers approached the vehicle just as they’ve done many times during their shifts, they discovered that this time the man behind the wheel was the police chief of their own department.

What’s striking about the damage to the car is that even though the CHP alleged that the car had struck the hydrant and the light pole (which presumably would have been to the right), the damage to the car was on the left side of the vehicle. Meaning that Leach drifted all the way across the street into the opposing traffic lanes or he was driving on the wrong side of Central (which is marked in many places with central dividers or meridians). If that's the case, then it's very fortunate that no one was hurt or killed. This contradiction of evidence with accounts of the accident will likely not be lost on the investigators in the CHP assigned to this case. But it's what took place in the aftermath of the accident which may or may not have stemmed from Leach being under the influence of alcohol which will have the lasting impact on the department's morale and standing in the face of what's been coming to light about its handling of this situation.

Then the allegations of the cover up that have been lighting up the Press Enterprise’s comment threads and elsewhere began. Officers were apparently ordered at some point to omit any mention of whether or not Leach was a DUI in their reports, and were only allowed to write about the vehicle damage. This order allegedly was issued by the watch commander who was onscene and he was allegedly ordered by an individual even higher, possibly even Leach himself to carry out this alleged coverup, which now is probably one of the city's worst kept secrets after the past couple of days.

These are the allegations which have been raised in various venues. Apparently, part of the task which has been given the CHP is that there will be an examination of the reports to see if such information was omitted and if so why. The agency will also be conducting interviews of the officers themselves and it remains to be seen what will be said in those interviews if anything. The CHP most likely doesn’t have any blood samples to test for alcohol or controlled substances because it’s very likely that none were taken.

The CHP does have written reports from the onscene officers including supervisors which may or may have not been an accurate depiction of what took place. The CHP also has photos of the damaged vehicle and any dash cams which were activated as required from any squad car that showed up onscene would of course provide ample video. That’s of course if someone or someone plural didn’t pull a Robert Forman and erase the evidence. If any recordings are missing, then the CHP should be able to examine the devices including their media chips to determine if any such deletions took place or were attempted by anyone.

Allegations have also been raised implicating upper levels of management along with a supervisor or two in the police department of engaging in the covering up of the facts. The department didn’t turn over the investigation to the CHP until Friday afternoon, according to the CHP’s statement. That was about the same time that the department was facing intense heat and the reality that this incident wasn’t going to remain a secret or an internal affair for much longer. It was going to go public. Which is of course what happened by the end of the day. But then that's how it usually is in the police department, when something happens and gets tucked away behind the wall of silence. It eventually bubbles to the surface and blows up in a huge way. An agency that has seen at least five police officers (and possibly more) arrested in 2008 and 2009. It remains to seen that despite this record of arrests and prosecutions, it might be best remembered for the one that didn't take place.

The fact is, the investigation should never have been conducted by the police department especially in light of allegations raised on the comment thread at Press Enterprise that there might have been prior incidents including one where a watch commander allegedly picked up Leach during another inhouse traffic stop and drove him home. And it's questionable whether any police department can adequately and fairly investigate its top officer if there's the possibility that he or she committed a crime. This investigation should have been forwarded to the CHP on a much more quiet Monday right after the accident and traffic stop took place. A policy dictating that should have already been put in place in case it ever became necessary. Because delaying it until the boiler gets too hot just makes it read as if the department was trying to put a lid on yet another embarrassing episode which becomes a serious problem if a criminal action is not being appropriately investigated or that process is being obstructed by anyone.

Reading and learning about some of the disturbing incidents involving this agency and some of its officers the past year or so has been unbelievable in a sense and each time you think you've seen everything and then the shoe falls even further. But I don't think I'm the only person who feels this way. And it makes sense with all the problems of "bad apples" at the bottom, that there might be a situation which mirrors it closer to the top.

Allegations have also been raised that a city employee in City Hall might have been less than forthcoming with the facts with his direct employers upon inquiry into the situation. Those need to be addressed. It's been the worst kept secret too that the police department has apparently been micromanaged by factions at City Hall including the city manager and city attorney's offices. Lawsuits have been filed by the Riverside Police Officers' Association alleging misconduct in interrogation practices and by two lieutenants and members of the Riverside Police Administrators' Association alleging that a current and former councilman have made threats based on their ability to influence the department's promotional process and that they and city management employees Brad Hudson and Tom DeSantis have engaged in political retaliation against the lieutenants and other officers.

Allegations of promotions being traded for political favors, questions surrounding the RPAA's sudden reversal on its position of not endorsing in the 2011 election to endorse former councilman, Frank Schiavone. Allegations of the promotions of the highest ranking positions being done when Leach wasn't even in town. Allegations of political deployments which means that officers are deployed not to the areas they are most needed but to wards where elected officials are running for reelection and want to appear "tough on crime". Allegations of "political hirings", which may or may not have undergone thorough background checks, including one suspected hire in 2008. Allegations of a sergeant assigned to the Internal Affairs Division not long after being allegedly brandishing a gun over a handicapped parking placard he didn't have. And now a bunch of anonymous allegations on the Press Enterprise comments threads. And comments like this one.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Party at RPD Lincoln station tonight, alcohol and hookers will be provided from recent arrest.

Is that supposed to be a sarcastic joke, or some kind of truth? It's getting more difficult to tell.

Not to mention allegations that an officer had taped himself having sex with a woman on his belt recorder, which incidentally turned out to be true and in fact was former Officer Robert Forman in the trouble that he got himself in before he was arrested in October 2008 on three felony accounts of oral copulation under the color of authority and sexual battery. He was convicted of one felony count of misdemeanor theft and might be looking at only probation and 120-150 days if the Probation Department has its wish. Three other officers are under investigation for allegedly false statements and/or testimony they gave in that case and these officers were mentioned by presiding trial judge, John Molloy as having self-destructed their careers. But if these officers are being investigated for lying, then why might there exist a situation where other officers including possibly supervisors were told to lie on reports? Why are they being investigated in a situation where management and the city delayed in handing off the obvious conflict of interest investigation to the CHP?

Two officers in the department have been arrested and prosecuted on driving under the influence charges in relation to accidents. If the case involving Leach was in the same category why is it being treated differently? But then they have been pretty much running it anyway under direction of Hudson and DeSantis from City Hall. And ironically or not, Leach's boss, DeSantis was the subject of a 911 phone call from a woman who alleged that he waved a gun at her and made threats. The law enforcement agency that responded to that never really investigated it nor did the city though there were rumors that it traveled through the county grand jury process for a while.

It seems odd that those who are closest to the positions of management and power in the police department have had run ins with the law which aren't handled like those involving most people. Most people in Leach's situation would have been cited for at least leaving the scene of an accident where property damage presumably to a fire hydrant and light pole would have least occurred. If he had been intoxicated as reported by sources, then most people would have been evaluated by police officers and arrested if they failed the tests. Police officers don't change reports for the general public but in cases they have for either high ranking public officials or celebrities like Mel Gibson and his run in with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The public officials are the first to say they shouldn't be treated different than the average man or woman, say a constituent but they already wind up pushing for the opposite instead. Investigations against these type of people in certain stations just have a way of drying up or dying on the vine and there's this expectation often among people in positions of power that this is just the natural order of things. That sense of entitlement held by people in positions of the greatest power is part of the biggest problem, and it's the element of it that's the least likely to change.

Why is the city placing an employee on medical leave after saying that he suffered no injures? A former Riverside Police Department officer was convicted of multiple felony counts stemming from allegations and later charges in relation to workman's compensation fraud for failure to disclose a prior non-work related injury. Yet not too long ago, the city was giving out medical retirements to officers that it wanted to go away (including some who had been fired and reinstated) like candy.

Who will be running the police department in Leach's absence, and for how long? Given the state of the police department, is there anyone inside of it who can be trusted internally and by the city to manage it? Can the department be led rather than managed day to day by someone inside the agency?

If Leach screwed up, then he should just accept it, and be treated like anyone else and deal with his problems. The people who think they might be helping out him or themselves by hiding anything are doing neither and if that took place in the past, then it led up to that accident that Monday morning that could have taken Leach's life or someone else's. A fire hydrant or light pole can be replaced. Human lives can't be. If Leach has a problem with alcohol then it's long past time to face up to it and deal with it himself, rather than having people "enabling" him straight to unemployment or a funeral, either his or someone else because driving a car while intoxicated is like handing a kid a loaded gun. It's been said by many addicts that drugs and alcohol can make you do things you thought you'd never do, to either get your drug of choice or to hide your addiction from others. But it's that person's choice, and if Leach is in this situation, then this should be considered the final wake up call and he should heed it rather than retreat to his network of enablers. Alcohol's taken the life of many a police officer in one way or another and ruined many a law enforcement career. But if you're still alive, you still have a chance and he needs to do what he needs to do to get off the path he's on.

But if he's got an issue with alcohol then that's only one of the problems in this situation and that's his to deal with. The rest have to do with what actions taken in that early morning hours by the police department and any consequences if the allegations of a coverup are true. Who engaged in it and who ordered it are questions that need to be answered if there was any improper or illegal conduct. But in a city devoid of real leadership anywhere, where everyone is just trying to please everyone else, to keep their mouths shut on most everything to get along, where will that come from? The police department needs that right now and when it comes to city leadership, it deserves better than it's been getting.

What will the city do to address the lack of confidence in the Riverside Police Department arising from this situation and other ongoing problems? The vast majority of officers in the department are hard-working and do not engage in misconduct and it's not clear whether they get the department that they deserve from the city either given the hard work and $26 million spent reforming it from its deeply entrenched problems and turmoils of the 1990s. But what is the city government and its management system doing this decade?

Doing their darnedest to set the clock back to that earlier decade with short-sighted budgetary decisions and very questionable management practices that are the subject of civil litigation in different judicial venues. That path has only led to greater problems, more claims and civil litigation filed, more lawsuits settled and more internal problems. There's been an appalling lack of leadership in addressing the issues of the police department from the severe budget cuts including to personnel to ethical issues involving officer conduct in the case of those arrested and in the inevitable examination of those involved in the decision making process of how the department is managed, both day to day and long-term.

And that's a situation that unfortunately seems unlikely to change in the days and weeks ahead. Until the straw comes that breaks the camel's back.



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