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 18, 2010

RPD: What if You Wrote a Report and No One Signed It?

A lot of discussion has risen in the communities of Riverside about the accident and traffic stop involving former Riverside Police Department Chief Russ Leach that took place in the early morning hours of Feb. 8, 2010 and since then has generated a firestorm both in the department and in the city. A couple probes are being done including a criminal investigation by the California Highway Patrol and a somewhat less than independent internal probe being done by the police department's Internal Affairs Division and controlled by City Manager Brad Hudson who hired Best, Best and Krieger Attorney (and former Riverside County District Attorney) Grover Trask in a closed doors decision making process to serve as "independent oversight" over the process. It's so independent that it's being conducted inhouse and it's so transparent that the public likely will never know the outcome or the findings of the investigation that their tax dollars are paying to conduct. That's by design folks.

Not too long after the incident began to get away from efforts taken by the police department and city to keep it more under wraps, the city released the single police report taken on the incident to the local press. Perhaps it was trying to do this to make it look like it wasn't hiding public information from the city's residents but what happened instead and for good reason is that the report generated even more anger and disappointment not to mention distrust in the communities against the city and the police department. The city needs to understand that the populace that it governs isn't nearly as stupid as it thinks we are. Of course, the city would understand this if it actually went out and talked to the people instead of putting up roadblocks for public participation and sitting around tables at meetings going through board and commission applications asking if they knew this person or that one, do you know them? The public has seen through this mess from the beginning even as the city continues to do its side step. Its very quiet sidestep.

There are several important reasons for why the report has generated such distrust, but what it comes down to is that what's in the report and more importantly what's not, more than hints at a cover up of the accident, the hit and run and most of all, the traffic stop conducted by Officers Jeremy Miller and Grant Linhart which took place three miles distant and some time after the original accident involving Leach and one of his city issued black Chrysler 300s vehicles. Appearing on the scene were others including Sgt. Frank Orta and the watch commander, Lt. Leon Phillips who apparently have lawyered up but other than that haven't been seen much lately.

This is a portion of the incident report from the CAD, which details what transpired in terms of police response and actions taken by officers from the beginning to the incident to the time it's closed out. This one-page sheet compromises the final page of Orta's report even as it's not all inclusive of what is written in Orta's report especially pertaining to the traffic stop. There's no mention of the patrol officers or their call numbers or even that they made a traffic stop. between 3:14 a.m. when the incident allegedly began and 4:44 a.m. when it was closed out. Was their traffic stop documented on the CAD sheet which is highly dependent on the use of police radios and mobile data terminals as communication between officers (whereas the use of cell phones and Blackberries as communication devices might not show up very well on a CAD sheet) and if so, why did the city not release that portion of the CAD incident report when they were being so open and transparent with Orta's report?

What's significant about the part of the CAD incident report that was released is close to the end of it which is when Sgt. Frank Orta (known as "S48") has the incident transferred to him by another primary responding officer (to the accident at Central and Hillside) and at around 2/8/10 at 4:44 (a.m. as military time is used), you'll see what's called the disposition of the incident which in this case reads "NR". That is an acronym assigned to mean "no report" meaning that no report was taken or to be taken to this incident. It was changed from being something else but what exactly's not quite clear. The CAD report does add that there were no license plate information recorded, that they might have been "blacked out". But it doesn't really mention much about the multiple dispatches that were made reporting different 911 calls coming in about the black vehicle throwing off sparks while it traveled down the streets of Riverside.

What's so fascinating about this is that isn't quite the way things turned out, because as you know there was one police report that was filled out by Orta which was turned over to the Press Enterprise by the city. No reports were taken by the two officers who engaged in the traffic stop at Arlington and Rutland under Orta's supervision and that of anyone else in the chain of command who might have been involved. Why the primary responding officers weren't writing reports on the incident has yet (along with just about everything else) been answered by the department including its current acting chief. It probably won't be.

The likelihood is that the two relatively inexperienced officers including one hired post-2007 handed it off to Orta to be handled, which was smart considering that Orta, a 30 year veteran officer set to retire in the next few months just happens to be a trained DUI expert recognized in the court system as an expert on this type of crime in part due to his years working in the motor patrol division. So it makes sense that if you've got an incident with all the signs of a DUI and hit and run incident and you're fairly newly hired officers that you'd want to hand it off to a supervisor with Orta's apparent expertise to handle. It's very likely that this is what the officers who are currently being called for a public hanging in the Press Enterprise comment sections did. It is beyond inexcusable that the management of the department sits by in silence while people are demanding the terminations and prosecution of the two patrol officers when it's likely that one or more of these individuals in higher positions have all the answers for what transpired that morning.

But it's not clear why Orta, who's trusted by the court system to testify expertly on DUI cases, would not want to write this troubling incident up as anything but a traffic collision report to file away in some cabinet some place if in the face of what was in front of him he chose not to even conduct a field sobriety test. Why did that happen? What would have happened if instead Orta had reported to his supervisor, Phillips that he did have a suspected DUI? What happens next? Well, it's logical to guess that's when conversations start happening between different parties including those who weren't even there. Conversations that wouldn't appear on a CAD incident sheet.

What if you're a supervisor who has to tell on your boss to a mid-line supervisor and perhaps even to someone higher up than you on the food chain but somewhat lower than the boss? Well, most people know what would happen in a business culture. But a police culture, is more confusing to the average citizen due to its insulated and its isolated nature. The one thing that would be deduced is that if the boss got in a compromising situation that almost everyone in his direct food chain downward would know or soon know about what happened. Discussions would take place from different places in the food chain or chain of command about what to do, how to handle it. And most importantly how to contain it, in particular from the outside world.

Is that what happened here?

After all, how long again, did it take the inhouse investigation performed by subordinates involving their boss to get farmed out to the CHP? How long did it take the city to respond to this situation? And how long did it take before contingency plans were created and exercised by the city and within the department in terms of who would next control the RPD. Let the games begin as some would call it.

But the whole "no report' aspect to the case is very fascinating and itself begs so many questions.

So from 3:14 a.m. the time of the initial accident, somehow the situation of a vehicle with no known license plate who hit a fire hydrant and then left the scene as it turned out became about 90 minutes later, a "NR" or a "No Report". This notation as told during testimony in the criminal trial involving former Officer Robert Forman is provided when the officer and/or supervisors decide to use their discretion on a call for service or other incident requiring a police response that essentially there is no report that needs to be written and submitted to the department.

There could have been a notation on some CAD incident report some place else that a report was taken involving the traffic stop that occurred three miles away from the accident site but alas, as stated earlier, there's no CAD information or CAD incident reports connected with the second part of the hit and run incident submitted in Orta's report. Why the department's only including the information associated with the original accident and not the traffic stop where two patrol officers pulled over Leach's car is not clear. There's probably a good reason for it, at least the people who made that decision not to include it must believe so. Suffice it to say, there's no information in the CAD made available in the interest of transparency to the public that indicates whether a decision was made to write the incident report done by Orta on the day of the incident itself.

But it's pretty easy though a bit cynical to guess that it would only make some strange sort of sense to not include information from the much more problematic component of the two-part situation, meaning the "hit" being perhaps easier to reveal to the public than any CAD or dispatch information associated with the "run".

Except for the fact that there was a report taken. Well, kind of as it turned out. Oh what a difference one day can make! It goes from No Report and a possible report taken on a missing CAD report sheet, to some semblance of written documentation that finally surfaced, one riddled with so many problems that it's hard to take it seriously.

Below are excerpts of the report written by Sgt. Frank Orta on Feb. 7, 2010 which happened to be the day before the incident happened. Whereas most reports written by officers are typed on computers which officers login to access for use (which was detailed in testimony during the Robert Forman trial), this one is done the good old-fashioned way, meaning that it was handwritten on some copy of the report template form. Meaning that it wasn't first written in a computer. Meaning that Orta didn't login to access a computer to write it and thus managed to write a report without leaving an electronic trail of exactly when this report was written, both date and time. And folks, it could have in this case been written at any time up to the point it was turned over to the CHP and the daily newspaper.

It's probably safe to say however, that the report wasn't written on Feb. 7 which was Super Bowl Sunday which was before the accident occurred. So because this report was handwritten, you have no way of knowing when Orta sat down and wrote it and really not much of a way to find out except through Orta or any witnesses that could have seen him sitting down and hard at work on crafting this report.

Just above is page one of the "traffic collision" report written by Sgt. Frank Orta. And it's here that you'll notice something very odd about this police report if you look at the very bottom of the page of the report. That's when you look for the name of the supervisor who reviewed it and signed off on it. That's the blank space at the bottom of the above page and you'll find a similar blank space throughout the six page report. That means that no supervisor ever reviewed or signed off on Orta's work product. Oh, there might have been supervisors that reviewed or read the report, certainly that's the case by now, but none of them signed off on it. That includes the officer that should have done so and that's Phillips who worked as the watch commander during the incident. But if you were a supervisor, would you want to sign that report under the following conditions? Where your boss, the police chief or in this situation a "potential DUI" had been drinking crashed his car, left the scene and then has no memory of the accident, part of the prior hours and no clue how badly he has damaged his car. All he can remember is driving in some field somewhere and needing to change his tire but no, no possibility that he's intoxicated while driving. So naturally no sobriety test was ever conducted and there's no mention of drugs, alcohol or that he committed a hit and run. Combine the above circumstances and yes, I'm sure you'll have a long line of supervisors and/or management personnel waiting to sign away their reputations along with their names on that report.

Despite information and indications that intoxication might be involved, no field sobriety test was done which could have settled the issue one way or another. Nothing was noted about why the car that crashed at Point A was found at Point B three miles away, which would make it seem like a hit and run, which is a crime.

This map will show you where both points were in respect to one another. So what you had was a hit and run incident that was never mentioned in Orta's report as being such and the words "alcohol", "drugs" and "prescription drugs" were never mentioned either. No field sobriety test even discussed let alone done during the narrow window of time when one can yield useful information pointing towards intoxication or sobriety. They probably couldn't find a supervisor in the department who would be willing to put their John Hancock on that report, not Phillips the watch commander, not his field operations captain who might have been either John Carpenter or Meredyth Meredith, not Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel and not Asst. Chief and now current acting chief, John De La Rosa. Maybe no one wanted to sign onto something that on its face looks like a load of bull waste product. Which of course leaves the report writer holding the bag. And then in the face of all this including a report no one at the supervisory or management (and that includes Hudson) level will sign, the department holds onto the investigation for two days until they feel outside heat and threat of exposure.

Why if this report is a legitimate representation of what happened during those early morning hours why couldn't Orta find anyone in the department who outranked him to review and sign it? That question needs to be asked over and over by different people including many of the peculiarly silent community leadership and the *pin drop* civic leadership as to why it is this way.

[This is one of the report's pages. Notice on the bottom, there's two blank boxes. Those are where the supervisor "reviewing" the report is supposed to sign and date the report to show he or she has completed that process. Didn't happen in this report and after reading it, it's pretty easy to figure out why.]

[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. Notice how the report is handwritten, not typed up on a computer which means there's no way for anyone to know exactly what date and time it was written.]

Entire police report by Orta is here for the city's residents to read but as stated above, a lot of pertinent information wasn't included including the CAD incident report information for anything that took place at Arlington and Rutland as opposed to the original accident at Central and Hillside. So readers will only get a partial picture of what happened during the incident which of course is by design. They'll only read the part where the city including its legal division deemed it was okay for them to have a clue what happened. Fortunately many city residents are filling in the blanks.

As stated earlier, the report submitted by Sgt. Frank Orta is actually an interesting document to review as much as for what's missing as what's been included. For one thing if you've reviewed police reports before, then a few oddities stand out right away with this one and even more of them will be posted out here.

More to come...

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