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 11, 2010

The State of Riverside or Why This Blog Will Focus on Erotic Romance Book Reviews

In case you don't know, Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach retired on medical today.

It's been one of those days when you wonder what the hell is going on in Riverside and what city you've woken up into. As more is revealed about the traffic accident that Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach was involved in on early Monday morning, it just seems like it can't get any worse and then it does. But perusal, city residents are angry, community leaders are silent and the leadership at City Hall is even more quiet. Allegations of police and city coverup and questions whether the officers who were likely forced by supervisors or higher ups to omit information on their reports will be the ones who are focused on in the investigations rather than those who are in higher positions and likely made the decisions not to properly handle the accident and subsequent traffic stop. And whether there's a double standard about how the police chief was treated in comparison to the average citizen in that situation or even the average police officer would have been.

It's enough to make me want to give up blogging and take up some blogging that's more relaxing and meaningful like reviewing erotic romances, something that was proposed to me recently as there's a market for that and with the recession depressing many folks, they are turning to their literature (Yay Kindle!) because the Fox Theater costs too much money and movies are like $20 now with all the snacks and everything. And a good romance has always been a great opiate for the depressed masses and maybe that's what Riverside needs more than more bad news that people will file away rather than addressing directly. It's not like the civic leadership will really do anything except maybe convene and decide which slogan and logo Riverside should spend money researching for adoption while it struggles to reinvent itself while it's become the epicenter of another nationally aired crisis because it doesn't focus on the truly important things. Like the accountability of its city departments including the police department, from top to bottom. This city government has yet to show it's capable of handling a serious problem that doesn't involve giving a high risk loan to a developer, hiring consultants including a six-figured salaried one to run the Fox Theater and trying to give a little economic exclusivity to an ambulance franchise that should be able to compete just fine in a free market system, you know capitalism. Rather than addressing ongoing problems in its police department and its relationship with both the Fifth and Seventh Floors of City Hall.

Because this wasn't done, many city residents are furious at the city and the department and many police officers who have nothing to do with this mess but are employed by the same agency might find doing their job tougher than it was, or should be. That's not fair but that's what is and the people who created that situation won't be the ones held accountable for its fallout. City Hall says it supports its police department but when push comes to shove, is that really true? No, not really, because when these problems were festering including those created by their own direct employees, what did the city government do?

How about nothing?

But the community leadership was very quiet too. And these community leaders forever lost their rights to criticize that officers never cross the thin blue line when it's clear in this case that this is the only way that the Press Enterprise would have known anything to report about. Any such individuals did so at risk to their careers and that's not supported by these same leaders and neither are they when it was needed. If people want officers to step forward and report misconduct and illegal activity in their ranks, then the community needs to support them against the department which will oppose them for doing so. That needed to happen and didn't really take place. Instead, the few that spoke publicly circled wagons around Leach and City Hall when it became clear that something was seriously wrong with the way that the situation was handled. Accusations didn't have to be thrown but questions needed to be asked. They still need to be asked, or nothing will change for the better.

It's not clear how many officers will be penalized in this situation because they did what any good officer should do, tell on their bosses when they break the law or because they followed orders so their careers wouldn't be destroyed by these same bosses. It's not clear whether these officers will be punished while their supervisors and now ex-police chief face little accountability (and are afforded a six figured retirement package given to them before any criminal charges could be filed). It's not clear whether the right actions will be truly taken in this case, and it's less clear whether there's anyone in leadership who can insure that.

I can't tell you how many times I was told to tone it down with my criticism in my blog and at city council meetings by some so-called leaders who wanted City Hall to like them. The only ones besides people at City Hall who told me I was making "enemies" there did so. I was told that I had the wrong "style" to even get city council to do what I wanted, even blaming me when councilmen castigated me from the dais which is always going to be more of a commentary on them rather than their targets. But I kind of gave up on community leaders especially those designated by the city a long time ago, what I have been grateful with is support from the city's residents from many different corners. What I've learned is that people really care about Riverside, its police department and what's been going on. Many people are trying to find avenues for them to get more involved in a city that's been closing many of those avenues. Boards and commissions are turning into political appointments. City residents are shut down at city meetings. City Council subcommittees aren't meeting as they should and one committee didn't meet for over a year. The city council has advocated its financial accountability completely to the city manager's, its public information requests to the city attorney's office and has stripped investigative powers of two of the city's boards and commissions either officially or through the back door. And so it's not surprising that in this environment, serious problems that have been present for a while erupted like a boil that's been simmering for too long.

But it's not just the public, as Mayor Ron Loveridge cut off a police lieutenant when he tried to use public comment time while off-duty to address issues that mattered to him and other officers and tried to shut him up. The thing to do when that happens to a member of the public or the lieutenant is as a group to tell the city government that the public has a right to redress its government. There's strength in numbers.

But it's been interesting blogging about the city though most of the time not pleasant. So far I have been called "almost a criminal" by City Manager Brad Hudson in a community meeting with leaders in early 2007, banned from speaking to Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis in 2006 because he didn't like what I said (and actually DeSantis refused to meet with community members if I was allowed to attend the meeting) and was the subject of an investigation by the city and police department (or so some high ranking city employees told people at several meetings at City Hall) for reading the same officer-involved death case file located in the CPRC office that reporters from the Press Enterprise and Los Angeles Times read in early 2007. So I've learned a bit how City Hall operates even before I had a woman tell me that one of the city council legislative aides referred to a female regular at city council as the "biggest bitch around" to three military personnel at a recent meeting. And how much a year do those legislative aides make again while positions inside the police department go unfilled? But this is what you will face if you exercise your right and responsibility as a resident of this city and redress your local government or god, forbid criticize it.

City Hall really does need a makeover. I grew up with politicians in a bigger city this one and they didn't engage in this type of behavior but considered it beneath them. And there's no way to avoid the reality that the real problem isn't the police department though that has huge problems, but it's at City Hall. Something that really should concern more people at times other than when incidents like this come to light. If these issues were dealt with directly and the questions that were needed to be asked were asked earlier, then there would be fewer crises blowing up in our faces.

Because where was this outcry when the police department became micromanaged by the city manager's office including an assistant city manager who had 911 called on him for allegedly brandishing a gun at a woman outside a video store. Not much of a police investigation in that case either. With those kind of individuals running it, and make no bones about it, they will keep running it, the problems will worsen and City Hall will continue to remain quiet about it because all Hudson and DeSantis have to do is erect another marquee sign giving them front and center attention for a Riverside Renaissance project and all is well in their world, even when it's falling apart around them like a house of cards. Even as the police department is being pushed by this city towards where it was back in the 1990s in terms of its staffing, which if you remember was at crisis levels. You had high numbers of inexperienced officers back then as you have now, working the nights, weekends and holiday shifts disproportionately which they are now, in part due to their sheer numbers.

And you have sergeants leaving and not being replaced, at least 12-13 by the end of 2010. Yet the short-sighted decision making by this city continues onward and no doubt this latest shakeup will do little to change that. Crisis is a good test of separating great leaders from the mediocre and what we've seen in Riverside the past couple days beginning with Mayor Ron Loveridge is mediocrity. Throw a crisis like Tyisha Miller at this group and they'd wilt on the vine. That's already ascertained by the behavior of individual leaders like Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Adams at the city council meetings when he blows up at any comment that displeases him and evicted one speaker within his first five minutes as the current mayor pro tem.

It's enough to make the people who do care and I've spoken with community members who have been watching and watching and speaking out even as their leadership remains quiet waiting for their next favor from the city, who feel like it's a meaningless effort. People who are critical of the department and city but who also truly care about both and want both to work better. You would think that City Hall would want to work with these folks not against them, but it's really something pointing out the obvious to City Hall and discovering that in reality, City Hall is very content and complacent with the current status quo of serious problems involving some of its direct employees in this city. You'd think that the police department and its employees would be worth more than what this city is giving them but then you think the city's residents would be worth that too. But apparently not, because this situation that happened this week was months and years in the making. And even with the departure of the chief, it will still continue as long as some of the higher ranking players in this situation are able to continue without scrutiny.

So this is an announcement that Five Before Midnight will be transforming itself into a book review site and stop posting on this messy stuff which really serves no purpose anyway. One can only spit in the wind so long and listen to the silence in the halls from power at City Hall, as the critical incident they have been hiding from for so long finally rears its ugly head. But still the city remains quiet. Residents are angry and their so-called leaders are also silent. Many of them benefit financially from the city including through community block grant money and understand if they get too mouthy, this funding will be pulled out from under them. So they act accordingly.

Riverside's on the national map again and it's not because we're a city of Arts & Innovation (tm) or the Most Livable City or even if we dusted off that age-old title of All-American City that the city bought for $38,000 just before the last political inferno hit to close out the 20th Century. It's not even because we have the worst water (based on a flawed study) or are on the drunkest city list (timing was admittedly bad on that one). Because this is a city that unfortunately has always bought into image over reality and what's happening now is that chicken coming home to roost.

I'm looking at the latest Press Enterprise article on the accident involving Leach and emerging scandal and it's been up what, three hours and there's already 249 comments, all of them angry and disgusted with the entire affair. No matter how the chief spins it (as a medically induced case of amnesia otherwise known as a "blackout"), how former Councilman Frank Schiavone explains it (and his comments raised more questions than answers) or the city keeps quiet, the anger out in the city is palpable as I'm sure many men and women dressed in blue might be feeling right now, because their uniform and work makes them an ambassador for a department that's in the midst of a crisis not at the bottom, but at its top. And it's one that's been brewing for quite some time given the dysfunctional dynamic that exists between police management, city management, city legal and several current and former members of the city government.

A police department with an inactive chief and a host of others who have been managing it instead which probably is what's largely responsible for its decline in the past two years. Yes, decline, because even though the majority of its employees, both civilian and sworn, are hard working and diligent men and women, what's going on at the top and at City Hall is threatening to corrupt all the way down, if it's true that two patrol officers and a sergeant supervised by a watch commander engaged in serious misconduct while handling the traffic stop and accident involving their police chief. You're trained to do one thing, told to do something that violates that certain cases. Law enforcement can't operate that way and maintain any credibility but if you're threatened with the loss of your job, what's to be done?

You can do as some officers in the RPD did in 2004 which is stand up to the watch commander who wanted them to falsify their reports in a case involving excessive force and hope that it all works out. But if it's someone higher than a watch commander that needs protection, someone like the police chief, it doesn't seem like there's many options at all. People are imploring officers in the RPD to do the right thing and come forward with the truth, but neither the department nor the public provide any realistic venues for this to take place. The same community leaders who implore officers to break the code of silence are either quiet right now or backing the police chief's actions as a "mistake" even when it's becoming more clear that this is not just a "mistake". If it's because they care about Leach, this type of enabling will not help him. It will ensure that his life and possibly others will be even more at risk, because driving while intoxicated either by drinking (which was stated in an officer's report on the incident) or on medication (which Leach said in his recent interview), is still playing Russian Roulette with a loaded gun. If he's an addict to alcohol or medication, then the only "love" that's going to help him is called, tough love. But then he needed that a long time ago and it appears that because of his position, he might have been receiving the opposite from officers in the department, if the comments in the Press Enterprise site are to be believed.

People are calling for the chief's head. The involved officers heads without knowing whether or not the patrol officers were forced or intimidated to not do their jobs by supervisors and those who hold their jobs. The heads of City Manager Brad Hudson, City Attorney Gregory Priamos and most the city government and saying that the department has lost its luster and that City Hall is filled with corruption that must be cleaned out and should be starting with the next round of elections. Debate the merit of these complaints at your leisure but there's more raw anger in Riverside than I've seen in a while. But if the problems in this city have hit critical mass, then this stems from a degradation which began years ago.

And I've heard from so many people today, city residents who are amazed, disturbed and upset at what's been going on. And in the midst of this latest mess came the more quiet sentencing date involving one of Riverside Police Department's officers who have been arrested and prosecuted since late 2008. Five of them in all, at least the ones that are known about right now. But most of the talk is about the one officer who wasn't. The one who got preferential treatment while other individuals would have been arrested, lost their driving rights and possibly even been jailed for what this officer instead was able to walk away from with only a traffic collision report to be filed away in some cabinet somewhere.

As it turned out, the coverup became even worse than the incident itself and by the end of today, the city announced that Leach had been medically retired and the incident was going to be investigated by former DA Grover Trask who now works for Best, Best and Krieger, not very reassuring. There are better individuals out there not tied to the city and its liability interests to handle this kind of invitation and this just reeks of more covering up from the oh so quiet City Hall. I guess we can all be very relieved that at least this city government didn't as far as we know shell out $365,000 to a public relations to teach it how to be so quiet as they did in 1999 after the Tyisha Miller incident. What will Trask's contract be to clean up this mess for the city because the day hasn't come yet when an ounce of accountability has come out of BB&K, because it has too many ties to the city and Trask has too many ties to players in this situation including those who have only began to emerge.

But probably at the time the lawyers for all sides showed up and tendered Leach's retirement, a former officer who was prosecuted was about to get his wrist slapped for sexual assault on the job.

In front of a packed courthouse filled with relatives of the defendant and prosecutors, presiding Riverside County Superior Court Judge John Molloy sentenced former Riverside Police Department Officer Robert Forman to three years of formal probation and 120 days in the custody of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. With time served and more time waived for good behavior, Forman will be released from the county jail where he’s been residing since Dec. 11. The family members of Forman asked for a lenient sentence for the former officer who made the “mistake” or “error in judgment” and that’s what they got in return. He received less time than the court gave to a former Riverside County Sheriff’s Department deputy not long ago, who was also convicted of sexual assault under the color of authority

None of the victims appeared but prosecutor Elan Zektser told the court that the two that he spoke with didn’t want him to go to prison. Molloy went through his list of legal rules to determine if Forman was eligible for probation and determined that he was and that his family needed him. Ironic given how filled the prisons are with individuals convicted of lesser offenses than sexual assault who all have families, who have children even disabled children but were not police officers when they committed their crimes. Maybe most of them belong in prison but somehow their impact statements and their family members don’t impact judges as much as those by police officers who have been convicted of breaking the law. It’s true that Forman won’t be a police officer again and has to register as a sex offender but still, that’s a lot less than what someone would face if they weren’t in his shoes. Studies say that police officers sentenced to crimes receive about 35% less than the average person. Forman beat that average and then some with his sentence, proving that the double standard is alive and well.

Which makes you wonder why Chief Russ Leach of the Riverside Police Department apparently tried so hard with or without the voluntary or otherwise help of other city employees both in the police department and out of it. He should have just immediately submitted to a sobriety test and if he failed it, should have been treated like anyone else and arrested for it. After all, the studies done on the sentencing on officers for DUI related offenses also favor him getting a much lighter sentence. But was there an attempt by a high ranking police officer instead to beat the system that already favors him? When the worst you have to face is a slap on the wrist, why come up with an elaborate exercise in avoidance which has tarnished the police department even more than it has been by, as Molloy said, by the Forman arrest, prosecution and conviction. Even as two other police officers have been convicted of DUI in relation to crashes and had been sentenced as first time offenders.

Forman’s sentencing couldn’t come at worst timing in the city’s history when its police chief has come under increasing fire for a vehicle accident he was involved in during the early morning hours of Feb. 8 after Super Bowl Sunday. He crashed his city-issued black 300 Victoria into allegedly a fire hydrant and a light pole damaging his car to the point where he drove for several miles from the crash site at Central and Hillside to where he was stopped on Arlington and Rutland. After two days, the department handed off the investigation of the top officer to the CHP which has issued some terse responses including that not only was there no field sobriety tests done on Leach, no report was conducted of the traffic stop by the officers. The CHP is currently looking for witnesses to the escapade including perhaps some of the individuals who called 911 reporting the black vehicle throwing off sparks.

The Riverside Police Officers’ Association President Det. Cliff Mason issued a quiet statement saying that the union would wait to see what the investigation would reveal even though some of its members have essentially been left hanging in the wind for alleged failure to properly document a traffic stop and an accident by the CHP investigators. Mason should be out there asking questions about what’s going on with his own members and whether or not they are going to be turned into examples to cover up misconduct much greater than any they might have committed. There were presidents in the past who would have asked these questions and have done so. Mason’s got some degree of protection as a union leader (although as it turns out not absolute) and he’s got to take the role of asking questions that his constituents can’t.

The police chief did finally break his silence to the Press Enterprise and said that he allegedly blacked out due to being on prescription medication and has no memory of the accident or his driving away from it until he was pulled over by the police officers. He refused to say if he had been drinking that day, where he had been that he does remember and what prescription medicine he has been taking. Then former Councilman Frank Schiavone emerges from obscurity to serve as his character witness saying that the chief couldn’t have been drinking because X amount of liquor would have caused Y reaction if he had been taking medication. But what’s difficult to buy besides the entire account, is that it doesn’t explain why if he’s suffering from any sort of blackout, his officers didn’t pick up enough signs to administer a field sobriety test. The Riverside Police Department officers are highly trained in how to conduct such tests and how to perform traffic stops (even ones without a written paper trail). They wouldn’t miss a signs of inebriation or incapacitation in a person suffering a black out unless frankly, they were told to do so and there’s really no way to get around that essential truth. It’s difficult to believe that they would do it of their own volition. If they did fail to do their duties, that needs to be investigated and determined. But when it comes to handing out discipline or criminal charges, it’s important to look at what was directed to them by any supervisors. The level of responsibility is compounded the higher up the rank goes and that’s built into the expectations held over those supervisors and management personnel.

This whole thing is reminiscent of a film called JFK directed by Oliver Stone where Kevin Costner’s character is interviewing a man played by Joe Peschi who is suspected of being involved in the murder of John F. Kennedy. Costner’s character tells Pesci’s at one point that he found his story unbelievable and then Pesci turns around and asks him, which part? This is after Pesci had told him that he went to Dallas to go duck hunting in an ice storm without any guns.

I’ve got people saying from all across the country, what’s going on in Riverside. What’s with the police chief crashing in his car. But there's not really any solid answers at this point just many, many questions.

The police department released the reports on the crash which raises more questions than it answers including the recommendation by Sgt. Frank Orta that no action be taken regarding Leach and just that the report be filed away even though Leach had no recollection of the crash, the damage to his car and an indication that he had been drinking which was checked off on the report. Two police officers had stopped Leach at Arlington and Cutland.

Police reports on Chief Leach's collision.

But by the time the reports had gone up, Hudson had announced that Leach retired earlier today for medical reasons bringing to end a nearly 10 year stint with the Riverside Police Department. Probably not going out the way that he would have wanted to do so but it has to do with the decisions that he made when he got behind the wheel of his car and just as importantly, in the aftermath of those decisions. Rather than facing the consequences for his actions, he faced even deeper ones. Now the investigation has been handed off to an attorney at the city's favorite law firm which just smacks of more cronyism.

Sometimes it gets to be a lot to process, everything that's going on and yes, maybe this blog space would be suited better for reviewing erotic romances instead of blogging on a city where so much goes on and where there's a dearth of leadership at City Hall and the community asking the questions that need to be asked. The people who do ask those questions get verbally attacked at city council meetings and expelled from meetings by police officers who would rather be doing something else like fighting crime. And threatening letters sent to their homes. So after a while, people stop coming to meetings and speaking out on the critical issues in this city including times when the city disregards laws like Measures C and R and in situations like the latest to face the police department. But it's important for people to speak out on the issues which threaten to corrupt our city and our government, both in person at meetings, through emails and phone calls and very importantly, at the polls.

I've got much more to write on this before I give it all up and start writing those book reviews. Even if it's just spitting in the wind much of the time because it's always important for everyone to be involved in their city, to speak out when needed and to stand firm to keep the government accountable even when that's the last thing that it wants. Actually, that's when this is all the more important.



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