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, March 30, 2010

Feb. 8, 2010: A Moment in Time Involving the RPD Phone Tree in Action

I agree with all the posters. Every city employee should be fired and their penisons returned. We should take the law into our own hands, because we know best. We don't make mistakes, we would arrest our own bosses, mothers and close friends, for any vilolation of the law. We will know better than those who should know better (what the heck does that mean anyway. Are we so stupid we don't know better too?)

If only we had Dan Bernstein, Casy McDuff , and Mary Shelton running our city. They have all of the answers to every problem this city has ever faced. Only then will we live in Utopia.

Oh ya' It's all Bush's fault.

----Anonymous comment at the Press Enterprise

Thanks for the sweet note! I'll confer with my fellow appointees, Cassie MacDuff and Dan Bernstein and get back to you on our joint municipal platform after rewriting the city's charter a bit and moving in some office furniture! But first a little bit of house cleaning at City Hall including a new paint job including the core values of an accountable government transcribed on the walls. Also an auction to sell any excess city owned vehicles given that certain city employees have more than one allotted to them even as city employees are being laid off, public safety positions are being frozen and library hours are being cut. All the money from the auctioned off vehicles including seven Chrysler 300s (allotted to Leach during his tenure), a few Crown Victorias assigned to the city manager's office and any others including what's left of Leach's crashed vehicle will be deposited in the city's general fund for reassignment to where it's needed. Speaking of which, how many assistant city managers does this city really need? And a city attorney given how many cases get farmed out to Best, Best and Krieger? Public Works gets decimated and there's still three city managers and investigators being employed by the City Attorney's office?

After said auction, there will be a chili cook off (with different categories), a huge block party and some live entertainment celebrating the installation of the new regime. Everyone is invited.

But seriously it's always so enlightening to realize the plausible deniability surrounding an act of malfeasance involving the attempted protection of one city employee and the excuses given to people of why they're supposed to not hold their public officials accountable for what is done in their name. Besides, it's when corruption is rewritten as a "mistake" that is one way that it's allowed to flourish in the first place. It's not about being "perfect" or having "all the answers" to every problem. It's certainly not about Utopia or trying to rephrase people's concerns about corrupt behavior as something totally unreasonable. It's about accountability of management employees, municipal officials and reminding them they work for the city residents and not the other way around. A couple city council members did learn that the hard way by not being invited back to political office by residents in their wards and with at least five years of micromanagement behind it, so did the police department where it's time for the management employees to explain to everyone else why they made the decisions that they made including on Feb. 8.

Riverside City Hall has finally decided to release the cell phone logs of key players in the Feb. 8 traffic stop involving former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach. And there weren't very many surprises on that list of city issued phones which were used while Riverside Police Department officers including supervisors at the scene were deciding how to handle an intoxicated police chief inside a car that had been driven on rims for several miles after having hit an object or two and narrowly missed at least a couple vehicles with people inside them. Some of those on the list who made calls were Sgt. Frank Orta, Watch Commander Lt. Leon Phillips and to no surprise then assistant and now acting chief, John DeLaRosa who either called or was called by Phillips three times during the period of Leach's traffic stop. Two of those phone calls made from 3:15-4:15 a.m. lasted about three minutes apiece.

All the involved parties who were calling each other during the traffic stop in question have declined to provide any comment and except for Loveridge, the other elected officials have declined to provide any comment as the news coming out about what transpired on everyone's watch gets more and more troubling. Actually it's all been troubling since this first started but this is just the gift that just keeps on giving when it comes to eliciting that response in city residents who have been given a look at the police department and City Hall and have determined that not all is pretty. And many people are wondering how long the city has left them in the dark about the problems which have been going on there that led to an apparent cover up of criminal conduct committed by the police chief. Because more likely than not, this crisis was years in the making.

Here's a chronology of all that dialing and dishing that took place during the wee early morning hours after Super Bowl Sunday, according to the Press Enterprise.

2:51 a.m.: RPD Officers Grant Linhart and Jeremy Miller stop Leach's banged up city-issued Chryler 300. Orta responds to their call for a supervisor within several minutes.

2:53 a.m. Leach calls friend and current or former Internal Affairs Sergeant Marcus Smail who told Press Enterprise he missed the call. Leach makes three unidentified phone calls within first 30 minutes. Hopefully Smail isn't working on the department's internal investigation.

3:02 a.m. Orta calls Phillips

3:10 a.m. DeLaRosa calls Phillips. Why did he decide to call him at this time of the morning anyway? Alas, the phone records didn't help there.

3:21 a.m. Phillips calls DeLaRosa's phone

4:04 a.m. Phillips calls DeLaRosa and both calls last about three minutes in duration

And what came out of all these phone calls?

A trip home for Leach without a sobriety test (although his blood alcohol was later extrapolated at about 0.22 and mixed with medication) and no investigation conducted of a suspected DUI and hit and run accident by the police department. Only a report to be "filed" away was created at some unknown point in time and according to the city manager's office, no notification was given that office about what had happened, as required by city policy. With a partial representation of the department's chain of command including its highest levels on that cell phone list, surely someone would have come up with the idea to conduct some form of investigation of Leach but alas, the answer is of course as we all know it, absolutely not. A crime was committed by Leach and the police department that he led tried to cover it up. What should have been an arrest for DUI became instead a report to be handwritten and filed away. Did it really all come down to several cell phone calls?

One question remains to be answered, was any help afforded to the department by City Hall? And was this whole affair really about just one car accident and traffic stop involving Leach or was this a culmination of years of similar cover ups by police personnel and City Hall denizens? Was this the only criminal conduct that either the department management or City Hall tried to cover up involving the relationship between both of those entities? And how well do you think the Hudson probe will answer these questions? And yes, that last question was rhetorical.

Other listed phone calls:

9-10 a.m. (time varies) Anonymous woman calls Mayor Ron Loveridge's office to talk about Leach incident.

1:24 p.m. Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis calls Leach, about four hours after woman tipped off Loveridge's office. Loveridge who was out of the office at the time had said that when contacted, he had made inquiries at Hudson's office about the incident. City Manager Brad Hudson doesn't use his city-issued cell phone to make a phone call that day until 5:08 p.m. and it's not clear whether he ever tried to contact his direct employee through this cell phone on Feb. 8 though it doesn't appear that he did.

4:44 p.m. Loveridge's earliest call by his city issued cell phone that day but if he was out of the office and was notified by his office about the anonymous phone call why is there no record of that call? And again, why is there a big delay between the morning tip and the city manager's office now saying it was notified in the afternoon?

5:08 p.m. Earliest phone call made by Hudson's city issued phone. Really?

Now it's not clear just from the phone records which pertain only to identifying the users of city-issued cell phones (as those not issued by the city aren't covered by the California Public Records Act), what all these folks were talking about on the phones while they were handling Leach's traffic stop. It could have been the weather, or what a great game the Super Bowl had been or this party or that one. Orta could have been trying to tell Phillips about the great movie that he saw and DeLaRosa could have been contacting Phillips around 3:10 a.m. to tell him how great the weather would be later that day. And Phillips could have called DeLaRosa back to tell him twice about his favorite Super Bowl Game play while trying to kill time waiting for the other officers conducted the DUI investigation involving their boss. Leach could have been calling those unidentified people to tell them about his scenic tour of Riverside while waiting for Orta to give him a field sobriety test. One can suppose that's what could have happened but it probably didn't.

But at least now everyone knows that the cell phones that they pay for some employees to have were ringing off the hook that early morning. That a phone tree perhaps of sorts had been activated and words were being spoken up and down the chain of command. Whether about the Super Bowl, the weather, those great threads that someone wore at the office the other day, all critical conversations to have that early in the morning, or perhaps instead given the serious situation, orders were being issued out to be followed by officers at the scene on how to handle Leach and his little problem. The public also knows that there were unidentified individuals who were called by Leach while he was being stopped by officers and that there might have been other people who were calling on unidentified phones, outside the scope of the CPRA request. Two comments were posted on the Press Enterprise article addressing this issue.


Isn't it wonderful the city attorney would release records that verify his cronies innocence when he didn't have to? It should read, "Clearly the records show that no one at City Hall used their city-issued cell phones while involved in a coverup."

This is common practice in situations like this. The command staff is instructed to call city leaders on non-city owned lines. This way there is deniability. They didn't get to where they are by not being able to play the game!

It's also not clear whether or not the request included text messages which if stemming from city issued phones are public information, as were the phone logs for city-issued phones no matter how City Attorney Gregory Priamos chose to bend the CPRA request this time as if to appear that City Hall released the records (well not those involving his own phone of course) to the public out of any adherence to the twin components, accountability and transparency. Don't believe it. The city knew they would lose to the newspaper in court if it came to that, giving it even more bad publicity.

Mayor Ron Loveridge who later said his office had received a phone tip about the incident from an anonymous woman had this to say about the flurry of phone calls involving police department employees at or about Leach's stop. Once again Loveridge displays his grasp for the obvious.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"Obviously there were conversations going back and forth," said Mayor Ron Loveridge. "What was said, I don't know."

Like stated earlier, clearly conversations were taking place involving the Super Bowl, the weather and other topics. All around 3 a.m. because these of course are such pressing matters. Of course nothing was actually said about disregarding suspected criminal conduct of the police chief and giving him a ride home instead of arresting him and taking him to be booked for a DUI. Nothing was said about covering up the commission of a crime committed by the top cop of the RPD, not long after a 14 month period that had seen five other law enforcement officers arrested and prosecuted for on or off duty alleged criminal conduct. And these phone conversations were followed by zero action by the department in terms of handling what had been a crime committed and in fact, doing no investigation and taking nearly two days to farm it to an outside agency for handling. That's what makes the phone calls seem like a series of communications among the involved parties to make the decision not to treat Leach's commission of a crime as a crime.

Riverside Police Officers' Association President Det. Cliff Mason has modified his earlier comments somewhat when providing the following official response of the labor union to the release of the cell phone records. The officers went from performing professionally at the scene of the traffic stop to being placed in a horrible situation by Leach. A bit of a leap for the president who had gone to meetings urging reconciliation and a concept of family, which mirrored that which DeLaRosa and other (albeit reluctant) command staff members were presenting to police officers at roll call sessions not long after the incident.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"They got put in a horrible, horrible situation and I feel the responsibility lies with Russ Leach for the decision he made that evening," said Detective Cliff Mason. "The accountability will rest with management."

Oh if that were true, then this incident might never have unfolded the way that it did, meaning that if management were accountable and practiced that as a professional philosophy then if Leach had chosen to drive drunk, he would have been arrested for it rather than having it become the "horrible horrible situation" that Mason describes where he nearly got off scot free and officers would have helped him do that in order to keep their jobs, avoiding what some have called "career suicide". There would have been a culture within the department where officers could engage in arresting their boss if he broke the law in their jurisdiction and if they needed a supervisor to assist them, the supervisor would help them carry out the arrest not engage in a cover up upon direction by someone higher on the food chain. This incident most likely is a text book example showing how that kind of cultural accountability in management clearly doesn't exist within the Riverside Police Department. Why it doesn't would involve researching further how management was created through the attrition and promotional processes of the department. After all, you get what you choose to promote through the ranks in terms of both the process and qualities sought by management. Are promotions a process of advancement or more akin to barter and trade?

What did the RPD get through this process, and have we just seen it? Because a law enforcement agency that can't or more accurately, won't enforce the law against its leader is in some major respects failing in its mission.

And if had done what it's sworn to do which is uphold and enforce the law, the city residents wouldn't have received a primer in the double standards of law enforcement involving the vast majority of them who would have and may have received far different treatment than what Leach received. But the truth is that the Feb. 8 traffic stop might not have been an isolated incident but the culmination of many other incidents and problems involving Leach, the department and elements of City Hall over the years. To what extent might never be known by the public. That's by intent on the part of the city.

The incident involving Leach's traffic stop and its aftermath might simply be the most visible manifestations of deeper problems, the tip of the iceberg sticking out of the ocean so to speak. This latest revelation of the mystery involving the cell phone activity might answer a few questions, it raises many more and it's clear that some of the key players in this sorry incident really have a lot to answer for in terms of addressing any crisis of faith and trust lost by city residents in both City Hall and the police department.

Hudson and DeSantis are forthcoming and perhaps honest or perhaps not about not being contacted by police department management as required by some city policy requiring that notification when the department has a negative professional contact with a "high profile" individual. Yet, neither has answered any questions about their own adherence to city policies say whether or not they abode by the one that required Leach to be tested for drugs and alcohol intoxication because he damaged a city-owned vehicle. Some individuals were caught chatting with each other on city-issued phones and some were not. Since DeLaRosa contacted Phillips before Phillips called him twice, that indicates strongly that he was monitoring his own phone and received those two calls. So the two men talked most likely about what was going on with Leach and yet, Leach doesn't get a field sobriety test let alone a DUI ticket. He gets a trip home and his accident which was potentially a hit and run gets written up and filed away by Orta most likely at some point after Phillips two phone calls back to DeLaRosa.

Riverside Police Department protocol also stated that the deputy chief, assistant chief, chief and city manager were to be notified in cases of the "arrest, pending arrest, or implication of serious 'criminal conduct' of a police employee or high-ranking city official." So that would have meant that Hudson, DeLaRosa and Pete Esquivel would have been on that notification list, scratching the chief of course who was the "police employee". But were any of these people notified besides DeLaRosa? That question hasn't been fully answered. And if they weren't notified by DeLaRosa who had three phone contacts with Phillips, then why was that the case? And if those three phone contacts took place between the assistant chief and the watch commander, why was the incident involving a man later charged and convicted of drunk driving filed away as a report with Orta recommending that no criminal charges be filed period? The management including the acting chief needs to step up and do some explaining to the public how this was allowed to happen on its watch and why. For the public as well as the police department which has greatly lost public trust in large part through the current silence.

Orta's recommendation in his handwritten report to not pursue criminal charges arrived from having done zero investigating into complaints about a "potential DUI" made by 911 callers who saw Leach's car throwing off sparks. He didn't carry out or order any sobriety evaluation despite the two officers noting that Leach exhibited "objective" signs of being drunk in their interviews with the CHP investigators meaning that in a sense, they did do DUI evaluations on Leach. Not to mention, video footage from police vehicles which CHP investigators said showed Leach being unsteady on his feet at the scene of the traffic stop.

So the officers notice that Leach might be drunk. Orta, the court recognized DUI expert would have certainly recognized it too. But clearly at some point, Leach's intoxication magically went away and the crime of DUI, covered up and erased, including by any personnel in the department or City Hall who ever told anyone that Leach wasn't drunk or that alcohol was not involved in his accident and traffic stop. What the cell phone records release has done is to make it clear that there needs to be a public accounting of the answers to questions raised here as well as others raised in other venues involving the situation which arose from Leach's traffic stop and exactly when it led to a cover up.

More to come....

Hemet faces more budget woes.

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