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, March 24, 2010

Former Riverside Chief Russ Leach Pleads Guilty to DUI Through Attorney and the Veil of Secrecy Continues at City Hall

[Riverside County Supervising District Attorney Stephanie Weissman addresses questions from the media after former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach's guilty plea and sentencing en absentia for DUI accident.]

Former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach didn't appear in court on his behalf but dispatched his attorney, James Teixeira to enter a guilty plea for one count of DUI with the second count being dismissed and Commissioner Bambi Moyer dispensing his sentence after speed reading a 40 page written analysis of the case submitted by the California Highway Patrol. The analysis was part of its 522 page report (which hey, is 516 pages longer than that filled out by the Riverside Police Department) on the Feb. 8 vehicle accident and traffic stop involving Leach.

Leach received nearly $2,000 in fines and restitution fees, three years summary probation, 30 days of electronic monitoring through Leaders in Community Alternatives, Inc. and a first offender's drunk driving program. He will have until the end of August to fulfill his 30 day requirement of home monitoring in lieu of community service or the Riverside County Sheriff's Department Work Labor program.

Before the sentencing, lawyers for both sides debated on the case against Leach. Moyer asked Riverside County Supervising District Attorney Stephanie Weissman whether or not there was a blood alcohol measurement for Leach and Weissman said, there wasn't but the case was based on surveillance videos, witness statements all included in the lengthy CHP investigative file including the detailed analysis of the case.

The standard sentence for a first time DUI offender was written on the board in department 21 where misdemeanor arraignments are often done including many DUI cases. There's a standard fine of nearly $2,000, three years summary probation, a first time offender DUI class which is about 4-5 months long (and required by the DMV) and six days in jail or a sheriff's work detail program. But Weissman said that this sentencing wasn't adequate for Leach who had certain factors with his case that warranted extra time. She felt that he should have 30 days time due to the fact that he committed numerous reckless acts while driving his vehicle around Riverside. He ran a red light which was captured on an intersection camera and had been driving on his rims for several miles.

In addition, the extrapolation on the estimated blood alcohol level from the seven "doubles" he had consumed was approximately 0.28 and with the "burn off" time up to when he would be driving, about 0.22, which was considerably higher than the legal drinking level of 0.08.

"If police had taken him to jail and booked him, he would be a high BA(blood alcohol)," Weissman said.

Teixeira argued that Leach should have been offered the more appropriate standard of a first time DUI offender.

"There is no blood alcohol," Teixeira said, "None whatsoever."

Of course there was no mention by the defense attorney as to why this turned out to be the case. But Moyer said that she was inclined for the most part "to agree with the People". She agreed that there was certainly no blood alcohol result, but "there were certainly reasons behind this." The closest anyone came to talking about the aftermath of Leach's DUI inside the courtroom which dealt with the DUI incident with a much more narrow scope.

Moyer said that the facts couldn't be ignored and that clearly "something dreadful" had happened to Leach's vehicle given the condition it was in by the time it was stopped. She recommended 20 days and the standard fine and fees along with the class. Weissman agreed with the judge's assessment and said the extrapolated blood alcohol score could be backed by he court given that Leach had at least 11 drinks and took prescription medication.

Teixeira then did Leach's guilty plea to count 1 en absentia. Attorneys for both sides addressed the media outside the courthouse after the hearing.

Teixeira said that Leach was "very, very sorry for his actions" and that he had wanted to admit his culpability. He planned to move forward with his life, being retired (according to Teixeira), and since he had done some speaking engagements in the past he might consider doing that. He didn't believe he had a problem with alcohol but "has some medical issues" that he needed to address. He also hoped that people would believe that his actions had no reflection on the fine men and women in the Riverside Police Department. When asked about whether Leach had received preferential treatment or knew about the cover up, Teixeira had a brief comment.

"We never discussed that," Teixeira said.

When asked if Leach was treated any differently than any other DUI offender, Teixeira said he didn't think so.

"He didn't get special treatment," Teixeira said, "He got 30 days."

Weissman along with John Hall, public information officer for the D.A.'s office also talked about the case. She said that Leach had committed hazardous acts while driving including almost hitting a witness while doing an illegal u-turn on the intersection, Arlington and Van Buren where he would several minutes later get caught on camera running the red light. He was driving on the opposite side of the city where he was trying to get to in his car. The CHP had searched a couple square miles for the accident scene but was unable to find it. She did say that Leach didn't hit the fire hydrant and light pole as claimed in Sgt. Frank Orta's infamous police report.

So in a sense one chapter of this saga closed, the criminal case conducted inside a public forum called a courtroom and with Leach left to fulfill the terms of his sentencing. But just over a block away, the veil of secrecy regarding that other investigation continued at City Hall. And some people are perfectly content that this is what's going on but many people are somewhat less than happy. As some people have said since this started, the real crime's the cover up of a criminal act. And is that an action that's continuing?

Open the Windows, City Hall

The Press Enterprise Editorial Board responds to comments made by City Manager Brad Hudson about whether or not former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach received "preferential treatment" by his own officers during his Feb. 8 traffic stop. In other words whether there's a cover up that took place which most of the city knows already. Actually, the city's moved on from that and it appears that now it's engaging in the cover up of a cover up of a criminal act committed by one of its former department heads.

In this editorial, the newspaper chides Hudson and others at City Hall for keeping its internal investigation into determining who was involved in the covering up of Leach's apparent DUI related accident very quiet.


Expressions of concern from City Hall, however, cannot erase the evidence of unequal justice. Effective policing requires public trust in the Police Department's fairness and integrity -- the qualities directly at issue in the handling of Leach's accident.

And community confidence in the police rests on candid city answers to pointed questions: Who made the decision not to cite Leach that night? A claim filed this month by a Riverside police officer against the city alleges the cover-up extended all the way to the department's assistant chief. A legal claim is hardly an objective source. But it defies credulity that patrol officers would not ask for guidance from someone higher in the chain of command before deciding the chief's fate.

City officials say they only found out about the accident through an anonymous phone call hours later, despite city policy that requires notification of city management in such cases. Why? Have there been any other cases where high-ranking officials or others received special treatment from Riverside police? And how will the city ensure impartial policing in the future?

Riverside will never silence public concerns about unfair policing with an official statement that City Hall has taken some unspecified appropriate action. "Trust us" is simply not an acceptable response.

Damn straight it’s not and residents of this city shouldn’t sit and accept what little the city has fed them regarding the handling of this incident although many people have complained. And that goes from community leaders as well who for the most part have been such as silent as City Hall and just as accepting of Hudson’s “sweeping” probe even though many city residents know how as long as City Hall can shroud this troubling episode in secrecy, the probe will simply be remembered as the covering up of a cover up. Because what the city is facing now, is the noninvestigation of a "traffic collision" that has grown now into the former chief pleading guilty to a count of DUI. And Hudson, DeSantis and those they work for have yet to explain why there's such a huge gap between the department's assessment of the situation and that of the CHP and the D.A.'s office. Except to say they'll never really be able to explain it or at least that's what Hudson's saying. But maybe they can answer the question of why the city's claiming Leach is on medical leave and his defense lawyer's telling the media he's retired.

The management at the police department including its acting chief John DeLaRosa is even less capable of explaining how the incident that it deemed to be "filed" away and forgotten as a collision report wound up turning into a case with two counts of DUI being filed against its former chief with him taking a guilty plea for one count. The department that waited nearly two days to hand off its "filed" traffic incident to the CHP for an investigation to be conducted, virtually eliminating any chance for a blood alcohol reading to be taken. But then why else fiddle for that long before doing what should have been done right away? If that was done so that no blood alcohol could be determined then it was pretty much for naught. But now that Leach has plead guilty to a criminal offense, it's clear that if there's a cover up then it acted to obstruct or deter or deny the investigation of that crime. It would also be clear that someone in the department made the decision to engage in said obstruction when this person made the call not to investigate Leach for DUI but to ignore that and have someone take him home from the scene as if a crime hadn't been committed.

Hudson has already said that the city's residents will never know the identity of any individual involved in any cover up. That they might be able to guess that something happened but will never know the truth of what happened and the identities of the players involved. What Hudson has already announced at several public forums is that City Hall including presumably himself and his assistant city manager, Tom DeSantis have already been cleared in the probe. It's not really all that clear who investigated the employees outside of the police department because since the investigators of this "sweeping" investigation work for the police department's internal affairs division, they have no jurisdiction to investigate anyone outside of the department. Which makes it appear that the city employees who work for the city council are left to investigate themselves.

Hudson and DeSantis had already appeared in the media to clear themselves by claiming that they weren't notified of the accident and traffic stop involving Leach when it happened as required by city policy. However, Hudson's been mum about whether he had adhered to another city policy which requires that Leach be tested by the city for alcohol and drug intoxication since he crashed a city-issued vehicle. And even as they insist they were left out of the loop by the police department's management which they alleged failed to provide the proper notification, Hudson demurred on a question asked at a recent community forum about whether there had been prior problems involving Leach.

Perhaps some elected officials believe they can keep quiet about now, hoping that it will go away given that four of them will be up for reelection next year. Of the four elected officials up for reelection, only Councilman Mike Gardner’s really said anything at all and has asked any questions.

The other three have hidden behind Hudson’s probe deferring any expression of an opinion until after the whitewash investigation being carried out is completed, apparently forgetting what civic leadership is all about while still in at least for Councilmen Rusty Bailey and Chris MacArthur their first terms of office. Will they suddenly remember next year?

Councilman Steve Adams is running for his third term next year despite winning his last election in a squeaker by about 13 votes. He’s been just as quiet as the other councilmen but then he might have greater reason to be given his own alleged involvement in the police department's operations including its promotional process under Leach. But city residents haven’t been nearly as quiet and there’s been discussions about next year’s election and making governmental accountability a huge part of the election platform whether political candidates, incumbents and otherwise, decide to include it or not in their own strategic plans.

Not to mention that several elected officials who are considering runs as mayoral candidates in the wide-open free for all for that position in 2012 including Councilman Andrew Melendrez who has declared already should keep in mind that this issue could permeate the dialogue in that political contest as well. After all the last time this city lost a police chief, a lot of political futures hung in the balance not to mention that the city council had to replace two out of three of their direct employees.

What is past could very well be prologue.

We already know that is Press Enterprise's Columnist Dan Bernstein's response to City Manager Brad Hudson's "grave concerns" about the police chief getting preferential treatment during his traffic stop.

Four city vehicles torched in Hemet,as threats against the city and that police department continue after the recent raids involving the Vagos motorcycle gangs.

Another corruption case shielded from the public. This one in San Bernardino County.

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