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

Monday, March 22, 2010

Former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach Charged with DUI But What of the Cover Up?

[Leach's vehicle after his accident at Central and Hillside in the early morning hours of Feb. 8. the vehicle experienced "major" damage to the front fender, the side, the back and most notably to the two wheels on the left side of the vehicle.]

[The initial police report to be "filed" that was written by Sgt. Frank Orta which has already been pretty much discredited early on the process. The CHP's own investigative findings (including the fact that it conducted one) which led to Leach's DUI charges pretty much put the final nail of the coffin of this report as being a viable work product and representation of what happened. It remains a key character that had a role to play in the department's attempt to cover up the incident but also a role in exposing it.]

I suggest the Riverside Police Department open the books for the State Attorney Generals Office. The decision to cover up the incident came from the LT. watch commander after a Sgt. ordered the two officers to book Leach.

The LT. called the Dep. Chief who suggested Leach be taken home from the seen without an FST or blood test.

Anyone in the same circumstance would of had to submit to a blood or urine sample and if refused the police would of taken your CDL away.

Thw Police Department in Riverside and some of the city council members who party with Leach are corrupt and feel they are empowered with special treatment. The entire City and its reps should be recalled.

This city has been subjected to a power circle who control and mold our city for many years.

The last three top ranking officers "Chief's" have been problematic. Under the direction of the city manager all have caused previous outside investigations.
When are we as citizens going to have input in who provides us with a uncorrupt law enforcement protection. Riverside is not without blemish under this chief, Officer Foreman a rapist on duty and Reeve's an armed bank robber. Other officers have received special treatment by Leach instead of displinary action or termination in exchange for their loyality.

How can you trust the PD after its assocation RPOA voted to back the Chief after committing a crime.


The California Highway Patrol announced that former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach has been charged with two misdemeanor counts of DUI nearly two months after he crashed his city issued car and then was stopped by two patrol officers in his own department. And so with that decision to charge him, it marks the progression of an incident that was initially viewed as a "traffic collision" report to be "filed" by the Riverside Police Department to a case where criminal charges have been filed against the former chief.

And of course now that Leach faces criminal charges stemming from the CHP's investigation of his accident, it serves as an indictment against the city and police department's handling of the Feb. 8 incident which was originally slated to be covered up by either or both entities beginning not long after it took place.

This is what the CHP did reveal in its report. Leach had at least 11 alcoholic beverages before his accident including at least seven at Club 215 which conflicts with the owner (and his attorney's) assertion that Leach only had four drinks. He also had taken pain medication allegedly after having four earlier alcoholic beverages at his home. Then he got behind the wheel to go to Club 215 near Colton despite knowing that mixing alcohol and certain prescription drugs (including most painkillers) magnifies the effects of both of them including impairing one's driving skills.

Then the owner of Club 215 apparently sells him seven more drinks which one would think would be enough to take down an elephant and Leach leaves the club to once again, get behind the wheel of his car and start driving again. By the time that two patrol officers caught up with Leach inside his damaged vehicle missing two tires, Leach apparently had no memory of what had happened to his car. He talked about driving in fields and on dirt roads instead of the city's asphalt streets and needing to change a flat tire. The two officers who were both fairly new and probably freaked out to have stopped the top cop of the department which employed them called for a supervisor and Sgt. Frank Orta, a court recognized DUI expert came to the scene along with Watch Commander Lt. Leon Phillips and took control of it as primary officer, according to the partial CAD incident report. At 4:44 a.m. he issued a deposition of "NR" or no report taken according to that same CAD sheet.

At some point, a report was written albeit by hand but it's not really known (thanks to Orta's avoidance of a workplace computer) whether that was before or after the anonymous woman of mystery called Mayor Ron Loveridge to give him some 411 on what had happened with Leach. Loveridge allegedly asked around including City Manager Brad Hudson who along with his assistant city manager quickly plead ignorance on the matter in a Press Enterprise article. Both said that the police department's management had violated a city policy which mandated that the department contact Hudson's office when its officers had professional contact with a "high profile" individual. Was this the truth or Hudson's attempt to distance himself from the affair given that he had instituted his own "sweeping" probe into the incident?

At any rate, the police department's management also failed to properly investigate the incident involving its police chief as the incident was quickly getting away from it. At about the same time, media outlets began burning up the phone lines at City Hall and inside the police department, Asst. Police Chief John DeLaRosa announced that the department's own noninvestigation had been turned over to the CHP. Nearly two days after it had first happened which put the CHP at a pretty big disadvantage from the get go but it still had an investigation to conduct.

Enter the CHP

So what was the CHP to do given that its investigators were behind the startling line after the gun had gone off in terms of a viable time line for obtaining some of the evidence it might need as part of constructing a DUI investigation? It's not like the Riverside Police Department had done anything but commissioned a handwritten traffic collision report to be quickly and quietly filed away in some cabinet somewhere never to see the light of day. CHP Chief of Inland Empire Operations, Jeff Talbott commented on the task which lay ahead for his agency, in a press release issued by Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco's office.

“The CHP is often conducted by other law enforcement agencies to conduct independent complex investigations of the actions of their personnel. Since the CHP was contacted nearly a day and a half after Russ Leach was stopped by RPD officers, a very comprehensive investigation into Leach’s activities during the hours leading up to this contact was conducted.”

So that's what investigators did, hence with the announcement that Leach had been consuming all that liquor before he crashed his car and not long after he taped a public service announcement not to drink and drive on Super Bowl Sunday. He drank his four beverages at home and at least seven more at Club 215 where a waitress allegedly became so concerned about his physical state that she offered to call him a taxi to take him home. But as everyone knows now, Leach didn't leave the club in the back seat of a taxi but behind the wheel of one of his city-issued black Chrysler 300 cars and essentially becoming exactly what he had warned the city residents not to be, an intoxicated driver on the roads driving what really is the equivalent of a loaded gun.

As someone who survived a DUI involved accident when I was younger, it's pretty clear that Leach was putting the public that he was supposed to protect and serve at risk by getting behind the wheel of his car and driving away, not to mention his own life. It also makes you wonder how many times he has engaged in such activity, to drink nearly a dozen alcoholic beverages, take pain medications (despite warnings not to combine with alcohol on the packages) and then drive around in his car. It reminds me of a young man I once knew who went out one night, drank alcohol at a college fraternity party, went to a restaurant and despite being under-aged was able to buy more alcohol there and get into his car with a friend and drive home a couple of miles away by drunk. I had been running the next morning and saw a trail of scorched vehicle parts including a gas cap in the street and then when I reached a main thoroughfare saw a burned out fire hydrant and mailbox.

As it turned out, that's where the young man crashed his car after running a red light and broadsiding another vehicle and since he was too drunk to save his own life, he burned to death where he sat still wearing his seat belt. His parents were awakened by an early morning phone call from the last person you'd want to receive one from, the county coroner's office. Leach being a longtime police officer and having just taped the "fans don't let fans drive drunk" PSA spot clearly is aware of how dangerous it is to mix drinking and driving, how it can result in tragedies like the one above, but did it anyway.

So Leach gets behind the wheel of his vehicle and sets off for Riverside, about to give a lesson plan in "do as I say, not as I do". The Club 215 has served him at least seven drinks which is three more than claimed by both the owner of the bar and his lawyer and the waitress had allegedly had been concerned about his driving skills. He crashes his car when he's driving and somehow drifts into the side of the street designated for opposing traffic and then collides into an "unknown low profile" object which somehow manages to do a lot of damage to his car. The earlier report by Orta had mentioned that Leach had hit a fire hydrant and a light pole but the CHP said it's not clear exactly what Leach hit. Talbott stated that Leach was probably too intoxicated to know he had even hit anything at all and so he kept driving and not long before his traffic stop, had ran a red light at one of the intersections that had cameras there to document traffic violations.

He continues driving while his wheel-less rims generate flying sparks and probably a lot of noise which then elicits numerous phone calls by concerned motorists to the 911 dispatch center about a "potential DUI". The two police officers pull him over including an officer who performed a DUI investigation on a motorist two weeks later who was pulled over while driving on three flattened tires and wound up arresting that person and taking them to be booked in county jail. Orta, who incidentally wrote the summary brief on that later DUI case as part of a shift summary, wrote a report that stated that even though Leach had been drinking, no sobriety test had been done.

In fact the subject of that test or any type of DUI evaluation never even came up in his handwritten report. Never mind that Leach clearly had memory or perception problems if he believed he was driving through a field and dirt road and had no idea how badly his car had been damaged. It was also clear that his car had been damaged at some other location, meaning that there were enough grounds to also investigate for hit and run. But the concept of a hit and run accident wasn't written about in the report either. Orta just essentially wrote that Leach had made a risky right turn (when Orta's own diagram of how he saw the accident doesn't really show that) and had hit a couple of objects (both of which were apparently repaired very quickly after the incident) and that the report should just be filed away. Meaning that no investigation was to be conducted or even initiated by the department that employed Leach. That decision apparently at the very least backed by Phillips who is believed to have been the highest ranking officer at the scene besides Leach.

But then again, it seems very unlikely that any real decision making was done at the scene by only the officers who were there. Common sense would dictate that if the police chief of any law enforcement agency got pulled over after an accident and was acting confused or drawing a blank on his memory then that cell phones would be whipped out at that point and calls would be made up or down the hierarchical structure of the department including up to its top. Was that how it should have been handled? No, because he should have been treated like anyone else and there's no cell phone frenzy in those cases but it's not likely that the scenario of treating him like a mere mortal would have ever taken place. A reality which brings some of the department's problems to light.

The patrol officers had already deferred to that hierarchical structure by calling for a supervisor which would seem reasonable in that situation especially since neither of them were veterans but it also tells you that they probably believed treating Leach like a mere mortal would have been career suicide. Since they did that, it indicates that the officers had some reason to suspect that Leach was DUI and they were asking for assistance which again sheds light on the police department's unequal handling of suspected criminal conduct involving its boss.

Orta being the DUI expert and having had many years of experience working as a traffic motorcycle officer, should have been suspicious that Leach was DUI. In fact, it's more than likely that this is the case but what's not quite as clear is his thought process. Because something led him down the road to engage in creative report writing. Did he raise the issue of Leach being a possible DUI and ask to do an evaluation? And if that's the case, what was the response back and who provided that response? Given that the city has not released the phone records involving cell phones that were issued by the city to key personnel within the department including its command staff as well as key management personnel at City Hall, it might never be known to the city residents who called whom.

Though it's believed that Leach made some phone calls and that Phillips was on his phone as well during the traffic stop. The other name that has frequently arisen is that of current acting chief, John DeLaRosa who was second in command only to Leach while Leach was chief. Was that the case that he had been notified by officers at the scene and if so, was Phillips then ordered to order Orta to treat the incident as a traffic collision involving damage to city property and not a DUI crash and potential hit and run involving the police chief? The CHP didn't probe into that side of the incident and the only investigation that's been launched so far to address that issue is Hudson's so-called probe which is being cloaked from public review.

Det. Chris Lanzillo who presided over the Riverside Police Officers' Association between 2007-09 filed a claim for damages earlier this month alleging that he was being harassed and retaliated for his actions taken while union president including his reassignment out of the Vice/Intelligence unit where he had worked for nearly five years. He also alleged that DeLaRosa had learned of the incident very quickly and was involved in covering it up and that DeLaRosa hadn't been happy when Lanzillo criticized him for taking so long to hand off the investigation to the CHP. The city rejected his claim and thus his allegations before even completing its ongoing "tree killing" internal investigation and not long after Hudson cleared City Hall including himself of any participation in any cover up involving Leach in a move which really didn't surprise anyone.

It was fairly easy to predict that Hudson's insistence that City Hall wasn't involved would only increase when news came down that as rumored, Leach would be charged with DUI.

Hudson: Police Chief Given Special Treatment

Within hours of the filing of criminal charges involving Leach, Hudson comes out and claims that Leach was given special treatment. His statements afforded some unannounced comic relief to these very serious chain of events. Is he speaking the truth or is he trying to cover his own tracks given that a department head under his watch has been charged with a crime? It's the right thing to say but did Hudson wait way too long to say it? And given his own tangled relationship with Leach and the police department, it's actually a curious statement on his part at this point and time. And after all, now that the charges had been filed, what else is Leach's boss supposed to say? That he doesn't think that Leach received special treatment, given that the RPD did no investigation of Leach's accident and the CHP did and found enough to justify recommending that DUI charges be filed? How well would that fly with the public as well as other people on the dais including those who employ them?

The collective answer to Hudson's latest assertion would be well, duh. But the question that Hudson's already refused to answer about preferential treatment received by Leach is for how long, meaning anytime before Feb. 8. But then while Hudson's quick to point fingers for policy violations by the RPD, he's less quick to answer whether or not he adhered to another city policy which requires that he mandate that Leach be tested for drugs and alcohol intoxication because he crashed a city owned vehicle.

It shouldn't be that hard for Hudson to handle a current or former employee of his facing criminal charges given that Leach isn't the first employee he managed who's been charged with criminal offenses. If you recall, a former redevelopment official Gregory Griffin faced felony charges and left town unannounced for a while before law enforcement officers caught up to him in Chicago.

Griffin had been charged with grand theft and misappropriation of funds charges when he tried to get a contractor to do a ton of landscaping at his house (and allegedly the houses of other city-connected people as well) and send the city the bill. Where was the money to pay for his landscaping going to come from? The capital fund which paid for the renovation of a building which would later become one of the police department's two field operations headquarters.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

Investigators say Griffin asked the landscaping estimator, Gary Thomas, to accompany him to his house, where he ordered landscaping work for his front and back yards.

Griffin told Thomas to bill his home landscaping fee to the general contractor on the Magnolia Street Project because the contractor "owed him some favors," according to court documents.

The general contractor, James "Pete" O'Hara, alerted city and police officials. Less than a week later, Riverside police investigators surreptitiously recorded a phone conversation in which Griffin told O'Hara directly that he wanted the home landscaping work written into the budget for the new police station, authorities say.

Griffin told police he "was trying to get the city a better overall price by purchasing in volume" and planned to "intercept" the bill and pay for the work on his home, according to court papers.

Inside Riverside writes more about the Griffin incident including whether or not he might have been tipped off about his impending arrest by someone in City Hall.

But anyway, Hudson had his comments to make to the press to talk about these ahem, grave concerns of his regarding Leach.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Hudson stated he has "grave concerns" about the fact that "the former chief was provided treatment beyond what other motorists would be afforded in similar circumstances." It is the first definitive public statement from City Hall that Leach's traffic stop was mishandled.

And it only took nearly two months for a representative for City Hall to say the obvious! That yes, this traffic stop involving Leach was handled much differently than similar ones involving mere mortals. It may be news to the 'Hall but the city's residents have known that for months. Why? Because many city residents either have, know of or are familiar with other similar cases where they were intoxicated and carted off to jail in handcuffs. So city residents can easily seen the difference between the way their population is treated and how Leach's accident and traffic stop was handled.

Hudson's statement is one that should have been made much soon but except for clearing City Hall in his probe, Hudson and most of the rest of City Hall and the police management have been fairly quiet on this incident for nearly two months now. And while Hudson might have "grave concerns" about how Leach was treated, many people have had "grave concerns" with his ongoing micromanagement of the police department including his involvement in the department's promotion process especially at its highest levels. Actions which Hudson has used language in the charter which gives him the "final say" involving promotions, even as he's been allegedly more involved in that process than prior city managers employed by the city. But has Hudson's somewhat complex involvement in the police department along with that of his cohort DeSantis had a positive influence on the department, or a detrimental one? In the light of recent events surrounding the department, it's getting more and more clear what the answer to that question may be.

More to come...

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