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 03, 2010

Governmental Affairs Committee Votes to Recommend Change in Hudson Directive to CPRC

[The Governmental Affairs Committee including Chair Councilman Andrew Melendrez (middle) considers the Community Police Review Commission investigative protocol for officer-involved deaths at its March meeting.]

Governmental Affairs Committee Votes 3-0 to Change Hudson Directive

The Governmental Affairs Committee voted 3-0 to impose a 30 day wait on the Community Police Review Commission’s ability to send an independent investigator to initiate a probe of an officer-involved death. The motion was proposed by Chair Councilman Andrew Melendrez and supported by committee members, Councilmen Rusty Bailey and Steve Adams. The proposal also included ensuring that the police department’s criminal case book would be made available to the CPRC at the same time that it becomes available to the Riverside County District Attorney’s office which had been the procedure in place before City Manager Brad Hudson’s 2008 directive which essentially ended the commission’s ability to conduct independent investigations in accordance with the charter.

Since the Hudson directive was enforced in 2008 and affirmed by a 5-2 vote of the city council in early 2009, there have been four officer-involved death cases spanning from Sept. 1, 2008 to January 2009. Some city residents spoke along with Riverside Police Officers’ Association Political Action Chair Kevin Townsend during the public comment period. Some people argued for the investigation to begin as soon as the tape was lowered because of witnesses leery of being interviewed by police officers and who might leave the area.

Townsend told the committee that the RPOA board had met many times on his issue and he said that the shooting incidents needed to be looked at on an individual basis because they could get “very complex”. He said the board respected the time lines involved with the commission’s review process but had expressed some reservations.

“The 30 day rule being a hard and fast rule,” Townsend said, “We don’t necessarily agree with that.”

Bailey seemed to consider that viewpoint and proposed that the rule be that the commission waits 30 days or at the discretion of the new police chief, but Melendrez objected quickly though he clearly seemed caught off guard by the suggestion.

“We shouldn’t leave it at the discretion of the chief,” Melendrez said, adding that “we need to standardize it.”

The recommendation passed by this committee will continue on to the city council for a full vote some time in the future. It's anticipated to have enough votes to pass, effectively undoing at least partially the Hudson directive.

Election Season is Clearly in the Air

Shocking some people in attendance was Adams who has totally pulled a 180 on his position on the contentious issue, having been one of the ring leaders along with former councilman Frank Schiavone with pushing for the investigations to be delayed until the police department completed its own criminal investigations. But then perhaps having realized that Schiavone failed to get reelected last year and that he faces an uphill reelection battle next year, Adams has decided that championing the CPRC’s investigative protocol might not be such a bad course of action to take at this juncture in his political career. You have to love election cycles and it looks like at least for Adams, this one is beginning early.

Is this solution perfect? No, as the CPRC boasted a record of 12 investigations in seven years without generating a complaint from the department, police chief, D.A.'s office or City Hall about any one of its investigations negatively impact a criminal process. It's clear that politics played a huge role in the issuance and backing of the Hudson directive. But the biggest obstacle to investigating officer-involved deaths actually remains, the CPRC and the majority of its members who probably think that investigating officer-involved deaths shouldn't be done at all, let alone in 30 days. After all, failing to attend were Chair Peter Hubbard and Vice-Chair Art Santore which shows the lack of leadership on the commission in terms of abiding by the city's charter regarding its powers.

The Search for a New Police Chief

It's already getting started with two candidates apparently having decided to apply from inside the police department's upper management. As anticipated, both Asst. Chief John De La Rosa and Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel have decided to throw their hats in the hiring pool as the city begins its recruitment process. Both are accomplished and experienced officers who have built two very different types of careers with the police department, with one building his career in external policing positions and the other from within the interior of the department's administration. Pete and Johnny D. as they are often called have a combined tenure in the department of over 60 years and the two men are a study in contrasts. Esquivel is pretty much at ease in any community meeting setting while De La Rosa often appears uncomfortable but De La Rosa has covered many administrative assignments including overseeing the Personnel and Training Division and Internal Affairs, the latter as a lieutenant and as a member of upper management. One rose up very quickly in a short period of time, earning the moniker "Johnny Who", the other taking a less steep trajectory but getting promoted to his present level of management in 2007.

Currently both of them bring uncertainty into the process given that any involvement they or other upper management had in the situation involving Leach's accident and traffic stop and the aftermath hasn't been really investigated if only to prove that the members of the command staff weren't involved. In light of community reaction, one would thought this would have been addressed in a more open fashion but that's not the pattern and practice of Riverside. The public has been left not knowing either way but distrusting of how the department handled the Leach incident along with the suspicion that the decision on how to treat it was made by higher ranking officers not at the scene rather than those who were actually there with Leach. And what if that's the case and they're applying for his job? Many people just feel that this is quite the dilemma to add to the growing list of them for the RPD.

And with many people believing that officers at the scene of Leach's accident may have received direction from officers higher up in the ranks and that cell phone conversations might have taken place between officers at the scene and those who were not, there needed to be a more transparent probe of any involvement by upper management especially employees interested in applying to replace Leach. If they are undergoing the employment process for the top cop spot, then they require extra scrutiny in this case to either find out if they were involved or if they were not in light of the questions and concerns from city residents of upper management involvement. The department's taken a pretty serious hit to its reputation in the past few weeks and that has impacted all of its levels.

Hudson hasn't made any real assurances that this will be the case even in his "sweeping" probe. That it will include examining any related issues in the department including any problems that might have led to at least five arrests and possibly an even higher number of officers during 2008-09. Are these arrests truly isolated events or signs of a dysfunctional management and/or supervisory system?

When the city had hired former chief, Russ Leach during the autumn of 2000 which occurred during one of the most turbulent periods in the city's history, a promise had been made to the department that since Leach was considered an "outsider" (having served as chief of El Paso's police department after a long career in the Los Angeles Police Department), the next chief to replace him when that day come would be from inside the police department. And in the history of the police department in the 1990s, the chiefs had alternated from being hired from the outside (like Ken Fortier from the San Diego Police Department) and Jerry Carroll, who worked his way within the ranks of the RPD from sergeant to chief in less than five years.

Leach himself had said that his two predecessors were a lesson in contrasts. Fortier had excellent administration skills but poor people skills whereas Carroll was his opposite in those areas. Both of them had relatively brief stints as chief and faced "no confidence" votes in one way or another from police associations. Both took retirements after one final decision made or a situation that had come to a head, and the departures of both sent the city searching for replacements.

The city is in that situation once again, though Leach's tenure had been a bit longer at 10 years. He had come into the police department at its most difficult hours but at the end of his career despite any accomplishments he made, he left it pretty much in some significant respects the same as when he had arrived. The city's residents are as conflicted with the department and in many ways distrustful as they were when Leach was hired. When Leach was hired, the command staff that had served under the previous chiefs had rocky tenures and some retired. Departures of the last few chiefs created intensive distrust in their command staffs from city residents and internally as well. This makes hiring from the inside pretty much impossible especially given that City Hall's response to this crisis with its department is a total whitewash.

That situation apparently hasn't changed with this latest departure of a police chief in the midst of a scandal which some say began with Leach's vehicle crash and subsequent traffic stop and others say had been a dysfunctional pattern and practice occurring within the upper management level of the police department for quite a bit longer. City residents distrust the command staff which consists of the upper management of the police department because they believe that the apparent decision to give Leach preferential treatment during his driving episode came from that echelon. Many city residents believe that Hudson's inhouse probe is an attempt to cover up the cover up manifested by a member or members of the department's command staff. Consequently, there's little trust towards a department that hires its newest leader from that rank. Hudson's probe will do little or nothing to change this because it will take more than the passage of months or even a year to change this strong belief among the city's residents that the department is thoroughly corrupt, so much so to the point that it's a fodder for jokes, the kind that are exchanged when no one really is laughing.

But if distrust is strong towards the department in the community, what is it like inside the department? The officers who perform their duties in a professional and responsible manner when conducting DUI stops on mere citizens saw how another half lives, being employed by a boss who warns people not to drink and drive on Super Bowl Sunday yet who when he crashes his own car with no apparent memory of doing so and keeps on driving down a dirt road in a field that exists only in his head, he's treated much differently from them. While other motorists driving around on flattened tires get stopped, get a DUI investigation and get a trip to the county lockup in the backseat of a squad car while handcuffed (rather than unencumbered in the front seat), Leach gets special treatment. No DUI investigation. No real questioning about his recollection. No field sobriety evaluation and testing, not even by a very experienced field sergeant who is a court recognized DUI expert.

Remember, no one in the city was supposed to even know that Leach crashed his car at all. Even though that car was paid for by tax dollars by someone who was supposed to enforce the law, not potentially break it.

People see that happen, they read it and they know that Leach who preached against drunk driving was held to a separate standard himself and may have even demanded or ordered that to be so. Maybe someone among the chain links in the hierarchy of the department's command structure said that he needed to be tested. And maybe someone higher up in the food chain didn't like that and ordered the opposite. That he be given a ride home. That no report be written. That the city owned Chrysler 300 with "major damage" be towed to Magnolia Police Station miles away. Try even asking people to believe that this all happened without the knowledge and even orders from people higher up in the power structure is a futile task at best.

People in the city distrust the "sweeping" probe being conducted and controlled by those who should be answering questions but will never be asked. But then many city residents wanted an independent outside probe from day one. I emailed city council members early on asking for one and didn't receive any response in return. But it's the only chance for the RPD to be able to address this serious crisis and use its resiliency to ride out what happens and build something better. Without an outside look inside, the decisions made by a relative few to handle Leach's situation as it was handled will continue to penalize hundreds more in the department and hundreds of thousands in the city and it's not likely that those involved with making these decisions really gave the price to be paid by these other people any thought at all when they made them.

People distrust the idea that any person who they believe could have been involved in a cover up during or after the incident could be assigned the role of leading the police department that few people trust right now to treat all people in a fair and just manner. The department where perhaps even its officers wonder if that's what they are supposed to be doing when thinking about what they would do if they had been Officers Jeremy Miller or Grant Linhart or even Sgt. Frank Orta (who was set to retire in the summer) and Lt. Leon Phillips (who was promoted from the 11th spot on the lieutenant's list in July 2008). How many employees in the department have asked themselves those questions and what were their answers?

I once had a conversation, a very interesting one with someone connected with the five-year stipulated judgment with the State Attorney General's office then run by Bill Lockyer about whether or not an officer could challenge the command or order of a superior officer in supervision or management if that order was unjust, a violation of policy or even illegal and not be fired for doing so. This person assured me that this could be done and that in fact in the RPD during the period of the consent decree period it had been done. But was it attempted here or were some inappropriate commands that might have been given from above simply followed? What would have happened if they hadn't been followed? Would those at the higher levels of command charge officers with insubordination for disobedience?

If they did, who outside the agency would know? Very few, because the Peace Officers Bill of Rights, the same law originally created in the 1970s to address abusive actions by police management against union members is now serving the purpose of smothering officers within a blanket of perhaps, that same kind of corruption. It's shown itself to be the double edged sword it always was during the past several weeks.

If upper management personnel either in the police department and/or City Hall were involved in any inappropriate actions either before, during or after this incident that ended Leach's tenure at the RPD, they will never be investigated. No, not even behind closed doors or the shield of confidentiality. The shield of confidentiality simply ensures that the public won't know just how limited Hudson's sweeping probe really is, essentially an emperor without any clothes, a toothless tiger. They will never be investigated, which means they can never be held accountable for misconduct if they are guilty or effectively cleared of it if they weren't involved. Because of this, there will be a shroud of doubt and uncertainty following them wherever they go including through the application process of becoming the next police chief of a troubled agency, one that's been that way for some time. But the city opted for that direction when Hudson made his decision on his inhouse probe.

It's hard to contemplate this in the face of the city hiring a new police chief, because it doesn't matter who they hire, inside or out, unless the dynamic within the department and between it and City Hall changes from being less destructive and to one allowing a police chief to be more independent and not micromanaged by different elements within City Hall or his or her command staff. The new chief might be faced with the task of literally rebuilding the police department but it's very unlikely that he or she would have the freedom to do so as his or her role will be to maintain the status quo established by management personnel like Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis.

Nope, not very likely at all.

$20 Million Hyatt Hotel Project Passes

Mission Inn, Marriott Voice Objection; Chamber passes

Riverside City Council voted 6-0 with Andrew Melendrez abstaining to approve the slightly over $25 million financing of the upcoming Hyatt Hotel after owners of the downtown Marriott and the Mission Inn complained about the process.

The haggard looking Greater Chamber of Commerce which initially supported the project held an emergency board meeting the day before and decided to remove its endorsement and take no position on the contentious issue. Probably a sensible choice to avoid any potential political carnage next year.

In a move that's contrary with most Inland Empire governments, Riverside County's Board of Supervisor wants to create a more public bidding process for contracts.

The issue came to light after two groups of defense attorneys battled each other in the bidding process to get the contract to serve as the legal conflict defense panel on cases where the Riverside County Public Defender's office has to recuse itself from defending indigent defendants. Not too long ago, it came to light during audits of the Panel that county monies were being spent on vacations, not court expenses but that situation allegedly has been remedied.

But Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein has some words to say about the brouhaha raised over the current contract process involving the legal panel. Including the alleged Rod Pacheco connection and some pique expressed by supervising judge, Thomas Cahraman.

Three local attorneys jump at the chance to run for a judge's opening in Riverside County Superior Court.

Chief Community Forum

Thursday, March 4

5:30 p.m.

Caesar Chavez Community Center

University and Kansas, Eastside

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