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, March 11, 2010

Riverside Chronicles: Chiefs, Commissions and Another RPD Lawsuit

"You'll know what happened. You won't know who."

---Riverside City Manager Brad Hudson about his own internal probe involving the police chief's accident, traffic stop and cover up.

[Over 80 city residents attended the public forum to solicit input for the selection of Riverside's next police chief at Orange Terrace Community Center.]

The city held the second of three forums on soliciting input for the selection of the city's next police chief and over 80 city residents turned out at the Orange Terrace Community Center in Orangecrest to ask questions, express concern and provide input into the qualities they believe should be sought in the hiring of the next police chief who will step into the shoes of outgoing chief, Russ Leach and take over the reins of a deeply troubled department. Appearing at the forum were City Manager Brad Hudson and Ward Four Councilman Paul Davis and sitting in were Councilman Andrew Melendrez (from Ward Two), Riverside Community College Trustee Mary Figueroa and several other community leaders. There was a lot of good input but it remains to be seen what will come about from it and at least several people asked that question and kind of received an answer after a couple attempts asking it. Hudson said that the feedback would be used to help create the currently missing written job description. Other people asked about doing thorough background checks and psychological evaluations on applicants and Hudson said that would be done with the final two or three candidates in the selection process.

Most people who spoke wanted a police chief who's fair and accountable to the city, his or her officers and the communities of Riverside. They wanted plenty of intervention and prevention programs to address gang violence and other quality of life issues in Riverside. They wanted a police department that fights crime but treats all city residents equally when enforcing the law including its police chief. Casa Blanca resident, Morris Mendoza who was representing the community action group said that the chief needed to have a tough skin because sometimes the meetings became rough. The new chief needed to have a "good heart", needed to follow through on what he told people he would do and should live in the city. The chief should have a cordial relationship with the city, the department and the community residents. The department needed to be able to be trusted by residents, because if they couldn't trust the department, who could they trust?

These comments have come in the light of the near elimination of the city's gang intervention and prevention programs including Project Bridge and in light of the recent scandal involving the department's handling of its former chief's car accident and traffic stop.

Hudson did say that Project Bridge has hired three part-time outreach workers but the once nationally renowned program has pretty much been wiped off the city's canvas in the past several years. He also said that the cover up of the police department happened at its top. At an earlier forum, he had already cleared himself, his office and the rest of City Hall of any involvement in the cover up involving Leach's accident, traffic stop and any other problems. One individual did ask him at the forum if he had known about Leach's past problems and he deferred answering that question because of personnel laws.

He did say that the city at some point would release a general statement of what happened but that he couldn't tell the public who did what, when and what happened to them. In other words, the city residents will be left pretty much in the dark about what the police department's doing in terms of how it enforces the laws involving its own chief or management as well as the role of City Hall in these cover ups. Because any head of an investigation can effectively clear himself and/or his employers fairly quickly without explaining how or why and try to close the book on any further examination of any activities that did take place inside City Hall involving micromanagement or misuse of the police department.

Hudson did say that within 90 days of March 15, the city would know what point it was at in the hiring process. But that there were two investigations going on that had to be completed before the new chief could come on. Also suspended or "slowed down", according to Hudson, was the Strategic Plan which had been in development prior to when the incident involving the chief erupted. Hudson said that it wouldn't be right to have a chief walk into the job implementing some other chief's plans. This led to people in the audience saying amongst themselves, it's not the chief's plan, it's the communities' plan. Meaning that the Strategic Plan is built upon the expectations and goals that the city's residents have regarding the department and not whatever chief is in the position at the time. After all, when Leach came into the position in October 2000, this is part of what the department was doing at the time or having done to it.

1) Recommendations implemented from the Mayor's Use of Force Panel Report (approved by the city council, April 1999)

2) Recommendations being considered for implementation issued by the Riverside County Grand Jury (1999-2000)

3) Ongoing pattern and practice investigation by the State Attorney General's Office (Spring 1999-March 2001) which would result in stipulated judgment

4) Ongoing pattern and practice investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office and Department of Justice Civil Rights Division (July 1999) which would result in implementation of changes in the areas of Use of Force policy, practices and reporting and Canine Use policy.

As you can see, the police department was quite busy and in the process of transition when Leach took its reins in the autumn of 1999. Soon enough, it became clear to him that there were actions he would have to take which were not by choice. Actions that were enforced on the department by the State of California over a five-year period. So there's a precedent of a police chief coming in to a police department where there's many processes taking place outside his or her control. That's part and parcel of being a police chief, because it's very unlikely that any new chief is going to come in and rebuild a department from scratch though perhaps there are times when the thought of doing that is tempting. Including in a department which has had as many issues erupt as has Riverside's department.

There will be more analysis of whether the Strategic Plan should or should not be delayed until the new chief has been hired by Hudson.

The forum solicited great comment as had the previous forum, but there are too many questions that remain to be answered as to where the police department is right now. In the face of the public exposure of the reality that there are at least two separate and very different standards of law enforcement within its walls. That being that faced by the city's residents and that which is faced by the police chief. Some people point out that the chief had contributed much to the department during his 10 year tenure, enough to make up for one example of poor judgment on his part. That may or may not be so, as he did do important work but along the way, raised concerns and questions about what was going on in the department during his watch. Concerns and questions that weren't really addressed.

And in the end, no matter what good he might have done, he sacrificed the integrity of the agency he led for a decade to protect his own secret. He and anyone who might have helped him not just in this one incident but in any one of the rumored dozen or so others also set up a serious crisis within an agency which worked hard in the struggle to climb out of its last one. He left a legacy of distrust within and without the agency, distrust in the integrity of both its leadership and in its operations. And any party involved in a cover up which might have lasted a lot longer than a few hours or days adhered to their own code of silence while allowing the majority of the police department and the city's residents to have to deal with the consequences of their actions.

The whole issue of law enforcement's "code of silence" came up several times in the Orangecrest forum and what would be done about it. Particularly if and when officers were asked to carry out actions (or not carry them out) to protect their bosses from exposure to criminal liability. That question wasn't really answered in words.

CPRC to Restore Investigative Protocol

The Riverside City Council voted 5-1 to partially restore the ability of the Community Police Review Commission to independently investigate officer-involved deaths. An earlier substitute motion proposed by Councilman Rusty Bailey to leave it up to the discretion of the new police chief had only garnered two votes out of six council members present at the meeting and failed to pass.

Council members Mike Gardner, Andrew Melendrez, Bailey, Paul Davis and Nancy Hart (who said nary a word during the entire discussion) voted in favor of the motion to allow the CPRC to investigate officer-involved death investigations after 30 days while Chris MacArthur cast the dissenting vote. Councilman Steve Adams didn't attend the meeting.

Members of the Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability spoke in favor of the issue or in favor of restoring the immediate investigations which dominated the investigative protocol used by the CPRC from 2002-08, resulting in 12 incidents being investigated with nary a complaint from the department, Riverside County District Attorney's office or City Hall. Board members of the Riverside Police Officers' Association attended the meeting and two spoke on their concerns about the implementation of the motion. The union had conducted its own study of the other boards and commissions in the states mirroring one done by CPRC Manager Kevin Rogan although even with the caveats within it, the union's study appeared more comprehensive and thorough than that conducted by Rogan.

The union also challenged the protocol of the process that led the issue back to the city council after the initial 5-2 vote to delay these investigations done in 2009. The effort to diminish the CPRC's ability to investigate which effectively shut down the investigative process involving four incustody deaths in 2008 and early 2009 which are all still pending was allegedly spearheaded by former Councilman Frank Schiavone who lost his reelection bid in part because of his adversarial stance on this issue. Adams, another staunch supporter of delaying the investigations, enough so to co-author an opinion piece on the subject (along with Hart who it wasn't even clear if she even read it) in the Press Enterprise in the summer of 2008 must have read the writing on the wall with his own reelection bid up on the horizon because he did a 180 degree change on his position and voted in support of the 30 day window on initiating investigations. People were shocked until they remembered 2011 isn't all that far away.

A rather interesting if someone diverted discussion took place among those on the dais after public comment had been closed. Gardner who chaired the CPRC for three years said that he thought it should be reinstated to what the commission had been doing before but that 30 days was a "good compromise".

City Attorney Gregory Priamos said that the criminal investigation would always take priority over any other. MacArthur hedged on the issue of whether or not the criminal investigation would be endangered and Gardner said to the council when asked about the chief being the deciding factor, that if that were the case, then the investigation by the CPRC would no longer be independent.

Even with this partial reversal of what transpired in 2009, it remains to be seen whether the leadership of the CPRC, which right now is Chair Peter Hubbard and Vice-Chair Art Santore are up to the task of actually following this latest order by the city council, especially given that neither of them attended last week's Governmental Affairs Committee meeting or the city council meeting. Also on the "no show" list was CPRC Manager Kevin Rogan who along with Hubbard had played prominent roles in the city's campaign to dilute the investigative powers of the CPRC. This most recent development makes one wonder if the micromanagement and backroom type strategies implemented by some of the commissioners are truly over and behind the commission. But the CPRC will be conducting its annual chair and vice-chair elections later this month and it remains to be seen who will get elected or reelected. Will it be the Hubbard/Santore slate or some other commissioners in those spots?

Here's a campaign slogan for the current duo. If you vote for us, we'll slow down the public report writing on these officer-involved death cases so much by refusing to hold enough meetings that we won't get to the Russell Hyatt case until sometime in 2013. Late 2013. Yeah, give us your vote for another year.

Former RPD Officer's Lawsuit Elicits Comments

Interesting discussion taking place on the comment thread attached to the article in the Press Enterprise about former Riverside Police Department Officer Jose Nazario's $9 million wrongful termination lawsuit filed against Riverside. He was fired while a probational officer in 2007 not long after he was investigated and indicted by a federal jury on manslaughter charges in connection with the alleged killings of insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq several years earlier.

He was acquitted at trial and tried to reapply to the department but was not hired. Some of the comments favor him and believe he should get his job back.


The law suit has nothing to do with being a cop in Riverside or anywhere else. It has to do with the City of Riverside and it's unfair, improper and possible illegal treatment of an employee. The only problem he has is the fact that he was still on probation when the military investigators decided to hose him big time. Nazario was found not guilty, so he should have gone back to RPD as if nothing happened. Still being on probation though, the city can teminate with out cause, not need to give a reason. "Does not meet probationary standards" is a catch all phrase the can mean anything the city wants it to, but you're still gone. Unless it was proved that Nazario was doing really poor at meeting probationary standards, he could still have a good chance of wining the new law suit too. Frankly I hope he does too.

He should get some compensation but 9 mill is a little much. 2 or 3 I could accept. Riverside violated their own rules and didn't expect to pay the price. Hopefully when all is said and done there will be a mutual settlement.

Mr. Nazario was a US Marine and recieved a honorable discharge. The department fired him, "after" he was charged with the crime. He has since been aquitted. This Devil Dog should not lose his job, income and career unless the city can come up with something else that is cause for termination.

Some say, no he shouldn't prevail and even alleged he had committed other crimes, i.e. domestic violence.

Nazario, I hope that whichever college you attend succeeds in properly educating and socializing you. The last thing that society needs is another trained killer roaming the streets with the power and authority given to a law officer.

Otherwise, it sounds like you would have fit in perfectly in the red-neck area of the woods known as Riverside County.

I guess he shouldn't have slapped his wife around in NY when he moved back during the trial. Then a restraining order was granted against him. Domestic Violence is why he wasn't rehired. End on story. Move on Marine. You're better than this.

unfortunately in this state, anyone who files a lawsuit wins some money. He sounds like a cry baby to me. why dont he just apply for the VA disability like most veterans do. He can claim mental issues. We dont need rogue cops on the streets.

Some are on the fence.

I think he got a raw deal, however he was on probation and they do not need a reason to terminate him off probation. Even still, it could simply be that circumstances surrounding the incident came to light that were not previously known, and while not nessecerily criminal, may have been such that would have prevented him from originally being hired had they been known at that time.

Yep. Probation means just that: You can be let go for ANY REASON. No "cause" needed. You are strictly an "at will" employee until you complete probation. And, in fact, even the high and mighty Police Union won't touch you till you pass probation (tho they'll still accept your dues!) So sad, too bad! (That said, I hope the city had a GOOD reason for letting him go - beyond just the trial stuff. After all, he WAS acquitted!)

Menifee hasn't been a city for too long but it's already suspended its financial director.

Public Forum

Community Forum on the New Police Chief

Monday, March 15, at 7 p.m.

La Sierra Seniors' Center

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