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

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Waiting Game Continues in River City

Everyone's sitting on pins and needles awaiting the outcomes of the two ongoing but very different investigations into what happened with former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach's car and whether or not he violated any criminal or vehicle codes when he crashed it into a fire hydrant and light pole and then drove on two rims until pulled over by patrol officers from his own department. City Hall has been fairly quiet recently on the issue since its top administrator cleared it of any involvement in this incident, not long after the ink dried on the undisclosed contract papers between its top administrator and his hired consultant from Best, Best and Krieger. Hudson hasn't answered any questions including whether or not he ordered Leach to be tested for drugs or alcohol intoxication pursuant to a city policy that requires that process be followed with any city employee who crashes a city-owned vehicle. But he's cleared City Hall of any involvement in any cover up.

As you know, the California Highway Patrol already completed its criminal investigation into Leach's actions on Feb. 8 and has forwarded its investigation and recommendations to Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco. He hasn't made any announcement on whether his office will charge Leach with a criminal violation and if so, which ones but apparently he's made sure that no other party can obtain a copy of the CHP's criminal probe until he makes his decision. If he decides to charge Leach, the report would then be made available but if he nixes on filing criminal charges then will that same report ever see the light of day? That's a difficult question to ask during an election year when many politicos try so hard to make just the right impression on their voters. And there are quite a few that have tied in their vote with whether or not Pacheco files criminal charges against Leach.

It doesn't seem as if Pacheco will authorize the release of the CHP report if he declined to prosecute Leach and if the CHP recommended that charges be filed against Leach who face it did admit to being under the influence, albeit of prescription medicine he received in relation to his back surgery. And under the law, it's illegal to drive while under the influence of any legally prescribed medication. As everyone knows, the police department didn't even do a field sobriety test let alone test Leach for being under the influence of anything including alcohol despite the fact that officers thought he had been drinking in the period before an apparent huge memory loss. And everyone also knows that the department waited for nearly two days before going oh, we need to farm this investigation out to the CHP in the interest of accountability and fairness. By the time the CHP did get it, its spokesman agreed that they were already behind the ball which would compromise their investigation. And face it, the department's management farmed it out only when their phones were ringing off the hook from various media outlets and other people who had gotten wind of what was unfolding in front of them. After all, Monday the day after the Super Bowl was a bit quieter for the department, which would have provided time during a relative period of tranquility to hit the CHP up for the favor of investigating the top cop.

But of course as we all now, that didn't happened.

And why not, is what cover ups are made of, self-protection in the shield of confidentiality and isolation although even within hours, the attempts to cover it up were coming unraveled. But the police department, city manager's office and even a tipped off mayor at City Hall had no desire for anyone to know anything about what happened with the police chief. Because after all, did Mayor Ron Loveridge in between gigs as the president of the League of Cities ever issue a press release to the media or the city residents, stating listen folks, this woman called me this morning, she told me this and I asked Brad the man to look into it and this report is what I got and here it is....No, the report came a little bit later and not in its entirety as it turned out but what little was publicly released was due to the city being pressured under growing allegations that it was trying to cover the whole affair up.

Loveridge was just another in a line of management level personnel who was willing to sell out an agency of 600 employees, most of whom had nothing to do with this, in order to keep a damper on this unfolding story. But the problem is, the best way to erase growing public sentiment about a cover up going on isn't to participate in building a cover up to shield a cover up. City Hall discovered that fact a little bit late.

If Pacheco decided not to file charges going against recommendations by the CHP to do so, then perhaps it would not be in the best interest in an election year to reveal the contents of that investigative file. If he didn't file charges and was following a CHP recommendation not to, then it's likely that the report would be cleared for quick release to news media outlets and other interested parties. The same would apply if Pacheco did file criminal charges either DUI or hit and run or both against Leach. He's a head prosecutor but he's also a politician up for reelection this year.

The CHP's investigative report would include interviews with the officers who were present at the traffic stop involving Leach where the decision was made not to conduct a field sobriety test or DUI evaluation on him despite evidence that one was indicated including substantial memory loss by Leach and heavy damage to his car which indicated that he struck an object or two in another distant location. Sgt. Frank Orta, a recognized DUI expert, wrote in his report basically that yeah, Leach had been drinking, no, he didn't seem to remember much except driving in some field and okay, the car was missing some tires and suffered fender damage but what am I going to do with that? Hmmm, I think I'll file it as a "traffic collision" report and recommend no further action than sticking it in storage somewhere. However, it's unlikely that Orta experienced that exact thought process. No, he probably had help from elsewhere and perhaps being the expert, maybe he did say that Leach was drunk and needed a DUI evaluation and maybe someone with more hardware on his uniform than he had, thought to himself, Leach drunk and needing a DUI evaluation, I don't really like that answer. And if that happened, then it had to be someone somewhat higher on the police department's food chain than Orta or probably even his own supervisor. One piece of evidence that might shed some light on that are the records for the city issued cell phones and which ones were used to make or receive phone calls from other phones during the duration of the original incident and its aftermath.

Especially phone calls made or received by city issued phones assigned to employees who either weren't there or alleged that they didn't know about the incident at the time. At least one city issued phone that was assigned to someone allegedly fell within both of those two categories and was also allegedly used during the incident possibly twice. But the city has engaged in the tactic of taking information that's covered by the public information acts and cloaking it within an internal investigation in an attempt to make it not available or restricted from public disclosure. Why would it do this, with the answer of course being, to protect itself. There's no other reason to transform information that's public into being that which is restricted and private unless some form of self-protection is involved by Hudson and probably others involved in that decision making process.

Orta wrote a brilliantly worded summary of another traffic stop involving a car being driven on three flattened tires that involved Officer Grant Linhart who had stopped Leach's car and Officer Jorge Selpulvada who had responded to the 911 calls involving the original car accident at Central and Hillside. In that case, the two officers conducted a DUI investigation and then arrested the man who probably wasn't a police chief, and took him to be booked at county jail on those charges. Placing him in the back seat of the squad car in handcuffs rather than allowing him to ride in the front seat and taking an unsafe driver off the streets. At both that stop and the one involving Leach two weeks earlier, Lt. Leon Phillips had been on duty as watch commander. Phillips who was promoted to lieutenant on July 1, 2008 to fill the position vacated by Lt. Ken Carpenter's retirement apparently like Orta lawyered up after the incident started causing a public uproar.

The only history of the traffic stop at Arlington and Rutland involving Leach the morning after Super Bowl Sunday was in Orta's somewhat inadequate report, given that the CAD incident report which should have detailed that stop was never released to the public by City Hall. The only reason why City Hall had released any part of the report at all was because it had hoped to put all the complaints and concerns and discussions about cover ups and subterfuge away, believing all of that to be just so unseemly. But the opposite happened instead because when Orta's report was released publicly, it generated more concerns and questions, than answers and resolution to the cover up speculation. And then City Hall clamped down along with the police department's management and released not another word. If a pin dropped in the basement of City Hall, you could hear it on the seventh floor, it's so quiet in that building.

And that leads right into the second investigation, which was unilaterally launched by City Manager Brad Hudson probably in hopes of thwarting any chances that outside agencies might decide to launch "sweeping" investigations of their own if they saw a scandal ripening in an apathetic city that didn't at least try to self-investigate under the guise of promoting accountability where it's clearly absent. This investigation was created and financed behind closed doors with apparently even the city government being locked out of such a crisis of public confidence by its own employee. Hudson decided to provide "independent oversight" in the form of Best, Best and Krieger attorney (and former District Attorney) Grover Trask. But it's pretty hard to be "independent oversight" when under the contract of the city manager's office. One need only witness the behavior of Community Police Review Commission Chair Peter Hubbard who also works for American Medical Response to realize that.

But before anyone gets too excited about any probe of Hudson's promoting public accountability, you have to refresh your memory over the two standard rules of inhouse investigations.

1) to protect those they should be investigating

2) to punish anyone at risk of generating exposure of #1)

Usually #1 is a priority immediately at the beginning of any inhouse probe and #2 starts not too long after the probe begins usually in order to help ensure #1 when that gets a little tough. That's just how these investigations go, and that strategy's fostered by their very secrecy. As soon as these investigations are started, they are deemed confidential which makes it more difficult for anyone outside them to know what's going on, including whether or not these investigations themselves become cover ups for the cover ups they are purportedly investigating. And so it is with Hudson's probe as Hudson has made that clear at various public forums that no one would know who did what to whom. In this case, it is pretty clear that this will keep the city residents of Riverside who feel betrayed and upset with what has transpired forever be in the dark of what took place during the Hudson probe and what it uncovered. Or actually much more accurately in this case, what got covered up.

The public will never know who's being investigated and why and if people targeted by the probe are being investigated for the right reasons or for the wrong ones. The public will never know who was discovered to be responsible for the cover up that took place that date (but the public already knows that any prior cover ups will go uninvestigated since they make it difficult for City Hall it was completely in the dark about what was going on) and if those individuals will be held responsible or whether they'll be shielded from that because of the secrecy of this probe. If any inhouse management employees apply for the chief's position, the public will never know what role any one of them played if they did indeed play one in the cover up purportedly being investigated by the probe or any cover up that took place earlier than Feb. 8.

If employees of the police department who had information on any cover up surrounding Leach were afforded the rights of whistle blower protection pursuant to city policies and procedures as well as federal and state law, the city residents will also be kept from knowing if the city properly followed those laws and procedures or it violated them. And in the case of federal laws, if any violations take place, that could prohibit or restrict the city's ability to receive federal funding. Mayor Ron Loveridge who is the king or president of the League of Cities addressed a conference in Washington, D.C. about the federal government loosening access to its monies to help the cities climb out of the recession. Yet someone needs to tell Loveridge that if Riverside's violating any federal laws including in an inhouse probe, then that water tap to that money can just be turned off.

It's very impressive to see the whistle blower protection guidelines posted all over the city including inside one of the police department's roll call rooms but it would be considerably less impressive if the city violated these and other relevant laws when conducting the purported Hudson probe. Then people would need to start asking serious questions about why any of these laws were violated and those questions wouldn't go away in time for next year's city council elections. In fact, violating these types of laws is an excellent way of inviting an outside, beyond-your-control investigation from some other agency which would dampen Hudson's inhouse probe somewhat. And the truth is that if the city were really interested in finding out the truth and in being accountable with it to city residents, the city itself would have invited the outside probe as has been the case in other jurisdictions. If you want answers, then you don't rely on those provided by someone working for you whose own actions should have come under scrutiny almost immediately. You ask someone to investigate for you who has no personal or professional ties with any of the involved entities or parties. Someone that you can't control or manipulate through a financial arrangement. But as everyone knows, Riverside didn't opt to do that. It could have done that but as everyone has seen, certain actions were taken by the city administration to effectively counteract that process.

But by keeping the probe inhouse and especially inside Hudson's office, the city has assured that whatever transpired on Feb. 8 will not include any real examination of Hudson's office nor any other corner of City Hall. In fact, what was one of Hudson's only public statements on his top secret probe? That City Hall had been cleared of any role in the cover up and that it was all contained inside the police department. That might or might not be true regarding the Feb. 8 incident but what about all the others? And what about the fact that it's likely that this incident stemmed from serious problems already existing inside the department including its dysfunctional management by elements inside City Hall. Including some of the same elements that have been encharged with performing this exercise in self-investigation or perhaps self-protection.

City Hall through Hudson said that it released information on the Feb. 8 incident when it released Orta's six-page report, yet it omitted the relevant CAD incident information for the traffic stop and Orta's report had apparently failed to be done properly on a department issued computer which would have provided it with a more accurate time stamp. And it was also apparently unsigned at least the copy released from City Hall although a copy signed by a member of the department's highest management is rumored to exist somewhere. If that's true, then why didn't City Hall release that copy? Did City Hall not have it or did it feel that it was critical to release a copy of the report without any signature? Many questions but few answers, which again is the purpose of an inhouse probe as well to focus its attention usually not where the problems are really located.

That appears to be business as usual in Riverside while a city waits to exhale.

The federal and state law enforcement agencies are issuing a $200,000 reward hoping that will lead to the arrests of individuals responsible for targeting the Hemet-San Jacinto Gang Task force. State Attorney General Jerry Brown and other law enforcement officials gathered at the press conference which was invitation only at Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco's new building.

Hemet Police Department which is headed by former Riverside Police Department Commander Richard Dana, has been already hit hard with losing up to 25% of its police officers to budget cuts by the Hemet City Council along with a violent crime rate that is increasing at a high rate in the past several years. Dana attended the news conference with representatives of his department.

Inside Riverside comments on the upcoming Riverside County elections that are coming up this June.

The real cool annual air show at Riverside Municipal Airport will be held next Saturday, March 27 all day. Don't miss it.

Public Meetings

Tuesday, March 23 at 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The Riverside City Council will meet again at City Hall. This agenda at least part of it will be up for discussion and vote.

This lawsuit is going to be discussed in closed session. American Medical Response might be receiving another gift in its dream of having a monopoly on Basic Life Services Support care and transport in Riverside instead of having to face the free market of a capitalist society.

Wednesday, March 24 at 5:oo p.m. The Community Police Review Commission is set to hold its monthly exercise in expressing hostility at conducting open meetings that might be attended by (gasp) community members. The agenda's not available yet but it will probably be packed with agenda items that are at least 3-4 months old since they hold meetings only once monthly now and never really get much done.

Remember the time's been moved up earlier because some of the folks on the commission really don't like it when community members show up to their diminishing roster of meetings.

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