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

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Warning: This Blog Isn't Uplifting for City Hall

UPDATE***** Former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach charged with two misdemeanor counts of Driving Under the Influence in connection with his Feb. 8 car accident. His case number is RIM10003229 and his case comes up for arraignment on March 25 at 1:30pm in Dept. 21. The charges came nearly two months later than they should have and again raise questions on how this incident was handled by Leach's former law enforcement agency.****

Chief Leach has done all he can do for the City and should retire. You see, many present and formers employees of the department know what Chief Leach is - and it’s not a Leader. Over the more than five years that he has been Chief, he has committed acts of malfeasance, and in some cases unlawfulness; has failed to develop leaders capable of leading the department into the future, in spite of the fact that he has promoted the majority of his command and executive staff; has lied and spread rumors about members of the department, has lied to and spread rumors about public officials, including some of you; has caused dissention and dysfunction throughout the ranks; has engaged in unethical conduct unbecoming of a Chief, and has promoted based on favors and friendships rather than merit..

----Excerpt of letter allegedly sent to City Council and Mayor Ron Loveridge not earlier this year but towards the end of 2005. It's not clear whether or not these allegations made were ever investigated by the city council, mayor or their direct employee and Leach's boss, Brad Hudson before the contract was put on the city council agenda for a vote to approve Leach's contract that year. Leach's contract was last renewed at the end of 2009. This letter does make it difficult for those still in City Hall to plead ignorance now about at least any alleged problems with Leach and the police department before the Feb. 8 accident.

I've received different responses to my postings about the situation stemming from the Feb. 8 vehicle accident and traffic stop involving former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach including one that stated that I'm being too hard on City Manager Brad Hudson in my blog postings. That I've accused him of being involved in the cover up involving the initial noninvestigation of Leach's traffic stop and City Hall of not doing enough in response to what happened with Leach during that stop and its aftermath. Everyone's entitled to his or her opinion and I respect his sentiment but our perspectives are just very different and maybe our roles are as well. Different writers including bloggers have different perspectives to add to the dialogue taking place over this incident and there's going to be some differences of opinion as well as information offered from one writer to the next on the same event as it unfolds. It's been interesting to read all the different coverage in different venues since this has all been going on.

This blog is one perspective of many out there and this perspective believes that yes, a cover up took place involving the police chief's contact with his own officers and and one that likely goes beyond just one vehicle accident. If that's the case, City Hall may have absolved itself too quickly in its role through its own probe. Something which given that Hudson is in charge of the probe was fairly easy for him and it to do before the probe's results even make it over to that Best, Best and Krieger lawyer that was hired behind closed doors on the Seventh Floor to provide ahem, "independent oversight". Hired with the tax payer money generated from Riverside's property, sales and other taxes without having to go through any public process of discussion and vote by the city council.

City Hall could have restored more of the trust that's been lost in it, not to mention the police department, by coming up front and inviting an outside agency to conduct a probe of what happened as has been done in other cities. Then maybe the public would find it easier to believe that there was nothing to hide or being hidden. Because the only way to get any type of accountable probe out of Hudson is for the city council and mayor to make it clear to him that his job depends on it and that goes for his legal counterpart in the city attorney's office as well. And it's not clear whether or not there's enough collective leadership on the dais to deliver that message to the council's direct employees and back it up with teeth.

But no, the city went strictly inhouse after doing nothing at all for a couple of days, having the police department conduct the internal investigation, while it was being run by its top management employee left once Leach went on medical leave. An individual who could have very well wound up being investigated himself for covering up Leach's accident. Similar allegations were raised later on by one of the department's detectives who submitted a claim for damages which went essentially unaddressed except through rejection of his claim.

Then Hudson assigned himself the final voice on this inhouse probe even though he could very well have some questions to answer about what happened including before Feb. 8 involving himself, Leach and the police department. That said, it's just really hard to get all that excited and jazzed that City Hall's involvement in any cover up was cleared by its own investigation.

The department itself has experienced a serious loss of public trust which was already flagging a bit in the wake of the arrest and prosecution of at least five of its police officers within a 14 month period. A phenomenon that some attribute to a lack of leadership within the RPD, something which if it's the case would also be investigated but not by anyone who may have questions to answer regarding this problem as well.

The majority of police officers and civilian employees aren't involved in any cover up or the Leach incident nor have they been arrested and/or prosecuted for criminal acts but they are left holding the bag because key individuals in the department's management and that of the city refuse to break their own code of silence and take responsibility for what has happened to cause serious problems and the loss of public trust in the department. And not just from the Feb. 8 incident but from any misconduct or micromanagement by former or current elements of City Hall which preceded that incident and perhaps even contributed to the incident itself and its cover up. These individuals dread public disclosure much more than the reality that they have essentially sold out the vast majority of employees at the police department through their actions first and then their silence and set them up to bear much of the cost of the distrust their own actions have generated.

While it might be too early to state exactly what this cover up is and exactly when it began, it's never too early to be asking some serious questions, many of which still await answers which this blog has done since day one. But many city residents in different forums have been asking these very same questions as well from the beginning and along with this blog and Salvador Santana's blog, are still awaiting answers to even the most basic questions. The hope clearly being that as time passes, people's emotions and memories will fade and then no one will be paying attention when City Hall releases a few terse statements about the Hudson probe. Will there be answers to any of the following questions (taken from a larger list)?

1) Did Brad Hudson mandate that Leach be tested for drugs and alcohol intoxication as mandated by the city' s own policy which requires its employees who crash city-owned vehicles to be tested as soon as possible? A simple yes or no to this question (if not the test results) from Hudson or his designee is allowable for public release under state law.

2) Did Hudson, City Attorney Gregory Priamos, the city's outside law firm (which is likely, Best, Best and Krieger) or the city council fully investigate the allegations that former Riverside Police Officers' Association President Det. Chris Lanzillo make involving the Leach incident and cover up before rejecting his claim? Why was the claim not stayed until the probe being conducted by Hudson was completed since the allegations were related to the probe's purpose?

3) Did Hudson fully investigate the claims of problems made against Leach referred to in the above December 2005 email before Leach's contract went to the city council for a vote that same month?

4) Were Hudson and Priamos honest about any concerns or questions that might have been raised about the involvement of alcohol in the accident?

5) Why was the report written by Sgt. Frank Orta that was released by City Hall in the ahem, interest of transparency missing a signature by a "reviewer" of his report? Why was it handwritten? Was there a signed copy?

6) Why won't the city release the 911 recordings made of phone calls by motorists and the phone records of city-issued phones assigned to police employees including upper management and high-ranking employees at City Hall? It's not the CHP after all, that's blocking these records from being released, it's the city possibly through taking public records and cloaking them in an internal investigation so they become confidential by intent.

7) Why won't the city release any CAD incident sheets in relation to the purported traffic stop conducted by two patrol officers involving Leach on Arlington and Rutland? Again, it's not the CHP that is withholding this information, it's the city.

These are a few of the long laundry list of questions that still remain unanswered to this day, which is frustrating for many people because there's no legal reason why they can't be answered and in the cases of this missing information, why it can't be released. If Hudson is truly interested in public trust and transparency of his process, then he would produce these answers.

My role is not to explain why he doesn't do the right thing or provide excuses for him and defend his actions, my role is to hold his feet to the fire and those of the individuals who disappear behind closed doors twice a year to perform performance evaluations on his work conduct and product. I get inquiries all the time from city residents wondering why Feb. 8 and its aftermath were allowed to happen, why City Hall and the police department are allowed to investigate themselves and whether or not they will ever know the truth about what happened and just as importantly how long it's been happening. Hudson's already answered that question in the press and public forums and the answer is no. In fact when directly asked by individuals at a public forum in Orangecrest if he knew about prior problems about Leach, Hudson quickly demurred. But then what does he have to say, given that the probe he heads has already cleared him? One of those so-called confidential findings that he did throw out at a forum or two was that City Hall had been cleared.

This blog's is not for City Hall nor does it advocate or speak for anyone in City Hall. In fact, a few people there wish it would go away. But Hudson, Priamos, etal really don't need anyone to advocate or speak for them, because they make fairly generous six figured salaries to do their jobs, which require at least rudimentary communication skills including with the public.

And another thing, these individuals in positions of power apparently have plenty of money to hire people including in one notorious case 10 years ago, a public relations firm, to speak for them. They have funds that allow the hiring of legislative aides including one who freely called one woman, "the biggest bitch around" during a city council meeting break and high-ranking employees are allowed to call women "liars" (but then city council members, past and present have done that too, not exactly the best role models for their direct employees). Why when the city's laying off employees, that high ranking management employees are assigned more than one city-owned take home vehicle (given that Leach has had about eight high-priced Chrysler 300s including the one he crashed and some city management employees have had more than one)? But then that's a whole separate line of questioning on the accountability of financial expenditures.

Likewise, I don't agree with Salvador Santana's assertion that the anonymous woman who called Mayor Ron Loveridge to report the accident on the morning of Feb. 8 did it out of envy or as an enemy of the police chief when asking who she is, as the woman scorned. One might argue it's premature to attribute a motive for her actions. It's difficult to say what her motive may have been for placing the call. It would have been because of those things, it could have been a person who felt it was her civic duty to report what had happened to the mayor or felt it was the right thing to do or was concerned about what she witnessed or a combination of different reasons. There's been an assumption made of her motives for calling or whistle blowing through jumping to conclusions. The truth is, we may never know as city residents why she called Loveridge except to know that at the end of the day that doesn't matter, it just matters that she did.

But even though she did, Loveridge also tried to facilitate the task of keeping Leach's accident under wraps while and after he had received some answers himself. After all, did he announce what had happened the day he found out about it? No he didn't. Did he announce it the next day? No he didn't. City Hall admitted that there had even been an accident only because of the tremendous outside pressure that media outlets put on them keeping their phone lines burning to find out what had happened. And as far as the news of the accident went, the concern about the cover up followed quickly on its tail as it should have given what's transpired since.

Waiting for the truth wouldn't have done any good here because on its own volition, City Hall wasn't planning to ever release it until the incident got away from its ability to contain it and took on a life of its own. In large part because individuals probably refused to let it be buried figuring that maybe there's just too many things wrong that have been hidden away already. And somewhere there are likely individuals who took the risks that most of us do not to make sure that the public wasn't left in the dark this time. The public should return that favor by picking up the mantle and by being diligent about asking the questions that need to be asked, many times if necessary, and be vigilant in search of their answers. Remind the individuals at the offices in the police department and at the 'Hall that they work for the city's residents and not the other way around. Until that's done, it will be difficult for either City Hall or the police department to gain back public trust in the wake of what's happened.

Actually, the CHP probably isn't withholding anything from the public on its own accord but has probably been ordered or advised to do so by Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco, which if this the case isn't all that surprising. It's well and good to urge for the public release of the CHP's criminal investigation but the CHP isn't the party to ask, any inquiries should be sent to Pacheco if he issued some form of gag order on the CHP. The probe will answer some of the questions involve Leach and perhaps the police department but won't be useful in explaining what happened in City Hall due to its limited scope. Its primary value will be in providing voluntary (and thus not confidential) interviews by police employees including those who were at the scene of Leach's traffic stop which might shed some light on any decision making that took place by higher ups about how Leach's traffic stop would be conducted. The investigation which matters more from a civic perspective is the "sweeping" probe that could wind up doing a lot of sweeping, underneath the rug and what this blog has been asking for since nearly day one is an independent investigation of the incident and its aftermath, outside of City Hall.

Access to public records is better explained here including a fairly good template of what a CPRA letter should look like. But a former newspaper reporter once told me this: A record doesn't become restricted from the public unless a judge says so. Meaning that often times, public entities will try to bluff people into believing that a record's not public because they believe that person or entity doesn't have the financial resources to obtain the legal resources to prove them wrong in court. Ask most activists in Riverside who have dealt with civic issues and they will tell you this is true along with their own frustrating and often protracted experiences with obtaining public records they should, by state or federal law, receive up front.

Santana writes some pretty insightful comments about what's going on at the Fox Theater, with its management issues involving one of the city's latest high-priced consultants. The one who is supervised by Deanna Larsen, the head of Development (a department which has seen a mass exodus of employees including since she's arrived) and she, through Asst. City Manager Belinda Graham is working under Hudson. There might be issues with the Fox Theater management like Santana raises including its treatment of alternate media outlets. Maybe if this blog dealt with other issues of the Fox than the public funds used to subsidize it, I would have learned how rude this individual may or may not be first hand but this person was hired at huge cost to the city precisely because of how he manages the theater which is after all, owned by the city.

Maybe closing access to alternate media outlets is part of the plan outlined to this consultant by those who hired and manage him while he works here. Maybe hiring someone who has poor skills when relating to non-mainstream media outlets wasn't seen as a detriment by Larsen, Hudson and City Hall. Something to think about anyway when covering the ongoing issues with how the Fox Theater is being handled or mishandled. At any rate, how this individual treats Santana or other media outlets isn't hurting his ability to remain employed at considerable taxpayer expense. He'll keep his job because he's been doing his job as it's been laid out before him when he was given the expectations he has to fulfill to honor his side of the contract.

Yes, the truth is a great thing and it may set us all free some day but the truth is, about the truth, that it isn't free and it rarely comes to you simply by waiting for it to appear or waiting for authority figures to provide all the answers that you seek. It's be a nice world if it worked that way and it would be part of a democratic and just society if governmental administrative employees and officials were truly accountable to the people they served all of the time. But often enough, it just doesn't work that way and the truth is often something that needs to be searched for hard to find when it comes to local government, much harder than it should be.

Unfortunately most of the time as a city resident you have to search for it and fight for it, and this sordid example of an appalling lack of accountability in this city is just another example of that essential truth. Because the only reason that the city residents who pay the salaries of everyone involved in this mess have found out any truth at all is not because it was given out like candy to children who behave themselves and don't ask questions. No, people know about Leach's accident and the involved cover up because City Hall was pressured to ultimately to release a small amount of information about a much larger incident that refused to stay buried because perhaps some people out there didn't believe that should be its final outcome.

Is parking at Riverside's Fox Theater really needed?

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