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, April 01, 2010

Are the Dominos Already Starting to Fall?

"These are like dominoes, falling one after another."

----Paul Alston

"For years the community has suspected that the police department has been controlled, not by the Chief’s office, but by the 7th Floor at City Hall. Once the State Attorney General’s Stipulated Agreement ended, so did the demonstrated support toward the concept of “Community Oriented Policing”. Police personnel for years now, have been directed to terminate contact, interaction and participation with the community to which they serve. Partnerships which were established and had proven successful were abandoned or limited. Individuals in the police department, who did not fall in line with the new concept, were either pushed out of the department all together, or simply denied promotion.

We acknowledge that a City Charter Amendment would be necessary to remove responsibility from the City Manager into the final decision of selecting the next Chief of Police. We acknowledge that based on the time limitations of the upcoming decision, the removal of that responsibility is not going to happen. However, we will go on record as making this a formal request for such consideration. The City Manager has not demonstrated to this community that he has the best interest of its members. The City Council and Mayor have not held the City Manager accountable for those actions and as such, the City Council and the Mayor have also contributed to the current crisis in Riverside.

An independent outside investigation is required, that would bring its results to the community: a community to which City Hall remains accountable. While the highly regarded integrity and reputation of Grover Trask is acknowledged, the implication has already been established that the community will not be the receiver of the information in that investigation. City Hall can not investigate and remedy the recent and past issues involving the police department, especially when City Hall itself is implicated in the micro-management and interference with the only department authorized with the ability to protect and take a person’s freedom. At this time, nothing short of an independent outside investigation into what really happened the night the “trust” went out in Riverside will do."

-----Eastside Think Tank (excerpt)

Interesting comments have been heard the past few days since the city released the record logs for phone calls made or received around the time that former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach was stopped by two patrol officers employed by his own department during the early morning hours of Feb. 8. As you know, the records showed mainly phone calls that were made by police personnel who either were or weren't at the scene of the traffic stop which purportedly took place at Arlington and Rutland. Now the public knows that several cell phones that they pay for were quite busy around 3 a.m. including those who were at the scene like Watch Commander Lt. Leon Phillips and Leach and those who weren't, like Asst. Chief John DeLaRosa. Why it's not known what exactly was said during these conversations, the discussions that took place probably centered on Leach's traffic stop and what to do about it.

The traffic stop began not too long after Leach's accident and several miles away when two unsuspecting patrol officers pulled over the black Chrysler 300 and discovered that the chief was at the wheel and according to what they told California Highway Patrol investigators, exhibiting signs of being drunk like having reddened eyes, alcohol on his breath and making repetitive statements which didn't appear to make a whole lot of sense. Their statements to the CHP kind of present the case that the two officers, although rookies, did perform some sort of DUI evaluation on Leach because many of the "objective" signs that they mentioned are included on a checklist utilized by officers checking motorists suspected of driving under the influence. The two officers, not surprisingly, called for a supervisor and several minutes later, it arrived in the form of Sgt. Frank Orta. They handed the incident off to him and at some point, he became its primary officer. It makes sense that they also told him about their suspicions of a DUI and he could have tried to pursue it further or not. It's difficult to know exactly where the process initiated by Jeremy Miller and Grant Linhart was shut down.

Orta had been an officer for many, many years including a long stint working in the traffic division as a motor officer before his promotions. A court-recognized DUI expert, Orta was scheduled to retire in July after having originally planned to depart the agency after his long career, in December. Perhaps now he wishes he had stuck to his original plans. Also at the scene was Phillips, another officer who had been with the agency for years. Phillips was the most junior lieutenant having been promoted from the 11th spot on the list on July 1, 2008 narrowly avoiding the deep promotional freeze that hit the department and was only partially thawed earlier this year.

Both men have been described by some who know them as being moral and principled, and Phillips, "by the book" but if this is the case, then what happened on Feb. 8? Why was "the book" thrown away? It's hard because of the insulated and isolated culture that is law enforcement for anyone outside of it to know very much about those who exist inside. It's harder to know about those who police the streets but harder to know those who work outside of the neighborhoods in administration.

One aspect that was repeated was that both men would only engage in what they did, if someone higher in rank than they were issued an order for them to do so. In other words, adherence to the hierarchy known as the chain of command was paramount above everything else even upholding and enforcing the law. That was probably one of the serious problems of Feb. 8 when other interests became much important than doing what police officers are supposed to do which is uphold and enforce the law including the vehicle code.

But at any rate, Orta called Phillips. who was his supervisor given that Orta's turf was the Central NPC and Phillips, the "A" watch, otherwise known as the graveyard shift. So the move up the chain of command continues as the patrol officers hand the baton off to Orta who gets ready to make the next change by pulling out his cell phone and doing some dialing.

The call was made at about 3:02 a.m. which was 11 minutes after the traffic stop. Whether he got through or not to Phillips wasn't clear but eight minutes later, at 3:10 a.m., DeLaRosa attempted to call Phillips. Now why or how DeLaRosa knew to call up Phillips in the wee hours of the morning was apparently not clarified through the cell phone records. Did Orta call DeLaRosa after calling Phillips? Did someone else call DeLaRosa to motivate him to call Phillips at 3 a.m.? Did DeLaRosa just decide to call Phillips out of the blue at 3 a.m.?

DeLaRosa is another long-time police officer in the department who survived a controversial incident while working as a canine officer around 1983 involving a woman with Parkinson's Disease who was attacked by a canine after it was dispatched in the house. The incident created a huge uproar and ultimately led to the creation of LEPAC, which preceded today's Community Police Review Commission.

The most distinguishing aspect of DeLaRosa is his meteoric career rise particularly from sergeant to assistant police chief. He goes by different nicknames inside the department including "Johnny D." but another nickname is obvious commentary to his rising up through the ranks and that's "Johnny Who". He's a study in contrasts with current Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel whose upward trajectory wasn't quite as steep. Whereas Esquivel is more extroverted and attends community and civic meetings, DeLaRosa is quieter and apparently dislikes public speaking something Leach and/or the city management was trying to modify by having him attend more meetings before all this went down. Interestingly enough, since he's become acting chief, DeLaRosa has become more visible out in the community attending more meetings. And DeLaRosa has ambition and drive having survived a near fatal illness which kept him away from the job for several months. Even while the doctor ordered him away from his job, he was chomping at the bit to return. Which shows a level of determination and resolve.

But not too long ago, DeLaRosa was a sergeant, the position he might have held the longest in terms of serving in the supervisory and management ranks. He was promoted to detective in 1993, sergeant in 1995 and lieutenant in November 2001 about a year after Leach was hired as chief. He serves as a lieutenant for four years including as the commander of the department's internal affairs division.

Then his promotional schedule hits the express lane, where DeLaRosa lands three management level promotions in less than two years. While all of these positions are currently classified at the same title, captain, they are very different in their scope of responsibilities and some might say level of administrative and leadership experience. Experts have said that individuals who move very quickly through the ranks don't really have enough time to gain experience or even get their feet wet at each level because they're either moving upward or in the process of doing that. DeLaRosa is at the highest position, acting chief, with less than five years of management experience. Here is the path he took and its time line once he hit captain.

Promoted to Captain in August 2005.

Promoted to Deputy Chief in August 2006

Promoted to assistant chief in March 2007.

It's not the steepest trajectory ever taken by a chief or acting chief. Retired Chief Jerry Carroll went from sergeant to chief in around five years which is quite steep when you factor in his tenure as lieutenant. Still, DeLaRosa's rise was relatively quick, and fairly steep. Some people may view that as a sign of great success but others might see it as a red flag for future problems precisely because it's difficult to develop experience at a pace that is able to match that or keep up with the upward advancement. Do you keep pace and growing into each position or do you find yourself treading water because you're constantly moving?

And if one person can move up so rapidly, then does that bring up questions about the promotional process itself and how it operates? Is this person an independent thinker or a "yes man"? Are they more successful at developing enough leadership potential to get promoted or merely at playing the system? These are questions that often get asked when advancement through those ranks comes so quickly.

DeLaRosa's last promotion to assistant chief generated controversy in March 2007 when he and then Captain Pete Esquivel were asked to sign contracts for promotion as long as they agreed to a pay hike of around 2.5% and agreed to serve "at will" meaning they could be terminated for no given reason rather than just reduced back to captain with no given reason. In a sense surrendering their labor rights afforded to them through their classified positions as captains and members of the Riverside Police Administrators' Association. But both men agreed to the terms although allegedly at least one other police employee asked, vetoed it very passionately.

This reclassification and "at will" issue had been under careful watch for quite some time before all hell broke loose when it was uncovered that this was all taking place for various reasons. One being that allegedly Leach was out of town and not involved in the promotions and was very upset when he came back or another being that he made the choices but was upset at the process. But many people saw the acts as power grabs over the police department's management employees by Hudson and DeSantis and many police officers and community leaders congregated at the city council meeting at the end of March 2007 where city leaders including Leach and Hudson gave presentations on how they weren't going to do it.

DeLaRosa and Esquivel kept their new promotions but the "at will" contracts were eliminated because they were in violation. Leach was mollified by Hudson's office, an action which might have given Hudson's office greater control over the department and the department and City Hall continued down the road to their next administrative crisis. Which given the way things were operating between the two entities was always going to be just around the bend.

Until Feb. 8 and a traffic stop and a batch of cell phone calls to break up the stillness of the early morning hour.

After DeLaRosa had contacted Phillips, Phillips contacted him through his city issued phone twice during the traffic stop, at 3:21 a.m. and 4:05 a.m. The duration of those calls was around three minutes each. Since DeLaRosa had initiated the contact of Phillips, it's more than likely that the two men conversed during those two phone calls. And it's more than likely they conversed about Leach's accident and subsequent traffic stop. The end results of all this chatting back and forth on city-issued cell phones was that despite the fact that there was more than enough evidence that Leach was intoxicated and should be evaluated as a DUI, the decision was made to send him home and take no action to investigate the incident where a suspected crime was committed. And the fact is, if the department's management level including DeLaRosa had been operating in an accountable fashion, Leach would have been evaluated for DUI and found to be intoxicated and thus charged with DUI.

What happened of course was that he was given a ride home by someone, perhaps in the front seat of a police car rather than handcuffed in the back and at some point, Orta hand wrote a police report recommending no criminal charges be filed (despite the complete lack of any investigation) that may or may not have been generated just to keep City Hall happy when it started inquiring after someone lit the phone line at the mayor's office several hours after the traffic stop had wound down and been cleaned up. Or so they thought.

One would think that if the report had been done at a more appropriate time then Orta would have logged on the department's computer system and done his report employing modern day technology. Thus leaving a time generated stop on the electronic and paper trail of when and where the report had been written. The police department never investigated Leach's conduct and only under severe pressure and threat of exposure by media outlets who were burning the phone lines, did its leadership hand off the situation for the CHP to investigate. And no doubt, the phones are burning at the city and police department with ticked off people calling people at both and asking what the hell is going on with how both handled or mishandled this mess. But then the only time the city seems to pay attention to people who complain is around election time.

The internal probes continue to bill more hours and kill more trees as has every similar investigation before it but it's also mostly hidden from the same public that's paying for it. Hudson and his assistant, Tom DeSantis are through the very selective release of information trying to isolate the problematic behavior to the police department and one particular traffic stop when in reality, the traffic stop was the end result of years of apparent problems including inside the offices of Hudson and DeSantis and those of City Hall. But if City Hall conducts the probe and controls it, it can neatly excise out its own culpability. City Attorney Gregory Priamos showed how skillfully that can be done by refusing to release certain city-issued cell phone records to the Press Enterprise. After all, it's just as important for Hudson and DeSantis to be more forthcoming about the dearth of calls in the city's log coming from their own city-issued phones on Feb. 8 as it is for those who made phone calls on theirs to be forthcoming about what those phone calls were about. But then the city manager's office hasn't been very forthcoming about City Hall and his own office except to apparently clear both of them early on in the probe.

How much can be learned in an internal probe where everyone involved is lawyering up and probably working on exactly what story to sell to investigators to get them off the hook or someone else off of it because they have to say something or face insubordination charges. Or maybe they think this person will back them if they provide this account or that person will punish them later if they say what happened. Given all the vested interests in this affair, they'll probably be lucky to find accounts that match because it's debatable whether an internal probe is an avenue for finding the truth and a venue for telling it. Only because in some noted cases, telling the truth gets you more trouble than repeating the lie that others have said.

The probe is being done by a department under the temporary leadership of an assistant chief whose own behavior on Feb. 8 and likely later has come under serious question and more than a degree of suspicion. So how is that going to influence what people say who are interviewed for a probe if they have to speak against their leader for possibly obstructing the investigation of a criminal act by the police chief when the original police chief couldn't even be investigated for a crime?

What if people in the internal probe had to speak out against other higher ranking members of the command staff who they believe would punish them later on after the probe had been filed away in some dusty cabinet somewhere? Against an officer who might supervise them later on in their careers and have a long memory? If the same culture exists that causes incidents like those involving Leach to occur and be covered up, then how can the public be assured that there's the type of environment in an internal investigation for the truth to be told? Because if you had the type of environment where the truth could be told then an incident like that which happened with the latest handling of Leach probably wouldn't have taken place.

Not to mention the whole investigation falling under the final arbitration of Hudson who might have problems of his own when it comes to explaining what his own knowledge of past problems involving Leach who was his department head? Given his history of micromanaging the department along with DeSantis, one would think that would provide him with some clue about his employee's background and problems.

If your organizational structure is dysfunctional and experiencing serious problems, it's very difficult to adequately investigate it with the tools it's created. And what the investigators will wind up doing is sifting through a bunch of accounts that may not come close to completing the puzzle of what happened on Feb. 8.

But it's only four months into the new year and already the chief is gone and the current acting chief is on thin ice given that fingers are being pointed at him regarding him having been using his cell phone to communicate at least with Phillips and then no action coming from an incident involving a chief later convicted of driving drunk except to pretend like it never happened until the moment arrived when that could no longer be done. And that's where the police department is four years after the expiration of its consent decree with the state with its leadership either being ousted or falling under deep suspicion and who's to know whether anyone else will fall into that category as the traffic stop that put Riverside on the map continues to play out. How many people will be left standing or belong to other people by the time this is all done with?

In the meantime, as people in leadership in the RPD fall under suspicion, Hudson and DeSantis at City Hall inform the media that they weren't informed by the department's management including DeLaRosa when the traffic stop involving Leach took place as required by city policy. Yet neither of them will say whether or not Leach was tested for drugs and/or alcohol intoxication pursuant to another city policy that requires city employees who crash city-owned vehicles to be tested. A simple yes or no by either employee would have answered the question but neither has said anything. Nor will they share information about their knowledge of past issues and problems with Leach or from their past micromanagement of the department. Intent on keeping all the focus and all the public attention that goes with it on the beleaguered police department and off of themselves and the rest of City Hall.

But the last time a chief fell in Riverside, back in 2000, it wasn't an isolated event. The city lost its city manager, city attorney and half the city council in a short period of time. Once one domino tips over, so do many others. How many will fall in this case and how far and how hard will City Hall work to keep the dominoes inside its walls still standing?

One commenter at the site wrote this:

"I hope you are not buying the bunk city hall is selling the public. Why is it they are only releasing specific telephone records involving the police department, but are withholding others, like the city leaders cell phone records. How does the public know that phone calls were not made to privately owned cell phones, or to home phone numbers. For the city attorney to refuse the PE's request is unaceptable because the public has a right to know. Like the chief of police did not have the cell or home phone numbers to our city leaders. City Attorney Greg Priamos is releasing selected telephone records in the hopes the voting public goes after the police and ignores their invovlement in this."

It appears that some information about city leaders' cell phone records were released but what's puzzling about some of that information is that it took four hours for someone like DeSantis to call Leach on his cellphone after City Hall gets tipped off and that there's no phone records showing if Mayor Ron Loveridge whose office received the tip used his cell phone to alert the city manager's office about the tip. And again, no information to answer the question of who brought DeLaRosa in the loop.

The person is right in that the release of the cell phone records like that of Orta's report generated at least as many questions if not more than answers.

Press Enterprise
columnist Cassie MacDuff out in San Bernardino has been on this situation and wonders what was said on all those cell phones. In her latest column, she did ask all over City Hall and the police department's management about the issue of whether or not Internal Affairs Sgt. Marcus Smail who is Leach's friend was working on the internal probe. Councilman Mike Gardner finally told her no, he is not. Let's hope that is the case.

Riverside police and fire firefighters saved a young girl from drowning.

Once again, public transit riders in Riverside County get the shaft. Place close attention to the elimination of all bus services on certain holidays. If the county and cities want to reduce vehicle traffic that's congesting the streets and highways, this isn't the way to do it.

Riding in Riverside provides more information on service cuts here.

Metrolink is also planning to raise fares and cut services.

Hemet's still a safe place, according to Hemet Police Chief (and retired Riverside Police Department commander) Richard Dana.

For those inquiring about the Wi Fi services in Riverside which are caught between ongoing divorce negotiations between the city and the soon to be departing AT&T, the company is still replacing the problematic hardware citywide for the next week. Then for a period of time, AT&T will have to prove that the wireless network is stable before the city will take it over. There's still ongoing problems in different areas including connectivity problems and even signal strength issues regarding some of the hardware.

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