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, April 11, 2010

Enough Secrecy at City Hall and the Need for an Independent Probe

When Public Disclosure

Raises More Questions Than it Answers

"No Lie Lives Forever"

---Martin Luther King, Jr.

[Excerpts from the city's first attempts to prove there's no cover up but most people who read Sgt. Frank Orta's handwritten report of the incident to be "filed" away would come up with more questions than the city could possibly answer. And so it's with cover ups including of the municipal variety. Whenever there's an attempt to prove they don't exist through the release of information, often that information bears evidence of that cover up. And so Orta's report inadvertently became a notorious symbol representing the covering up of a criminal act in the city of Riverside, albeit a mere chapter in a much longer book. And whose fingerprints are also to be found in it and if you follow the trail, where will it lead?]

Enough secrecy states the Press Enterprise Editorial Board and this blogger has to say, amen to that.

It was something nice to wake up to as far as an update goes, rather than the usual deception hidden by catch phrases and a whole lot of silence from the government that's supposed to be elected by and for the people of Riverside and its direct employees. It's hard to have faith in a system that appears to be pretending that there's no serious problem, no breach of trust involving the city government, one of its public agencies and the city residents both are supposed to be serving. It's a bit disconcerting to observe how out of touch the city appears to be, or is acting, and I know I'm not the only one to feel that way. Many others feel like they're in the same boat with how this is being played out by the city. Can anyone really believe that the very same situation would be playing out in the same manner if this all happened not in the spring of 2010 but instead, during the same time in 2011, a pivotal election year for four elected officials? I think everyone knows the answer to that and it might appear cynical but it would definitely be a whole different ballgame.

The Editorial Board echoed the call for an independent probe into the situation that has rocked Riverside beginning with a traffic stop conducted by two Riverside Police Department officers involving their boss putting the city again in the national spotlight in perhaps a way it wouldn't have chosen for itself...once again. But there's been a call for an independent probe from various corners already which pretty much hasn't even been acknowledged by the power structure let alone answered through decisive action. Even as the police department's former chief was convicted of drunk driving and its current acting chief has come under a huge cloud of suspicion involving his own actions involving the incident after the release of his cell phone logs. And who knows how many dominoes might be waiting to tumble?

A probe independent of City Hall and the police department. That's what has been called for here since the day this debacle first took place and that many city residents in different venues have also been saying. And it appears that with the recent revelations that have been coming to light apart from the probe, the calls for it and addressing the cover ups have been increasing.

That a truly independent probe of this incident be conducted. That any priors and the involvement of both the police department and City Hall be investigated because otherwise, you've got the fox guarding the chickens or more than one fox in this case. This blog also called for the investigations of City Manager Brad Hudson, Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis and City Attorney Gregory Priamos. At least two of these employees possibly all three are apparently heavily involved in this probe despite needing to answer some questions about their own actions going back to at least 2005. Given the involvement of all three personalities in the operations of the police department in the past few years, it's pretty much what would be expected. But in what must be one of those truly great...coincidences, these are the three individuals who have the most reason to want to ensure that any "sweeping" probe avoids well...a few dusty corners. And yes, there are a few corners that needed to be avoided that have developed over the past several years, which helped contribute to what finally broke in February.

Including an apparent failure to investigate serious allegations made to the city council and Mayor Ron Loveridge through a correspondence received in December 2005 by the government not long before the former police chief's contract came up for its first renewal. But as it turns out, the public will never find out how much these three individuals knew about Leach and when they found out about the Feb. 8 because they have effectively insulated themselves from any accountability by imposing a lack of transparency in the process of the city's probe into the affair. In fact, Hudson won't even make any public revelation about whether or not his office adhered to a city policy which requires its employees who crash city-owned vehicles to be tested for alcohol or drug intoxication even as he and DeSantis separately claimed that the police department violated a city policy to report Leach's stop as a "high profile" contact with police. The selective finger pointing and related release of information by Hudson's office isn't lost on nearly as many people as they might believe.

That's the stance that City Hall's currently taking mostly through its silence that a top-secret inhouse probe is the way to go, and the Press Enterprise is right to call its cast of residents on it. The publication has echoed what many city residents have been saying these past two months and what at least one community organization has said publicly. Otherwise, it had been pretty quiet at City Hall and among other community leadership when it comes for calling the probe which indicates a strong disconnect between city residents and these dual entities. Many community leaders are focusing on getting positions on the panels that Hudson has used as carrots involving the selection of the police chief yet many city residents view it as very difficult to put the cart ahead of the horse. After all, community leaders participated in a similar panel for the hiring of the current executive manager of the Community Police Review Commission, and in fact, chose Kevin Rogan. Yet, it's pretty clear that Rogan's micromanaged by Hudson through DeSantis much in the same way that both attempted to micromanage his predecessor Pedro Payne.

Other independent department heads like former Human Resources Director Art Alcaraz were pushed out because they didn't bend easily to the will of Hudson and DeSantis, in this case changing the educational requirements for assistant city management positions. The pushing out of former director of housing, Tranda Drumwright, who is African-American, for not being "management" material unlike the less experienced White woman she worked with who got the job of supervising Drumwright before Drumwright was fired not long after filing a grievance and former complaint with the state.

But it's not going to change anything by putting a police chief at the helm of the beleaguered police department without considering what led to the situation in the first place.

Meaning that serious problems in the relationship between the police department and City Hall must be addressed first, because otherwise the police chief won't have any independence to address the issues within the troubled agency including those that contributed to this scandalous incident. There can be an independent probe done now or it can wait until the next time there's another screwed up situation involving the police department while it's under the watch of Hudson and DeSantis, one that bursts on the public scene because it can't be contained. But at some point, it will be done because the path that the city has set itself on is so very clear and is heading in that direction whether it takes the shortest path or the more scenic route. With this probe, the city's trying to make it appear that it's addressing the problem when in reality, it's probably setting itself for the next public relations disaster just around the bend. Because this latest crisis appeared to have been some years in the making and even before the ink had dried on the dissolution papers for the city's consent decree with former State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, it appears that the path of the department had already been set to reach this point.

This blog stands on those earlier listed recommendations as much or even more today than back when the whole mess came to light. If City Hall doesn't like that, well then it doesn't like that. If the police department's command staff doesn't like that, then they don't like that either. It's hard not to be cynical of what stands for municipal accountability in this city, but there's really nothing more cynical than watching City Hall release crumbs of information and only a portion of the public information requested of it (while people like Hudson and Priamos applaud themselves in the media for this partial compliance and release of information to the media) and then applaud this behavior as showing true accountability and transparency when it reality it's showing neither. But what those involved in the original cover up as well as those invested in maintaining it are putting on is a good show, it's just too bad it's at the expense of over 600 law enforcement employees and 350,000 city residents.

Trust in either one of these entities doesn't seem to be very high right now and neither are their approval ratings. Both housed individuals that put themselves in the positions where they currently stand but there's apparently little motivation for either to really change to improve the respective pictures of what they represent. Though it's interesting to note that members of the command staff have been busy as bees as of late in hopes of impressing the incoming police chief in hopes of ensuring their own survival. But given the state of the department under theirs and Hudson's (and DeSantis) watch, with over $24 million in claims for damages filed in the past year or so not to mention an arrest and prosecution rate (and this is not counting just arrests or cases of criminal conduct which should have been investigated) of 1 in 65 officers (which is much higher than the national average), should all these players in the department and City Hall keep their status quo?

That's a question that's been asked a bit but an answer hasn't been forthcoming and it's not likely to be coming out of any probe controlled by Hudson or an apparently rudderless City Hall. No matter how individuals like Hudson or anyone else paint it. And it's an especially interesting situation right now considering that Hudson along with the city council's other two direct employees just underwent a performance evaluation behind closed doors. One wonders what kind of "grade" he received from a city government that in the past he's been able to appease fairly easily. That will probably be the case until the city council realizes that the political futures of its own membership ride on Hudson's performance in public as well as his behavior in private particularly concerning the police department. If any of its members see political vulnerability, then Hudson will see career vulnerability, it's really that simple. In a way, the political survival and job security of both of them is intertwined and there have been more recent rumors that members of the city council have applied unprecedented pressure on their city management employee. If that's true, it's long overdue.

But no, this blog's not anti-government, it's just written in hopes that some day in the future, maybe there will be some accountability and transparency in Riverside's government, that it will be seen as a priority and not a detriment. That the government will have a city attorney's office that embraces the Brown Act and open government rather than use the state's "sunshine" laws to reduce public access by city residents to their government. That we won't have a city manager's office that micromanages the city's law enforcement agency and many people wind up paying the consequences for that and the decision made under that system. That there will exist a city government that truly holds its direct employees accountable when it engages in said micromanagement rather than calling it "fiction" when it or they should really know better. What this incident has unfortunately made all too clear is that this day is not here yet and may not be coming up for a while as far as the city government as a collective body of representatives is concerned. And that some of the battle lines for next year's legislative elections may be set in part by the city government's response or lack there of to its greatest crisis in recent years.

Severe distrust has erupted both in the police department and City Hall as a result of the initial handling of the incident but even more because of its aftermath which includes this so-called probe. This trust won't be won back easily but it won't really be won back at all as long as this inhouse white wash is allowed to stand as City Hall's strategy of handling it. It's the secrecy practiced among certain parties involving Leach and the police department that played a large role of causing this situation to finally erupt the way it did and more secrecy just insures that despite everyone's assurances, it will happen again and again. Because after all, the best way to address the kind of secrecy that harms public agencies is to of course, engage in more secrecy. That sounds silly to most people but apparently not to the city because it's following that playbook again.

In just a few paragraphs, the publication gets its views across on the subject of the so-called "sweeping" probe being conducted by Hudson and it does it very well. The media isn't supposed to be the spokesman of the local government, in actuality it's supposed to be its watchdog. As we all should be especially because it's our money that it plays with, including the purchase of this purported independent look at one of the more embarrassing scandals in Riverside's recent history. This blog's been called anti-government as has organizations like the Eastside Think Tank for simply challenging City Hall's actions in the wake of this incident and its aftermath. But then that's par for the course for many municipal bloggers and you just wish you had a dollar or two for every time someone said or wrote it because it would pile up quickly.

In case you don't know, the incident in question took place on the very early morning of Feb. 8 not long after Super Bowl Sunday when former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach drank a lot of liquor, took prescription medication and went driving around the Inland Empire. While in Riverside, he crashed and damaged his car and then kept driving, completely unaware of where he was and that he had even heavily damaged his vehicle. He was pulled over at around 3 a.m. by two patrol officers in his department who did a DUI evaluation but when officers of higher ranks including management got wind of it, then the cover up began and Leach despite having an extrapolated blood alcohol of 0.22 was given a ride home probably in the front seat of a police car rather than to county lockup in the back seat of one. It's been said that this was Leach's first DUI crash but not his first time he's been stopped after drinking and even being DUI by law enforcement officers of different agencies. It's also been said that the police department's management and that at City Hall were aware that all this was going on, yet City Hall actually called for a "sweeping" probe with a straight face, knowing exactly what it was doing.

Speaking of the probe, wasn't some statement regarding it supposed to be released last week? At least that's what Mayor Ron Loveridge told the publication as some form of counter response to the Think Tank's criticism of the probe and of the city manager's office's micromanagement of the police department. It's interesting given the complexity of this particular probe in investigative logistics if not motivation that Loveridge would come out and make such a statement. If he had been hoping to enhance public trust in the government and the Hudson's probe that it has endorsed, it's unlikely that his apparently somewhat premature statement enhanced either cause.

An investigation of this type would involve at least five principal officers, the four on scene and at least one, Acting Chief John DeLaRosa away from the scene. That means that the Governmental Code 3304(d) that sets the time line for investigations that can result in an officer or officers' discipline at a year could be waived given that there's multiple officers being subject to investigations. This waiver recognizes the relationship between the number of officers involved in an incident under investigation and the length of time needed to conduct that probe, which means that there's an increased likelihood that more than a year would be needed to process both the investigation and its review. Yet after a mere two months, Loveridge makes a statement probably done mostly to appease the city's critics that a statement is forthcoming. In fact, it would be very worrisome indeed if Hudson or his current public relations person, Loveridge did release any non-statement about any investigative "findings" at this time as it would appear like more manipulation of both the process and the public's trust than anything based on honesty and transparency give the complexity of this type of probe.

And actually the resolution of the criminal case doesn't do anything to mitigate the situation of whether or not people like Leach enjoy preferential treatment by local police as directed by upper management while committing a crime. In fact, it affirms that the situation was badly handled to say the least by putting it in the public record that Leach did drive legally drunk. It calls the treatment that he received on Feb. 8 and the department's total failure to launch its own criminal investigation of Leach's conduct into further question.

But here's the crux of the editorial and what it strongly recommends for City Hall to do next. If you notice, there's a portion written in red which was done because the two questions about the phone records asked, were asked here several times too because they're both just a bit hard to overlook and City Hall really needs to explain the gaps in the phone records regarding the parties involved that night and the next day.


Nor does City Hall's official attitude do anything but bolster the case for outside scrutiny. The city relies on an expansive interpretation of police personnel confidentiality laws to cloak nearly every aspect of the case in secrecy.

But that stance requires a breathtaking gullibility on the part of city residents: Does the city really expect people to believe that explaining whether there have been other instances of special police treatment unveils personnel records? Or that detailing how the city plans to ensure impartial policing in the future violates officers' privacy?

And the city's release last month of some Feb. 8 cell phone records for city and police officials merely raises additional questions. Just how, for example, did Assistant Police Chief John De La Rosa know to call the watch commander not long after 3 a.m. that night -- several minutes before the logs show anyone contacting him? And on the day the police chief is stopped after smashing up his city-owned car under suspicious circumstances, City Manager Brad Hudson does not have a phone conversation until after 5 p.m.?

The city's records do not include any text messages that may have passed back and forth, nor do they cover city land-line phones or personal cell phones. A City Hall intent on full transparency would have released all of those. The gigantic holes in the documentation show the absurdity of City Attorney Greg Priamos' declaration that the "records clearly show that no one at City Hall was involved in any decisions that were made in the early morning hours of Feb. 8."

The city will not quell public doubts with a strategy aimed at preserving the utmost confidentiality. Riverside ceded the criminal investigation of the Leach case to the California Highway Patrol because the city could no longer credibly handle that in-house. The same principle applies to the questions that surround the handling of the incident by Riverside police and City Hall. Only a public inquiry, insulated from any inside influence, can restore confidence in city government.

City Hall might seriously believe that it's "cleared" itself through both Hudson and Priamos through public statements but many members of the public have seen through the same holes that were produced by the highly selective release of the phone records. Priamos refused to release any of his records even with redactions for the city's "clients". So no folks, the cover up continues at City Hall, and that includes through the manipulation of what the timing will be for City Hall to release its non-statement regarding the "results" of the Hudson probe. The one where it states that it did the probe, it might have found inappropriate conduct and it was handled. Nothing putting names on the characters who engaged in the cover up of this incident and nothing about what happened to them or whether any action was taken at all. Nothing about who was even investigated for misconduct or whether the probe was actually used to pursue and punish any innocent parties who had nothing to do with the cover up. Nothing to explain the gaps in the information released by the city including an incomplete accounting of the phone calls made by the involved parties. Questions which have already been raised like why did DeLaRosa suddenly call Phillips up at around 3 a.m. and why were the city-issued cell phones belonging to certain key city employees including Hudson not used until the afternoon or evening hours?

Many city residents haven't bought into this sales pitch that City Hall's been making since day one and having received many comments from readers, the number one statement that's made over and over is that an independent investigation should have been instituted from the beginning.

Here's one opinion of the editorial which is worth noting. The editorial no doubt will elicit many different opinions and that's important in a democratic society which depends entirely on an active populace involved in its government in different ways. In actuality, there's very little that Hudson has done or said that's been in the interest of accountability and certainly not transparency. He started a top-secret inhouse probe probably to avoid any outside probes, put the "independent counsel" under an undisclosed contract or working arrangement with him and he cleared himself and City Hall fairly early on. Why would City Hall call for an independent probe when it's been cleared in Hudson's own probe and so quickly? Because if a direct employee of the city government gets implicated in any misconduct in relation to this mess, then the city council and the mayor would be in the hot seats to answer some questions, just as Hudson, DeSantis and Priamos should be in answering about Leach. Except for one probable exception, most of the city government probably isn't directly involved in any related issues with the police department, Leach and Hudson but what it's showing is that as a collective body, it's unwilling to be faced with having to publicly push Hudson and Priamos into accountability for their actions.

But as it comes to transparency, Hudson made statements when initiating it that there would be both accountability and transparency, two necessary components of a democratic government, involved but later to the Press Enterprise and at community forums, Hudson then said that due to state laws governing the confidentiality of peace officers' records, nothing about who did what, when would actually make it outside City Hall. Certainly not to the public, the only way that could happen under Riverside's "expansive interpretation" of the relevant state laws would be if the involved employees waived their confidentiality and just said, hey I did this, which is the best service those who made the decisions to engage in any cover up involving Leach could provide for the public they all serve at this point. To admit what they did in the interest of helping to restore some level of trust in the agency they betrayed among the city of residents they also betrayed.

Not going to happen during the Hudson probe, even if the employees had wanted to waive their protection under the law to do it. Most likely the public will be fed some statements about how the city did its probe, it found some unspecified something and it took care of it internally. Any further questions? Sorry we can't answer them because it's an internal matter and a personnel issue. And then with that, the city will attempt to put it behind them, Hudson will find a new police chief he can micromanage and things in Riverside will remain quiet until the next crisis hits. Well actually, it will be the same crisis of sorts happening again until Riverside's really committed to show some leadership and make it a leading priority to break the patterns of how business is conducted at City Hall including with the police department. Until then, the status quo will remain in place between controversial incidents which will once again put Riverside in the spotlight the way it doesn't want. Proving once again, Riverside still hasn't learned from its history.

Lake Evans version of the Lochness Monster has been caught. Now we can all sleep at least a little easier at night.

Public Meetings

Tuesday, April 13 at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., City Council will meet to discuss this agenda which isn't very long at all. It's not clear whether the city council and mayor will discuss the appalling situation faced by tenants in a city-owned building on Main Street including the well-known BioKorium who have raised allegations of mistreatment by the city, the management company for the building and some guy who calls himself "Larry the Liquidator". But then the problems involving the Development Department since Deanna Larsen's been at the helm are just growing...

Wednesday, April 14 at 3:30 p.m. The Community Police Review Commission will meet in the Mayor's Ceremonial Room and receive much needed training on civility and effective communication at meetings. Hopefully, members like Peter Hubbard and Vice-Chair Art Santore are taking notes.

29 Coal Miners Dead in West Virginia

"Dear Mommy and Jenna,

If anything happens to me, I will be looking down from heaven. If you take care of my baby girl, watch over (her), tell her all the good things about her daddy. She was so cute and funny. She was my little peanut."

--------Josh Napper, 25, miner killed in explosion who had expressed concerns about the safety of the mine

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