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 18, 2010

Footnotes on the RPD, City Hall and the Aftermath of Scandal

My goodness! I've been hearing some interesting comments and getting some interesting emails from people who've been reading here and elsewhere about this whole situation involving the Feb. 8 DUI accident and traffic stop involving former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach. Including from people across the country as I've been forwarding the articles on this situation to different police accountability email lists.

I did get an email from a police officer from some place else on one list to "STOP" with the articles or the blogging, he didn't specify which but most of the comments have been in support of the blogging and many people in the country one way or another have been reading up on what's been happening in Riverside. People just flat out don't like it when municipal or law enforcement related corruption happen in their midst especially when during difficult economic times, they have to bail out the scandals and the cast involved with their tax dollars through worthless probes. Who wanted to have their tax dollars go to the Hudson probe which has worked so hard to water down ethical violations into problems with the police department not having enough written policies to tell some of its employees how to be ethical?

A lot of people have been very concerned with what's happened to the police department a mere four years after it dissolved its stipulated judgment with the State Attorney General's office. People are concerned and furious about the preferential treatment that Leach received for his DUI crash meaning that he got a ride home in the front seat of a police car while most people would get a trip to jail in the backseat of a squad car.

Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200 (let alone a medical disability retirement). People are upset that police management engaged in an attempted cover up and suspicious that so did individuals at City Hall. This sentiment is helped greatly by City Hall spending so much time talking to the Press Enterprise to convince people of its innocence in any exposed and very embarrassing breach of ethics and misconduct. People are starting to ask, doth they protest too much? How many announcements has Hudson made that City Hall had been cleared by his own probe?

But that aside, a lot of the recent furor is about the so-called sweeping probe conducted by City Manager Brad Hudson and the recent appearances in the press by Hudson and other key players at City Hall. And it appears that the feedback on this situation is mirrored at other venues that collect feedback like City Hall and the police department. What was the probe intended to do and who got investigated and what's this song and dance by some personalities at City Hall all about anyway? Well, it appeared to have focused almost entirely on the police department and it's a way for elements at City Hall including Hudson to control the flow of information regarding the Feb. 8 traffic stop and its attempted cover up as well as to discourage any outside agencies coming in for a look at the latest proliferation of problems in Riverside.

The spin offered by Hudson, Mayor Ron Loveridge and Councilman Steve Adams essentially watered down corrupt behavior into "mistakes" and blamed them on policy deficiencies. Not too many people appeared to buy into that.

No Folks, City Hall Was Not Investigated

Unfortunately, there wasn't an objective probe paid for or not by tax dollars to really take a good look at City Hall regarding this and any prior misconduct involving any element of City Hall and the police department. And if anyone in City Hall is assuring you that it passed any accountability tests or got an honest accounting in the Hudson probe, they are either ignorant or they are lying. How could City Hall get a thorough examination when Hudson was placed in charge of the probe and he's the head administrator at City Hall? It's very unlikely he's capable of investigating himself, his own staff and certainly not the people whose votes he needs twice annually to keep his six figured job with the city. Putting him in charge of the probe is the best method of ensuring that City Hall won't be investigated. It's not like the current majority on the city council's going to hold Hudson to any level of accountability at all.

But the selective release of the information from City Hall has been interesting to follow.

Let's look at the cell phones for example. The key personnel in the department who were tied to that traffic stop all had their city-issued cell phones released to the media pursuant to a public documents request. Now let's look at City Hall. City Attorney Gregory Priamos' phone records were not released, due to his invocation of attorney/client privilege. Now it's clear to most people that he could have redacted all the information including phone calls made in relation to that and released all the others. Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis released their phone records along with Loveridge and the city council yet inexplicably DeSantis first is shown calling Leach at nearly 2 p.m. about four to five hours after an anonymous caller alerts Loveridge's office. Hudson's own phone apparently had no incoming or outgoing phones all day until nearly 5 p.m. His explanation was that he had his phone shut off for most of the day while touring theaters in Pasadena and other cities.

It's curious that the head administrator would shut off his phone and it's even more curious why if he was notified by early afternoon on Feb. 8 that he would leave his phone shut off for most of the day unless it's not an extraordinary situation for Leach to get into trouble. But then there's the question that if his phone indeed hadn't received any calls, how did he get notified about Leach's situation while touring theaters out of town? It's perplexing that if Hudson were out touring theaters while a scandal was getting ready to break loose in Riverside that his cell phone would remain off and that there would be so little activity showing up on records documenting that day.

Also while Hudson and DeSantis have been pointing fingers at the police department's management for failing to adhere to the city's notification policy concerning "high profile" police contacts (which is then changed by Hudson, to having no policy and thus needing to create one), neither has said publicly whether or not they adhered to the city's policy that mandates testing employees who crash city-owned vehicles. Hudson has also demurred from answering any questions about whether or not there were past problems with Leach that he knew about before the traffic stop.

The city government as a collective hasn't really shown any leadership in this crisis, and that's not been lost on many people. While the epicenter of the scandal involve the Leach stop might have been in some intersection in Riverside, City Hall has not surprisingly captured a lot of the focus from concerned city residents. Except for some completely ludicrous comments coming from selected key players in the most recent coverage, there's really not much going on there in the way of any response to the situation at least in public. Councilman Mike Gardner asked some questions but others like Council Members Rusty Bailey and Chris MacArthur refused to issue any comment at all deferring to the Hudson probe.

The response from the dais has been for the most point completely disappointing and I'm not alone in believing that and there will be upcoming report cards coming up involving different people involved in this situation both from City Hall and the department as soon as more research is conducted.

The RPD is Like A Row of Dominoes

There's also been many questions including one addressed in a previous posting about who's running the Riverside Police Department at the moment. Which is a good question considering Leach is out of the picture and Acting Chief John DeLaRosa has fallen under strong suspicion of playing a role in the cover up of Leach's stop. Next in line was Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel who has done a 180 and announced his retirement after 30 years which will be effective early next month. Allegedly there's been a recent flurry of activity from the department's Internal Affairs Division being run by Capt. Mike Blakely and that's led to more investigations against higher ranking officers. It didn't take long for most of the department's upper management which had been fairly consistent since the 2007 "at will" debacle to be part of the fallout stemming from the incident involving Leach and its aftermath. But then the management of the police department wasn't built on the sturdiest of foundations so it was bound to break down at some point.

They are either going down because of what transpired on that day or they are going out because of the major shift in the dynamic of leadership and power at the police department's upper echelon. Have we seen the bottom of this turbulent chain of events, not likely. The value of stock in the department's management has plummeted with the public since Feb. 8. Even on its best days, the RPD appears to be a balancing act of power at the top that shifts when the wind blows or in this case, a few key players either get benched or knocked out of the game. And apparently it's shifted in the favor of Blakely at least for now. A long-time captain whose rise through the ranks didn't involve the same system as everyone else and who's in a perfect spot as personnel captain to seize control. And every position between him and DeLaRosa (as acting chief) has been vacated through attrition and subsequent freezes.

But before anyone frets, the seismic shifts in this latest quake to shake Riverside's power infrastructure will mirror the economic recession in other ways, meaning that the detrimental affects of it will impact various mechanisms of power in Riverside at different times. Meaning that right now, the department is facing the lion share of the impact and damage but that's simply because it's located the closest to the epicenter. Rest assured, that City Hall likely will not be spared its own share of instability and turbulence in the weeks and months ahead. That's how it played out in the city's last crisis, which happened with the Tyisha Miller shooting in 1999. It took over a year for the impact of that to affect different players at City Hall including then City Manager John Holmes, then City Attorney Stan Yamamoto and several city council members but they didn't escape unscathed.

In the meantime, there's some interesting dynamics playing out in the department. While some of the representatives in the department and at City Hall seem to be trying to reassure everyone that everyone's one big happy family, the reality seems to be that at least inside the police department, turbulence and uncertainty remain the rule. That's not surprising in a situation like this one at all and it will play itself out in the weeks and months to come as a result of the house of cards collapsing, the house that City Hall built. While Leach is definitely responsible for his misdeeds, the handling of the situation which arose when he committed a crime revealed a department with serious problems which stemmed from its micromanagement from Hudson's office which began not long after he and DeSantis were hired in 2005. And now with its leadership essentially disintegrating, that has put Blakely at an advantage at least until the new chief gets hired by Hudson.

This most senior captain has been extremely active lately filling in the vacuum left by a retreating DeLaRosa who had come on strong as the acting chief until the release of the cell phone call logs to the media implicated him in the cover up. As for the rest of them, it's very possible that it could resemble Survivor Island pretty soon, if it's not already.

Many however addressed a common thread and it had more to do with City Hall especially in the light of more recent coverage of how individual at City Hall including Mayor Ron Loveridge and City Manager Brad Hudson are treating the obvious breaches in professional ethics as exercised by some individuals as "mistakes" or problems stemming from inadequate or missing departmental policies. A couple of the people from out of town were incredulous that people in government could actually make comments like the ones issued by Loveridge and Councilman Steve Adams in that news article without people angrily calling city council and heading on down there. When in actuality, there are many people who do feel like going down and complain about how a few selective representatives of City Hall have been talking down to them. But their leadership for the most part has been quiet because most of them have clamored to be picked for Hudson's very selective panel of "community" individuals to interview police chief candidates. You can't be asking too many questions right now about the problems at the police department and City Hall and have a prayer of landing a spot.

This might shock City Hall but many city residents know the difference between a serious breach or disregard for professional ethics at the management level of the police department and "mistakes", "mistakes in judgment" and problem pertaining to a shortage of departmental policies. Riversiders often speak out for or against what city government is doing or stands for at the ballot box. Many an elected official has been lured into believing that just because they aren't getting hit by a barrage of angry mail that their elections wins are assured. After all, Schiavone used to claim he got very little "anti" email complaining about anything he did but he got his pink slip anyway.

And there's an election cycle less than one year away.

Speaking Through the Vote

But even when they're quiet, the Riverside populace isn't as apathetic as people might think. Including the city's voting population because that's often where the people of this city speak out on behavior by elected officials that troubles them--the voting booths. If you don't believe that this is true, consider what's happened the past several years and ask yourself how many incumbents either got voted out of office or didn't run for reelection just during the past two city council election cycles. Then add to that the elected official who won reelection against a candidate he outspent about 30 to 1 by a scant 13 votes. The voting populace of Riverside in recent cycles has swung towards anti-incumbent sentiment once, sending the likes of Dom Betro and Frank Schiavone who were both heavily favored in their last council elections. Both heavily endorsed by the city's labor unions and other big players including developers all the way from Beverly Hills and Newport Beach.

Both men lost at the polls, one by a handful of votes the other by many more than that after issues arose with both of them prior to and during their campaigns. There's not much else to say here because election year will tell the tale as it usually does in River City. And if people are very unhappy with Hudson's comments and handling of this situation, they do know who employs him. If this whole situation becomes an election issue next year, then some incumbents are going to be in trouble.

Misplaced Priorities at City Hall?

News also came out that City Hall is not going to fill the two lieutenant vacancies in the department that developed with the departures of Tim Bacon and Darryl Hurt pursuant to the settlement of their lawsuits. The two men have received retirements but have been placed on a form of paid leave until they reach retirement age. This decision by City Hall which handed down the order to the police department not to fill these vacancies has left the agency with six vacancies at the lieutenant level which has led to a shortage of watch commanders for the patrol shifts. This latest organizational chart highlights some of the vacancies at the upper levels.

Expect those number of vacancies near the top to increase by the way. And they probably won't be filled until the new police chief settles in.

One of the lieutenant vacancies, that under Special Operations, was allegedly filled through the last round of promotions while the other remains empty. That entire division has been divided up between two lieutenants. Lt. Guy Toussaint took over the Traffic Division along with other assignments including the Volunteer Division and what's left of Community Services. Lt. Larry Gonzalez is in charge of four units including METRO/SWAT and Aviation. The Police and Correction Team had already been disbanded by the department and its personnel assigned to the field operations division. If you examine the Special Operations area of the organizational chart, you will notice one other unit is missing and that's K9 which most likely has been reassigned to the field operations division as well as had been planned.

If DeLaRosa doesn't survive his apparent involvement in the cover up involving Leach, then the department will be devoid of all three of its upper management positions, those being the assistant chief position and the two deputy chief positions. It will be interesting when the new chief arrives, how many positions he or she will be authorized by the city to fill, but then again, one of the main questions will be whether or not he or she will be able to operate independently as a department head to fill them. Chief, or Hudson puppet, is probably one of the main questions on people's minds lately about this situation.

Replacing Bacon will be Lt. Gary Leach who allegedly wasn't too keen on being removed from his assignment in personnel and training which is now vacant to handle Bacon's shift while Hurt's shifts will be handled by the other watch commanders through one-week assignments. So there's a bit more shuffling going around with assignments.

But what's interesting and in some ways, very ironic about this situation is the absence of Hurt and Bacon from the department and the placement of them on leave until they are eligible for PERS retirements because it provides a sharp contrast with what's been happening with some of the key players in the Leach scandal. And the difference between the handling in both cases tells you something about City Hall's priorities. Not to mention providing plenty of food for thought in how not serious River City is about cleaning up wrongdoing in the management of the police department but elsewhere as well . Who gets exorcised faster from its landscape, those who engage in corruption and wrongdoing or those who challenge it?

That's a rhetorical question. City Hall clearly knows the answer to this question and it still chooses quietly as an entity to uphold the bad behavior and overlook the punishment of anyone who tries to challenge it from the workplace. There might be individuals in the 'Hall who might wish it were much different but the majority of those in power there right now favor not only fostering the conditions that have led to the serious problems of the police department but also in trying to keep their involvement and those problems hidden. Until of course they burst out like a ruptured boil. Then City Hall does its best to clean up the mess while assuring everyone that it's a "mistake" or something that can be fixed by more policies. More policies in writing to be violated further down the road because they clash with management's ethics.

Some people have asked why some of the individuals who have fallen under deep suspicion in the situation surrounding Leach's traffic stop haven't been placed on paid administrative leave themselves due to the seriousness of the situation until the investigation is completed. After all, that's what most reputable agencies do with officers when it becomes clear that the suspicion of wrongdoing arises in investigations of serious misconduct allegations. But in this case, that action hasn't been taken, in fact the city officials quoted in the most recent article seem to think that it's perfectly fine to have an acting chief who appears to have been involved in the covering up of a crime committed by his perpetrator. As if that weren't a serious violation of professional ethics inside a law enforcement agency. After all, police officers are supposed to enforce and uphold the law aren't they? And management personnel were supposed to lead by example, right?

Mind you, these individuals made these comments while believing that DeLaRosa did engage in misconduct. And those involved in the cover up remained silent while the majority of the blame was placed on the patrol officers who had stopped Leach when they could have admitted what they were doing and shifted the blame where it belonged rather than the primary responders. But then if you read the lawsuit filed by these two former lieutenants, it tells a lot about how City Hall micromanaged the police department including the promotional processes at the upper management level and the portion of the city government that wasn't involved in that looked the other way. And it's interesting and very unsettling what the fate of the police department has become as the dissolution of its five-year consent decree period with the state intersected with the hiring of Hudson and DeSantis.

There's a lot involved with settlements that the public doesn't know because it's all behind closed doors but it's interesting to see how City Hall seemed to be very intent in getting rid of Hurt and Bacon because if you pay employees not to work for the city until they can retire, you clearly don't want them around. Yet, at the same time City Hall appears very loathe to place officers at the management level who participated in misconduct to cover up the commission of a crime on administrative leave pending the completion of the investigation. Those involved in the cover up get to stay on board as if nothing's happened and those who brought up the issues of micromanagement of the department and its end result are gone.

Why on earth, is DeLaRosa still in the position of acting chief when it's becoming more and more clear what his involvement had been, having him remain there is putting both the credibility of the department and the city on the line. It's ironic that the individuals who were most under scrutiny and for good reason have remained on active duty and yet the city has focused much more effort to help ensure that the two to-retire lieutenants weren't still active members of the force, almost as if trying to exorcise them. People like Adams are saying well, this won't happen again as if a 30 year employee waits until closer to the completion of his career to exercise such a bad "error in judgment". But then Adams has dotted the landscape quite a bit when it comes to the history of City Hall's handling of the RPD, including involving at least three of the department's most recent captains' promotions and if that's indeed the case, then he's responding to a crisis that is at least partly of his own making by trying to downplay it.

Adams was being sued for threatening the lieutenants and officers who associated with them for not endorsing him yet he's cool with having an employee in position as acting chief who really should be on administrative leave at this point. With the falling dominoes who would have then been put in charge isn't real clear but then it doesn't seem like DeLaRosa's in charge anyway. Still the message that it sends to keep him in that position and the defense of it is very telling.

On another note, it was curious to hear on the grapevine that the Riverside Police Officers' Association and Riverside Police Administrators' Association are already endorsing city council candidates for 2011. Apparently, at least the RPOA has already decided to endorse Adams. Some say because the union has decided to endorse incumbents and it will be interesting to see if it follows through on that theory by endorsing people like former Community Police Review Commission member, Mike Gardner. Still, the RPOA's record on picking the right candidates to endorse (because the effectiveness of endorsements on getting candidates including incumbents elected is extremely mixed) has been spotty in the past two city council cycles and left it with a 2 for 7 record including watching three incumbents go down in flames.

It's an interesting twist to see that it has endorsed someone like Adams who not only insulted the board during the past election in part through his "goodbye to all that" letter that he circulated regarding the RPOA but really hasn't done much except apparently lash out at those who don't endorse him. But the RPOA committee that decides on political endorsements had split over the decision not to endorse Adams during his 2007 run and the decision to endorse incumbent, Frank Schiavone in 2009.

It will remain to be seen as usual what the impact of the union endorsements will be on election results. But Adams seriously downplayed actions by management in the police department which put two or three RPOA members in very difficult positions, subjecting them to harsh criticism as a result while the management in the RPD who could have come forward and taken responsibility remained quiet.

It really makes you wonder. That the efforts of two lieutenants to file a lawsuit alleging micromanagement of the police department by Hudson's office and council member like Adams can be seen as a worse thing by City Hall than a cover up by police management of the commission of a crime by a police employee, which in a way was foreshadowed by Bacon and Hurt's lawsuit. Their lawsuit provides a blueprint of why situations like that involving Leach's traffic stop and the aftermath were so ripe to occur in the first place. City Hall's response to that was Loveridge calling similar allegations raised by members of the Eastside Think Tank "fiction" at the same time the city's essentially trying to settle the lawsuit which addressed those same allegations.

But through their lawsuit Bacon and Hurt proved to be a check and balance system for Hudson and certain elements at City Hall involving the handling of the police department which is why the focus was on removing them from the canvass rather than in even placing the management personnel involved in the Leach scandal on administrative leave. Because their lawsuit was filed in the courts which are public, this situation which for a long time had been behind closed doors was brought to light. Not that there hadn't been plenty of rumors and stories circulating about actions taken by Hudson and DeSantis in particular, but the lawsuit put them in writing.

Update on RPD Criminal Cases

As you know, the resolution of the case involving Leach's DUI charges leaves two remaining prosecutions of former Riverside Police Department officers in the Riverside County Superior Court system.

Det. Scott Impola: (misdemeanor assault to commit great bodily injury, entry into noncommercial building, unauthorized information use)

Impola's case has held a series of misdemeanor settlement conferences which have mostly been continued. However, there are signs in the minute orders that this case might be heading towards resolution meaning a plea bargain. The next court date set is May 18.

Officer Anthony "Rod" Fletcher: (lewd act with a minor, annoy/molest child)

This case has also had several felony settlement conferences but appears to be heading to a preliminary hearing.

Still Soliciting Chief Input

If you couldn't attend one of the three public forums on soliciting ideas for the new police chief, you can fill out this form online. Even though people have already begun applying for the position.

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein writes about Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco's no show at the latest candidate forum held by the American Bar Association.

Speaking of the upcoming county elections, this new blog has some definitive opinions on incumbent Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff.

Some Neo Nazis including Riverside's rally in L.A..

Public Meetings

Monday, April 19 at 10 a.m. Public Safety Committee is discussing the update on the Riverside Police Department's Strategic Plan according to this agenda. Sgt. Jaybee Brennan will be providing an oral update on its progress to the committee. It's interesting that Brennan has been chosen to give the presentation to the committee given that past protocol indicated that the department representative to give presentations was usually someone at the captain's level or higher. But it's better this way because when it comes to the process involving the Strategic Plan, no one knows it better than Brennan and has put more work into it than she has during some difficult times. It's hard not to view the change in protocol as indicative of the department's management level currently being in tremendous upheaval and apparently, tremendous flux as well.

Tuesday, April 20 at 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Riverside City Council Meeting at the City Hall and this agenda is up for discussion. It's a fairly short agenda with Mayor Pro Tem Steve Adams at the helm because once again, Mayor Ron Loveridge has something better to do than chair meetings, having seemingly reduced his appearances in recent months.

In the consent calendar, Councilman Mike Gardner gets himself a membership (rather than alternate status) on the March Joint Powers Commission.

Finance Committee Once Again on Ice

To no one's surprise, the Finance Committee meeting tentatively scheduled for March has been canceled and the next "tentative" meeting date is May 10 at 2:30 p.m. There's not a shortage of items to talk about when it comes to the city's finance, it's just that some people at City Hall appear loathe to maintain this extra layer of transparency of how the government is authorizing the spending of the tax payers' money. But then Chair Nancy Hart seems willing to defer the financial accountability which once lay in the hands of the city council. Ever since City Manager Brad Hudson put the previously separate Finance Department under his own office right before Riverside Renaissance's launching. Then it voted to limit its accountability over inter-fund transfers even more and then...well among other things, the Finance Committee stopped meeting regularly.

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