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

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Oh What Tangled Webs We Weave...The RPD and City Hall's Relationship


---Terse email I received today.

[The statement released from City Hall on the Hudson Probe not surprisingly focused on the police department, not much mention of City Hall which had been cleared earlier through public announcements by Hudson.]

After the State Cuts Its Strings, The RPD Begins to Unravel

A mere four years after the Riverside Police Department severed its consent decree with the State Attorney General's office, it's currently mired in a scandal that has rocked its foundation, one not entirely of its own making. And it's one that's been brewing for a while even as it's being presented as an isolated incident by the Hudson probe, which broke its silence on April 13 with some preliminary findings.

City Manager Brad Hudson released some preliminary findings in his purported "sweeping" probe and has pointed his fingers at the police management. An announcement that really surprised no one, because the evidence being released piecemeal by the city had been painted in neon and pointing at the top of the department's chain of command. In fact, Hudson cleared himself, his office and the rest of the probe fairly early on which only left the police department. But the probe fulfilled its purpose, which was to help ensure Hudson's job security and to try to distance himself and City Hall from the antics of the police department's upper echelon, the house that City Hall built. But then there's no time to think about that now that the probe's preliminary findings have been released. Now it's time to sell them to the public which no doubt will be an active part of the itinerary of some elements of City Hall for a while as the public relations machine is rolled out to make people forget that there was ever any problems at all, let alone a scandal that was some years in the making.

It'd be great to forget everything that happened but what's difficult is to see how the city still hasn't really learned anything. And if you don't learn from your history, then you're doomed to repeat it. Has Riverside learned? It sure doesn't look like it. And people in this city really are much more astute than apparently people like Hudson and others might think.

The response from people so far seems to not be a very happy one mostly because many people have problems believing Hudson's contention that the preferential treatment shown Leach on Feb. 8 was truly an isolated incident without any precedence. In fact, it's hard to find someone who does believe that's indeed the case. At least outside of City Hall, further away from the people who make the decisions, there's disbelief and skepticism about what's coming out of City Hall regarding this inhouse probe. And it's hard to find anyone who really believes that Hudson had no idea what had been going on with Leach the past five years that Hudson's been employed by the city. But then many people understand that the main purpose of this so-called "sweeping" probe is to save Hudson's job as much or more than anything else. And that "sweeping" means diverting people's attention towards one mess which is the actions exercised by an unspecified number of police brass which prevented the investigation of a crime, while the rest gets swept quietly beneath the rug out of view.

And that's what happened here.

While Hudson and others point fingers at the police management which does deserve a fair amount of that, the hopes are that the attention and the anger by city residents which has been brewing the past several months will be focused there and not any amount at Hudson and City Hall. But Hudson and other key players at City Hall played a large role in what the police department became particularly since the bulk of their influence came during the years that the department had been operating without oversight from the State Attorney General's office. And the ink hadn't dried on the dissolution papers when the city council had voted 7-0 to approve a modified oversight program for the implementation of the department's first strategic plan. The legislative body had conducted a workshop to grapple with how to keep the department moving forward without any state oversight for the first time since March 2001.

Its then members issued an order through that vote for Hudson to carry out a plan and as soon as summer distracted them, Hudson changed the terms of the orders that the city council had issued him, nearly grounding the implementation of the strategic plan. The police department faltered heavily during the first months out of the judgment because of Hudson's actions including his decision not to carry out the directive the way it had been issued to him by the city council (the altering in direction possibly spurred with "help" from a council member or two) and also because the department's command staff at the time failed to uniformly apply the management skills they had been trained in during the consent decree and Leach apparently didn't hold them to it. That put the police department in danger of backsliding due to failure of its upper echelon to move the process forward.

At some point, there were different command staff members working not necessarily together and some key areas of the department's forward movement stalled during the first nine months after the dissolution of the judgment. Increasing micromanagement coming from Hudson and DeSantis and Leach deciding to live at Councilman Frank Schiavone's residence for a period of time apparently without invoking an attack of apoplexy in either Hudson or the city's legal eagle, Gregory Priamos. Elected officials including Schiavone, the former reserve officer, who was said to be very much "hands on" with the police department and Steve Adams, the former police officer, began becoming more involved in the department including some alleged with the promotional process at the highest level.

At any rate, the dynamic between Hudson, DeSantis and Leach over the police department began to definitely take an unhealthy turn.

After all, it's a little hard to miss that the relationship between the police department and City Hall began intensifying in terms of issues it faced beginning not long after 2005 when the city council hired Hudson to be its next administrator after ousting George Carvalho in a narrow vote and having Tom Evans serve in the interim position. Rumors about Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis taking a more active role in managing and some say micromanaging the police department began to proliferate not long after their arrival. In fact, it only took several months for that to happen as it turned out that people began to notice.

In 2005, the department faced the final year of its reform mandate and then counted down the months until the dissolution of its stipulated judgment with the State Attorney General's office. Leach would be granted a five-year contract in December 2005 in the face of concerns about what had been taking place on his watch. Not long before the meeting where the city council and Mayor Ron Loveridge voted on that contract, a letter was sent to them by someone with some prior connection with the department.


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.

Most of the city officials who served on the dais when this letter was issued have either retired from the dais or were voted off of it. Though Loveridge and council members, Steve Adams and Nancy Hart still remain. It's a safe assumption that if council members or the mayor had received a letter like this when the issue of the chief's contract had been before them, that they would have forwarded these allegations to Leach's boss, Hudson but it's not clear whether or not Hudson ever examined the allegations before the contract moved forward for approval before the city government packed it in for the holiday recess. But at the very least, Hudson should have been served notice that issues had arisen with Leach that needed to be examined closer, which makes it a little less than convincing when he appears to present the picture that he had been in the dark all these years about his employee. I mean, if there were allegations of malfeasance and illegal activity involving the police chief, why wouldn't the city manager's office be all over it, as it's just claimed to have been now through its public announcement regarding its probe. Especially considering that it's all over the police department the rest of the time, but some of the allegations made in this missive apparently weren't just directed at the police chief by himself which might answer the above questions. And it's clear given that the letter was sent not too long before the city council vote, that there wasn't enough time for Hudson to adequately investigate the allegations in the letter, easy to deduce when you factor how long Hudson's office took to do this most recent probe which will have lasted well over two months.

Let's see, over two months to investigate the cover up involving Leach's traffic stop and a handful of days to address the allegations in the above letter. So it's pretty clear that in regards to the allegations raised above, it's more than likely that no action was taken by Hudson's office back in 2005. But it's also clear that because of this, Hudson and DeSantis can't claim to be in the dark about problems with Leach. Not without attracting a few raised eyebrows, etched with skepticism.

Building Your House of Cards

During this time period when the city manager's office became more entrenched in the department's activities, the department had seen some of its command staff members retire and thus actions were taken to fill these vacancies through promotions. Over a period of several years, it carried this out but soon concerns and questions also arose in terms of what process was being used by the department and as it turned out the city as well. In fact, it appeared that Leach had become less and less involved in the promotional process of the officers wh0 would be working the closest with him, his command staff including those at captain and above. At the same time, it appeared that the role played by City Hall had grown considerably in that process. Someone said that part of the idea of reforming the RPD was to install a business culture into its management and in that, they clearly succeeded, because the actions taken in this process rival those of a Fortune 500 company, more than a public agency. It seemed that a bunch of people in City Hall put themselves in the processes. When elected officials weren't calling for "political deployments" of the department's police officers in their wards during their reelection bid, several current and former ones involved themselves in some of the department's other items of business.

In fact, it's rumored that Leach hadn't even been in town when the promotions of his two closest command staff members took place. Legend has it, that Hudson took that role of elevating current acting chief, John DeLaRosa and Pete Esquivel into the positions of assistant and deputy chiefs giving them that pay increase plus a commitment to serve "at will". That got struck down and their promotions stood. Even when it came to promoting captains, it seemed that various parties outside the police department placed themselves in the mix. The promotional processes for both lieutenants and sergeants were changed in the past several years and became more subjective. Even people on the detectives list wondered if their "politics" would hurt them. The lists became dominated at the supervisory levels by experienced female officers even as only one of them, Linda Byerly, was promoted in her case to sergeant. African-American male officers also placed themselves well on lists ranging from captain to sergeant but despite placing high, they weren't promoted either.

Some officers including Leon Phillips didn't have as much trouble. Phillips had been about 11th on his lieutenants' list and was promoted in July 2008 to replace a retiring Ken Carpenter. Beating out Byerly the first round this year, was an officer who had been fired and then reinstated through arbitration. The process left people wondering if it came down to what "team" you were on inside the splintered department. These changes particularly with the promotional processes at the top end influenced the direction that the department headed in until things came falling down on Feb. 8 in ways that will be detailed in future postings.

The Hudson Probe

Hudson stated in his press release that information that he received on the afternoon of Feb. 8 led him to order the criminal investigation be turned over to the California Highway Patrol and directed Internal Affairs investigators to report to him. However, that agency didn't receive notification of that decision until 24 hours later, at about the same time that the media outlets began calling both the city and police department for more information about Leach's accident. The probe initiated by Hudson's office was begun a day after the investigation was handed off to the CHP, again while a firestorm had erupted from the city's residents and Riverside was once again a topic of scorn across the state and country from the erupting scandal.

In fact, on Monday morning and afternoon, there was a lot going on at City Hall but very little in terms of investigation in terms of being accountable to the city's 350,000 residents. No, most of the energy was spent on trying to clamp down on the situation before it broke publicly. The involvement of alcohol in Leach's accident and traffic stop was downplayed by employees at City Hall and the vehicle he had been driving wasn't taken away from the scene as evidence in a criminal investigation but for the purposes of repairing it and removing any traces that any form of accident had taken place. Mayor Ron Loveridge's office had been tipped off by an anonymous caller but there was no city-issued cellular phone activity by Hudson or his assistant city manager, Tom DeSantis until nearly five hours after the woman had called.

DeSantis' phone was used for the first time that day to call Leach just before 2 p.m. on Feb. 8 and Hudson's was activated several hours later to call an undisclosed individual. It's extremely odd some might think that if Hudson and DeSantis had been trying to make all these phone calls to get to the bottom of the situation as Hudson claimed early on and arranging for all these investigations to be handled, the city would have released information pertaining to any involved phone calls made by these individuals.

Hudson did hire Best, Best and Krieger attorney (and former district attorney) Grover Trask to provide "independent oversight" and Trask played a fairly active role but the details of the contract between the two were never discussed or reviewed by the city council nor were the terms of the contract ever released.

Hudson also said that all the evidence was "secured" and delivered to investigative agencies including the "inadequate" police report, audio and video recordings and such. That appears to be the case with the more limited scope covered by the CHP investigation but as far as the administrative investigation goes, very little in the way of proving such has been offered to the public. It's not even clear who actually in Internal Affairs did the investigation given that at least two of the five sergeants had close personal ties to Leach and thus, probably should have been interviewed as part of the investigation rather than assigned to investigate. Given that the Internal Affairs Division operates directly out of the Chief's office, were assignments given out in that division to people with close personal ties to the former chief? One sergeant, Marcus Smail had been called the first known person called by the police chief during the traffic stop but Smail told the Press Enterprise he didn't answer that phone call.

It appears that Lt. Mike Cook who heads the division played a very active role as did Hudson and Trask. But it also appears that Cook has at least political ties to DeSantis having served on the Hemet Unified School District Board in high-ranking positions with him in the past, which is certainly interesting. But at any rate, while it might be less than clear who actually investigated the police department, it's fairly clear that very little investigating was done by anyone of City Hall. After all, the Internal Affairs Division has zero jurisdiction to investigate City Hall for any misconduct involving the police department or any of its employees. So who's left to investigate City Hall? Hudson? Does that include himself? Well then, that takes care of that.

Hudson then said that there was absolutely no obstruction of either the criminal investigation being done by the CHP or the administrative probe being done by his office by anyone. And if that happened, criminal prosecution would have resulted of any such individuals. Certainly interesting information given that it appeared that the police department including its management was more rigorously investigated than any parties at City Hall. And it's difficult to believe that those who placed themselves at the helm of the investigation were investigated thoroughly either by themselves or by anyone paid as an employee or independent contractor through Hudson's office, or even investigated at all. If Leach had so many problems which led to his criminal conduct and a cover up, then right after investigations should have been launched against these individuals, one should have been initiated by the city council against its employee who after all, was Leach's boss for the past five years. After all, who allows the fox to guard the hen house and then have the fox investigate when one of them turns up missing?

The probe was to investigate allegations of the obstruction of a criminal investigation into DUI and hit and run offenses which in itself could have prosecutory ramifications but has not. How can you criminally prosecute an individual for obstructing an administrative investigation when individuals have already been given cart blanche to obstruct and deter through orders issued to do like with a criminal investigation involving Leach's DUI? All this would be more credible coming from Hudson's office if he hadn't already obstructed or prevented any investigation of his own conduct involving Leach, his alcohol consumption and the police department the past five years.

Hudson then goes on to state the obvious about the DUI stop not being conducted in proper fashion and that surprise, Leach was given preferential treatment by officers. He does mention that patrol officers Jeremy Miller and Grant Linhart have been cleared of any misconduct. That should have been done sooner as the two officers stopped Leach, noted "objective" signs of alcohol intoxication and called for their supervisor, thus placing the situation in the hands of the supervisors who showed up.

He mentions that the failure to take reasonable actions occurred exclusively in the management ranks. No, what happened was that the decision making which led to the failure of other officers most notably the two supervisors onscene to take reasonable actions was done by at least one management employee who wasn't at the scene. Two supervisors misbehaved at the scene to some degree. One. Sgt. Frank Orta, did by failure to investigate his boss based on the officers' and likely his own suspicions and then failing to write an "adequate" (and describing the report as "inadequate" is a misnomer if there ever was one) report.

The other, Watch Commander Leon Phillips likely participated in some form of conversation over the decision that was made to engage in a failure to take reasonable actions and thus cover up a criminal act committed by Leach. How much a role he played in that dialogue was not known and certainly not disclosed but Philips probably was issued orders by someone higher up to cover up the crime and take care of Leach and the damaged car. What's wrong with Hudson's statement is that it clearly overlooks probably intentionally the climate produced in the police department by different actions taken including those involving his office which led to a situation where the cover up of a crime could be carried out through a series of phone calls, the extent of which is publicly unknown given that the city engaged in only a partial release of phone records in connection with that very limited time period. There was this sense of entitlement that the police chief deserved a cover up and that the way it was handled, seemed to indicate that there was indeed precedent for it.

The part of the findings which many people seem to have the most trouble swallowing is the part where Hudson insisted that there were no evidence has been identified of any prior instances of preferential treatment. Whether that's specific just to Leach or includes anyone else isn't clear by the press release. But few people buy that "finding" at all, because many of people don't recognize this incident as the first time it happened, but the first time people got caught engaging in this behavior. There's a difference between the two that might be lost on some folks but not on many city residents.

Deputy Police Chief Pete Esquivel Retiring

With the news of the so-called Hudson probe about to break to the Press Enterprise, the retirements began, with that involving Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel, a 30 year veteran of the police department who before all this broke had shown no signs of wanting to depart anytime soon. In fact, "Pete" as he's known inhouse had seemed more energized in recent years. But rumors of his impending departure had been in the air for over a week even though no reason has been given why he has decided to retire.

Esquivel had been promoted into that upper level position in March 2007, a decision that because of the circumstances surrounding it had brought a crowd of officers belonging to both the Riverside Police Officers' Association and the Riverside Police Administrators' Association to a city council meeting at the end of that month. He and DeLaRosa had allegedly accepted their promotions after signing contracts that provided them with an incremental pay increase and "at will" status. The contracts were essentially voided of that requirement after the city gave a panel presentation at this contentious city council meeting on why it couldn't do what it had made it clear that it was going to do. Hudson made his speech and so did Leach, which was surprising because apparently the promotions had been made without his knowledge when he had been out of town. He had been somewhat...piqued when he got wind of what had transpired and some thought, he would call Hudson, his boss on what had been done. Of course now, it's clear that didn't happen. What didn't become clear until later is how Hudson had been able to mollify Leach into playing the role that he played fairly well at that same meeting.

Only weeks ago, Esquivel seemed hardly in the mood to call it quits. He even considered applying for the top spot. But now he's saying goodbye to a 30 year law enforcement career that began after he graduated from the peace officers academy and saw him work a variety of assignments, including many in the community, while moving himself up at a somewhat less than meteoric pace when compared to "Johnny D." who at times seemed more like "Johnny Who" given his rapid ascent from sergeant to assistant chief since Leach's hiring. Esquivel's retirement is the first to arise among the upper management but don't be surprised if it's not the last. Command staffs in scandals like this one have the tendancy to fall like a row of dominoes. It's the nature of the beast, part and parcel of the energy that got them there.

Two RPD Lieutenants Settle Lawsuits and RPOA President Laments Supervisory Vacancies

In the meantime, the city and two Riverside Police Department lieutenants, Darryl Hurt and Tim Bacon are settling their lawsuit which they filed several years ago, alleging that they were harassed and retaliated against for their active involvement in the RPAA, not to mention being denied promotions at the management level of captain even though they tested very well. Their lawsuits that they filed in U.S. District Court are required reading if you want to take a look at some of the serious issues that arose in the department due to problems within as well as out of micromanagement from various elements at City Hall. Issues raised in their lawsuits are relevant in the wake of the situation involving the former chief and its aftermath, and in a way provided some foreshadowing that these problems would come to a head at some point due to the dysfunctional dynamic between City Hall and the police department. Which is what ultimately happened.

Because with that kind of micromanagement being allegedly done by elements at City Hall including a politician or two and the department's internal problems, the situation had really no chance of avoiding some serious consequences. And so what happened? The city bet, the house won and the department's employees and city residents paid the price of City Hall's ignorance or involvement in the issues raised in the lawsuit and other venues. Some serious consequences for the city and the department which could have been avoided, if the red flags popping up all over the place had been heeded.

RPOA President Det. Cliff Mason told the Press Enterprise that there were critical vacancies in the supervisory and management level, which is interesting because usually the rank and file labor unions tend not to be too concerned about a shortage of management but anyway Mason did bring up that there's going to be a minimum of three captain vacancies and six lieutenant vacancies (which puts the rate there at roughly 33%) and then there's the expected 7-8 or more sergeant spots anticipated to be vacant by the end of the year. The level of supervisors in the police department has fallen to the critical level even with the recent rounds of promotions, at levels low enough to cause serious problems in the still primarily very young police department.

These are alarming shortages indeed and promoting will create more shortages including at the officer level, but the department will be at the point where if it doesn't promote lieutenants, it will be short watch commanders, given that the reserve positions in that division are already unfilled. Each rank filled depletes from the one below it, so if the department promotes as it should, then that has to be done so that none of the ranks get depleted to critical levels as a result. For example, filling lieutenants increases the shortage of sergeants which if filled, directly or indirectly depletes officers levels due to the detectives positions being quickly filled due to the MOU between the RPOA and the city. What it boils down to really, is an overall commitment by the city to ensure that the overall staffing levels of the department are built back up to healthy levels where needed to ensure that promotions enhance each levels' numbers along with the accountability factors.

In other news, the RPD brings back the DUI checkpoint.

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