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, May 27, 2010

It's a Mad, Mad World at the RPD Orange Street Station

UPDATE: Today on May 29, Acting Chief John DeLaRosa left his office at the Orange Street Station to head on down to the Magnolia Policing Center to assure officers at a roll call session that Lt. Leon Phillips was not sent to Orange Street Station for disciplinary or punitive purposes but because he was needed to fill a "special assignment" at that administrative building. It's not clear why DeLaRosa showed up on a holiday weekend to update the officers at this roll call session on this critical information which was referred to as a "clarification". A clarification to what, he didn't specify in his speech.

Absolutely remarkable acumen and foresight on his part to remove a lieutenant out of a watch command assignment especially given the critical shortage of watch commanders due to a slew of retirements in the past several months which have left lieutenants signing up for extra duty as relief watch commanders for different days and shifts. The 25% vacancy rate not withstanding, it can't be all that bad if lieutenants are being reassigned to "special assignments" on a desk, with of course their proximity to officers and one detective awaiting disciplinary actions is a coincidence. Clearly there are plenty of lieutenants to spare, or at least that's what DeLaRosa clearly expressed with his reassignment of a man about to be disciplined for sustained misconduct into a "special assignment" which is usually afforded as privilege or merit.

In the meantime, the sergeant vacancy which is about 10% (and thankfully at its lowest vacancy rate in nearly two years) is seen as so critical that DeLaRosa reassigned Sgt. Jaybee Brennan from her special assignment of working on the Strategic Plan to field operations even after filling another vacancy with the recent promotion of Det. Brian Dodson. A position that some believe will be filled by Phillips who's awaiting disciplinary action.

Speaking of awaiting discipline, DeLaRosa also told officers that the case against him has been completed and is on a desk awaiting disposition.

A more detailed rebuttal to DeLaRosa's rebuttal to reporting here about Phillips is forthcoming which will break down this response piece by piece for further analysis and disposition. But this blogger thanks DeLaRosa for clearing the air on this disturbing issue in his own words, in a matter of speaking.

[This is the front door for the Riverside Police Department's administrative headquarters and rented digs on Orange Street in downtown Riverside, the epicenter for some very activities including a newly created Island of Broken Officers where officers are sent to wait in administrative limbo for disciplinary action including Lt. Leon Phillips.]

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

---William Shakespeare

"We're looking through the looking glass folks...where white is black and black is white..."

---JFK (1992)

"If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there."

---Lewis Carroll

A case of he said, she said has arisen in connection with an alleged probe by the Riverside County District Attorney's office into allegations made by a Club 215 employee that former Councilman Frank Schiavone influenced her statements to California Highway Patrol investigators looking into the incident involving former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach. District Attorney Rod Pacheco who's been on the campaign trail and received a campaign contribution during his reelection campaign from Schiavone hasn't commented publicly on the probe, according to the latest article.

Initially Schiavone had apparently denied knowing anything at all about reports that he was being investigated for influencing a witness interviewed in the Leach DUI investigation. Then he said they were rumors and then he explained his version of events.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

There was no reference to any investigation," Schiavone said in an interview. "My only reference to her, when she called me, was that anything personal is personal and she need not discuss that with the press. It's nobody's business and that's not a crime."

Schiavone, who has not been charged, said he believes Wilson made claims to the California Highway Patrol because he denied her repeated requests to loan her money. The CHP handled the probe of Leach's disoriented drive in his damaged city car.

Wilson, in her first public comments, said she had several conversations with Schiavone following the chief's traffic stop, and that in more than one, he attempted to direct her statements. Schiavone would not say whether he made any of those calls.

But Wilson said he initiated all the calls before the one that was recorded. And while she acknowledges asking Schiavone for money, she said it was well after her dealings with authorities and had no effect on the information she had already provided.

"He said, 'Don't say anything. There was no crime committed. You don't have to talk to anyone,' " Wilson recalled. "He said we needed to have (Leach's) back."

Even though Leach was convicted of a DUI, he received a medical retirement from the city as "discipline" by City Manager Brad Hudson for what happened on Feb. 8. Assistant Chief John DeLaRosa is still currently serving as acting chief despite an internal investigation done by Hudson's office which according to Hudson, blamed "management" for the handling of Leach's traffic stop which led to Leach getting a ride home and no DUI investigation or arrest despite having an estimated extrapolated blood alcohol level of about 0.22. Phone log records tied DeLaRosa's city-issued cell phone with that of the watch commander at the scene of the traffic stop, Lt. Leon Phillips.

And what of Phillips, well read further because the department's management has found a special place for him.

Riverside's Very Own Purgatory?

DeLaRosa currently works as acting chief at the Riverside Police Department's administrative offices which occupies a county-owned building leased by the city located on Orange Street in downtown Riverside. Even though in many cases, an employee tied to the obstruction of a criminal investigation of a DUI via his cell phone would be placed on paid administrative leave, he's still working sharing the building with other police employees, both civilian and sworn, along with several other key players in the Leach incident and its aftermath. Only in Riverside could a management person receive a promotion albeit temporarily and keep it even while the city manager publicly states that "management" committed misconduct in relation to the Feb. 8 Leach DUI incident.

Phillips who formerly was a watch commander assigned to graveyard shift was removed from that assignment recently and reassigned to the Orange Street Station awaiting disciplinary action against him for his role in the mishandling of the Leach incident. It's not clear what work he's actually doing there inside that building but he's under pretty restrictive circumstances in comparison to his superior officer who directed his handling of the traffic stop, DeLaRosa. He's apparently expecting to be demoted to the sergeant rank, which he held until his promotion to lieutenant in July 2008 where he had been chosen while ranked #11 on the lieutenant's list. Phillips is well aware that his assignment to what one person called the Orange Street "penalty box", is simply to place him in some form of administrative limbo until he's disciplined. But it's interesting how the handling of the officers who were connected to the Leach incident has played itself out since Hudson's probe was pretty much ended. Even though the city had asked District Attorney Rod Pacheco who agreed to withhold the California Highway Patrol's investigative report from the media and public. And even while former elected officials under investigation and topless dancers from Club 215 differ in what went down on Feb. 8, the beat goes on at the police department's headquarters.

Many people would reasonably believe that the level of accountability and responsibility for what happened during and in the aftermath of the Leach incident and attempted coverup would be greatest for those at the top of the chain of command. Meaning that management personnel involved in the incident would face greater culpability and thus discipline than those in supervision who would be facing more of both than those they supervise and so forth. But has that really been the case thus far? Let's take a look at the key players and how they are faring from the bottom of the pecking order, upward.

Patrol officers Jeremy Miller and Grant Linhart: No discipline which makes sense because they didn't do anything wrong. They did get vilified among the public while those who could have fessed up their own culpability in the Leach incident including those in management remained silent. And will their silence be rewarded with lighter disciplinary action?

Sgt. Frank Orta: As the supervisor of the two officers, he faces greater culpability than they do and that report...well it's damaging. But he played a lessor role than his supervisors on upward and he received a medical retirement. Given that he planned to retire in July, it seemed like the city wanted him to go away rather than discipline him.

Lt. Leon Phillips: Watch commander directed by management probably via cell phone how to proceed with traffic stop. Phillips was removed from his post and reassigned to Orange Street Station to await disciplinary action including most likely, a demotion to sergeant. A demotion is a sensible form of discipline for failure to properly supervise but why he's apparently looking at the most severe discipline of anyone involved is not clear at this time.

Acting Chief John DeLaRosa: He is still in his current assignment to run the department and carry out the duties of a chief. Conventional wisdom is that he believes he's possibly going to be demoted but to the captain's rank. However, given that he was ranked at a classified level of captain, remaining a captain wouldn't constitute a demotion or loss of rank, given that the assistant chief position is not a classified rank and is an at-will appointment. So if Phillips gets demoted to sergeant and DeLaRosa to captain, then DeLaRosa would have received the equivalent of no discipline even though the officer he directed will have received the most severe disciplinary action. A demotion to lieutenant would actually constitute discipline for failure to properly supervise if DeLaRosa instructed Phillips on the handling of the traffic stop and would be more equitable to Phillips' discipline if he were demoted to sergeant.

Chief Russ Leach: Medical retirement, no real disciplinary action against him. He was charged and convicted for DUI and may have played a role in instructing police management to not investigate him on DUI given that according to Hudson, he had called DeLaRosa's home phone from his city-issued cell phone after the stop and before DeLaRosa had the inkling to dial up and chat with Phillips.

It really does pay to be at the top of the ladder as opposed to near the bottom, doesn't it and it appears that the middle spot where Phillips sits is the worst place to be.

It's not clear why Phillips apparently views his disciplinary situation in much starker terms than DeLaRosa who face it, if he's only demoted to captain for engaging in the obstruction of an investigation into a criminal incident involving his boss won't have faced any real discipline at all for his involvement in the Leach affair. This is in stark contrast to Hudson's declaration that management was responsible for the mishandling of Leach's traffic stop. No, because if that were true, then the management level employees would have received disciplinary action that was greater than the individuals that they ordered to engage in that obstruction. But is that the case, well that of course remains to be seen but you have a lieutenant who fears the worse and an acting chief who remains extremely confident that he'll keep his classified rank. Is it just personal sentiment or do these individuals both know something that others don't?

And this confidence comes in the wake of a brewing situation involving a detective who made allegations against one of them who could be facing much more severe disciplinary action than those involved in the Leach incident and in fact, is essentially being disciplined in a non-discipinary way by the individual he accused of misconduct.

Detective Who Filed Claim Against City to be Terminated?

It's unusual for police officers who are awaiting disciplinary actions after sustained findings against them in internal investigations to be placed in these forms of assignments at the Orange Street Station because most of the time unless it's very serious, they remain in their assignments through the investigation until they receive sustained allegations of misconduct or policy violations and then receive notifications of intent to discipline from the police chief's office. But for at least five police officers including Phillips, this procedure has been scrapped in favor of a new one which is to reassign them into some sort of limbo at the administrative headquarters for days or weeks until it's time to discipline them which in these cases is usually severe discipline. What's really bizarre is that these decisions of reassignment are coming out of the office of someone who could be facing discipline himself in the near future.

But that's a more recent practice that's begun after DeLaRosa was placed in the acting chief position. There's at least five officers who have been transferred to the administrative headquarters solely to await disciplinary action not including Phillips but including another familiar name which is Det. Chris Lanzillo, the former Riverside Police Officers' Association president. Allegedly awaiting disciplinary action for an internal investigation which was initiated after he filed his claim for damages against the city stating that he had been retaliated by the department for his activities as union president. He had also made allegations that DeLaRosa knew about Leach's traffic stop while it was still going on and that he had criticized DeLaRosa for his delay at turning the Leach incident over for investigation by the CHP. While president, Lanzillo also sued the police department including Leach and Capt. Mike Blakely over a urine test being ordered to be performed on former Officer Dave Reeves Jr. and filed another lawsuit alleging that the department was violating regulations for interrogating police officers which is still pending.

Lanzillo lost a close election last November and was replaced by Det. Cliff Mason, and soon after found himself transferred out of the Vice/Intelligence Unit into the Auto Theft division. But that was only the beginning of his problems as he was first isolated among the detectives at the Magnolia Policing Center and had to leave from a separate exit. At some point, he was ultimately transferred to the Orange Station to as one person put it, "await his fate" stemming from an internal investigation based on an incident that allegedly been reported before the filing of his claim but no investigation was initiated until after he filed his claim which was rejected by the city council. It's always interesting how misconduct allegations can go ignored like someone spitting in the wind one minute and then the next, they're serious enough to be investigated...and in between? A claim or lawsuit was filed by that individual against the city.

Oh, isn't that a well-worn sequence of events indeed! Just ask Keers, Sutton, Hurt, Bacon, Rodriguez and...oh never mind, there's only a finite amount of space on this blog.

Employees who oversee the Internal Affairs Division including the one that Lanzillo made serious allegations against went looking for more complaints to reopen against him in what some called an attempt to justify terminating his employment. Though seriously, if there's an officer who's got the background to handle a situation like this one, it's probably him given both his rather colorful history and his extensive background in handling grievances. So even if the department does fire him, it probably won't be for very long. Probably up until the minute that some arbitrator realizes that the person who initiated the investigation against him as acting chief was the same person who was the target of serious allegations made by Lanzillo beforehand, allegations which were published in the Press Enterprise and this blog as well.

What struck people as interesting about Lanzillo's case is that the misconduct which he admitted to doing which was allegedly making insensitive comments in a training course, is one that only receives a 40-80 suspension without pay. In fact, the city currently employs a retired lieutenant (see below) who as lieutenant committed a similar offense and received no discipline. The logical step would have been to give him the suspension for admitted misconduct as happened in prior cases (while not happening in others). And to hand the disciplinary decision as well as any investigation of misconduct to a party outside of those mentioned or listed in his claims for damages. But then it's not clear why DeLaRosa was able to essentially make a disciplinary transfer of Phillips to the Orange Street Station when he's being investigated for the same incident as Phillips and in fact, most likely supervised by phone Phillips during that incident. And yes, when you're being reassigned from the field to administrative headquarters to spend your days with others in the same boat, it's essentially discipline while awaiting discipline.

Other alleged cases of lighter treatment than termination for similar and other misconduct:

----A detective had two sustained complaints or investigations for using racist language and was not threatened with termination. It's not clear whether he was even disciplined.

----The city also employs in its City Attorney's office as an investigator a retired lieutenant who while working at the police department had used a racial slur in front of witnesses including an assistant city attorney who's long been assigned to handle police related legal issues. The lieutenant only received a letter that the allegation was sustained and no discipline.

---Another officer was investigated and had sustained allegations for criminal conduct that originally was viewed by the department as two separate felony violations but upon advice from the current lieutenant of the Internal Affairs Division at the time who's acting chief now, the crimes were prosecuted as misdemeanors.

---An officer was investigated for misconduct involving a firearm and not disciplined for brandishing a gun on duty but in fact received a transfer to a special assignment.

---A sergeant had sex on duty with a consenting female and wasn't terminated when Leach overrode recommendations for firing him made by other management personnel by retaining his employment.

---Former Officer Robert Forman used racial slurs and had received a sustained allegation for conduct becoming an officer for having sex onduty with a homeless woman at Fairmount Park which was duly captured on his belt recorder and wasn't terminated. It's not clear whether he was ever disciplined for racist language.

--An officer was involved in an fist fight with another officer at a police facility and wasn't terminated though he has been since.

---In past years, management personnel made racial or insensitive comments which were reported and weren't fired.

---A member of management who may have sustained misconduct against him is currently acting chief.

---Two officers convicted on DUIs including one who's been promoted since. Neither were terminated though one of them is currently among those assigned to Orange Street Station on a unrelated matter. A police chief convicted of DUI received a medical retirement and no discipline.

---A sergeant allegedly was involved in a hit and run accident and was never investigated but received a special assignment.

---An employee was investigated and forced to retire after supervising an incident involving excessive force and then received glowing recommendations from the police department while applying for a chief's position out of state which he received after the background investigator praised his "ethics".

Whether or not the discipline was appropriate in these situations may be individualized and maybe subject to debate or not, but the fact remains, none of them were terminated for that misconduct even though some of the above misconduct is very serious in nature. At least one wasn't even investigated at all and two of them were eventually terminated for other sustained misconduct.

The situation involving Lanzillo is a bit disturbing and this is coming from someone who's even filed complaints against him, only because of the severity of what he might face as well as the fact that investigating him only became imperative to the police department after he filed a claim.

Interesting, considering this past practice has cost the tax payer's millions spent on litigation costs by the city for fighting grievances and lawsuits filed by city employees in and outside of the police department for disciplinary actions and misconduct investigations filed after the complaint or grievance process has been initiated against management and the city. You would think that the city would figure out after paying out huge settlements and verdicts involved in retaliatory lawsuits filed by former Sgt. Christine Keers and current officer, Roger Sutton that it costs the tax payers a hell of a lot of money to leave the fates of complainant officers in the hands of those they made complaints against and to send the Internal Affairs Division doing searches on complainants injecting life in previously closed or non-investigated allegations of misconduct. Even the two lieutenants who settled their lawsuit with the city recently had alleged that the department's management had intended to find something on them for investigation or even arrest after they started making allegations of misconduct.

But now, apparently the department's management and perhaps City Hall is slow on the uptake on this issue.

But Lanzillo's not the only officer who's at Orange Street as there are others including two patrol officers who had allegations of false arrests against them sustained for arresting a man for public intoxication who management personnel didn't believe was actually intoxicated. This decision was made after they viewed dash cam video from an officer's squad car and determined that he didn't appear drunk. What's so interesting about this situation is that the same management personnel making this decision knew that Leach's conduct at the traffic stop was also captured on dash cam video and even though he was lurching all over the place, no one in the department including Phillips and any management personnel who no doubt must have viewed that same video apparently believed that Leach appeared intoxicated enough to even test for DUI. So the police chief is clearly drunk on sight and on dash cam video but isn't evaluated for being drunk by officers including management. So video is damning evidence of misconduct in one case involving alleged public intoxication and its handling but not worth a bucket of warm bull's piss in another involving the boss?

The other interesting common denominator that these two particular officers share is that they testified at the recent criminal trial involving Forman including one for the defense. So out of 350 active officers, you have a handful sitting at Orange Street Station and two of those happened to testify in the same trial as "friends" of a former police officer. Coincidence, could very well be but it would be interesting to know what basis the false arrest allegation was decided upon besides dash cam video which is much more valuable for capturing the unlawful use of force for example than whether a person is legally intoxicated or not especially considering how unhelpful similar video proved to be in initial evalutions of Leach's intoxication or sobriety level. It would be of great assistance to the taxpayers of the city if the city can provide more of a basis if they discipline these officers than just the reading of a dash cam video when it defends the disciplinary action at arbitration.

Yes, explain to the arbitrator why you didn't recognize obvious drunken behavior from your boss including off of a dash cam video enough to investigate it yourselves and aren't being disciplined for that let alone being placed in a holding pattern at Orange Street Station.

So as you can see, there's an interesting plethora of activity taking place at the police administrative headquarters where the name of the prior chief has already been erased from its entrance and a new holding area has been created to serve as purgatory or as the Island of Broken Officers. At least until a new chief is hired and inherits the department.

And once again, that if you're going to get in trouble, it really pays to be in the upper ranks where you can break the law, get convicted, participate in a cover up that might still yet extend to current or past characters at City Hall and your "discipline" is a medical retirement.

If you're one step lower, you might get demoted to a rank that you would likely be anyway when the new chief arrives and in the meantime, you get to take punitive action against those you supervised in the commission of misconduct.

If you're Phillips, you're just out of luck because your supervisor who supervised your handling of a traffic stop gets to as acting chief relegate you to sitting in limbo while awaiting your disciplinary action from Hudson. So Phillips takes orders from his supervisor who gets promoted albeit temporarily who then gets to turn around and under his authority as chief gets to send him to Orange Street Station with the clear intent to embarrass him in front of people there given that he was a watch commander five minutes earlier. How perfect is that?

And the only employee who's facing potential termination is the one who first went public with allegations against this acting chief accusing him of being involved in a coverup who is left to languish with Phillips after a whirl of activity flourishes involving earlier allegations of misconduct which suddenly become all important only after a complain is filed.

Whether or not the officers in this situation deserve discipline and what form's not the real issue here. The issue is why was the decision made to send them to the department's administrative headquarters to be essentially branded as trouble makers (rather than discipline them) made by the person who really is holding the least credible position to really judge them on misconduct? After all, it might be blasphemy in River City to say this but the current acting chief should be assigned a scarlet letter and be sitting in limbo alongside these officers that he's essentially given letters to wear. The crazy double standard that truly was exposed on Feb. 8 continues with the handling of the Orange Street Station newly created penalty box.

In other worlds, welcome to the Mad, Mad World of Orange Street Station where some officers are sent there to await discipline and others with sustained allegations of misconduct are sent there to await discipline and some...well the one who sent them there serve as the police chief who while facing perhaps discipline gets to discipline others.

Chief's Candidates Narrowed Down for Interviews

The city management in Riverside has narrowed their alleged 60 applicants to the handful of finalists who will be interviewed next week through a two-round process which will begin with interviewing these candidates and then the panel will narrow down their list to three finalists who will then be interviewed to see which one the panel will choose as its final recommendation for the position which will go to Hudson's office. The panelists were all required to sign confidentiality agreements which means that mums the word for being able to talk about their service to the city. This also means that if their recommendation doesn't get picked by Hudson as the new chief that they can't say anything about that, meaning that if the panelists discover that they're on a puppet panel, the lips remain zipped.

Some of the favorites for the finalist positions are former Asst. Chief (who is the head of investigations at the San Bernardino County District Attorney's office) Mike Smith, already the favorite of two panelists from the police department who heavily recruited him finally getting him to toss in his application around the April 30 deadline. Others include a high-ranking Latino officer from the Los Angeles Police Department, Capt. Jeffrey Talbott from the California Highway Patrol, Riverside Division (who allegedly had been told by a legislative aide at City Hall at a party that he hadn't made the cut) and from inside the police department, Capt. John Wallace.

Interviews will be taking place on June 3 behind closed doors and the decision will be made by Hudson in total secrecy given that if the interview panel's role is completely subverted to a puppet board, the panelists won't be able to talk about it.

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein provides his take on the recent non-debate between the two Riverside County district attorney candidates.

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