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, June 02, 2010

Brad Hudson: DeLaRosa "best choice to lead the department at this time"

UPDATE: Unconfirmed reports that Lt. Leon Phillips has been terminated or given notice to terminate by the RPD.

Det. Chris Lanzillo given notice to terminate papers today. Earlier Lanzillo had filed the claim against the city and had made comments about DeLaRosa knowing about the traffic stop when it happened, which turned out to be accurate.

UPDATE: City Attorney Gregory Priamos goes public and denies he ever reviewed and signed off on report to
Press Enterprise. Claims that a police report unsigned by a supervisor is not unusual. It's not clear why the department sent a report to him that wasn't signed by former Deputy Chief Esquival or why the media received an unsigned report without Esquivel's signature on it.


Chief finalists interviewed on June 3 include:

John Wallace, RPD captain

Mike Smith, retired RPD assistant chief

Sergio Diaz, Los Angeles Police Department

Bob Luna, assistant chief, Long Beach Police Department

Jeff Talbott, captain California Highway Patrol

Scott Jordan, chief, Tustin Police Department

""I told them this, I wanted clarification on their part. I'm not trying to, you know, cover up for this guy or anything like that. I'm just trying to let you guys know that this is what you're looking at, man.' "

---Former Sgt. Frank Orta on why he wrote the inaccurate police report

"We think he's the best choice to lead the department at this time."

---City Manager Brad Hudson about his decision to make Asst. Chief John DeLaRosa acting chief, essentially indicting the management of the RPD in less than 20 words.

"I could see this thing coming, you know, from a mile away. You know, that there's some problems here."

---Retired Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel who said he would have handled it differently if he hadn't been "trumped" but signed Orta's factually deficient report anyway. Although not the copy that the city issued to the media which was unsigned. Esquivel retired after 35 years in the wake of several internal investigations were allegedly initiated against him after he considered applying for the top position.

Mic-1 Off and Other Video Highlights

The Press Enterprise has published the entire 500 page report from the California Highway Patrol on the Feb. 8 incident involving former Riverside Chief Russ Leach at this link and included the dash cam video from the squad car that had been assigned to patrol officers, Jeremy Miller and Grant Linhart. A picture's worth a thousand words and a video is a thousand pictures and the visceral reaction to watching the traffic stop unfold at least a portion of it stirred much response in viewers across the city and served up some serious ire all over again. People who have watched this train wreck unfold since it started are bringing with them the experiences of everyone they ever knew who was stopped for a suspected DUI, evaluated and handcuffed to be placed in the back seat of a squad car to be shipped off to be booked and even jailed.

It's very hard for many of these people to reconcile what they've seen, heard and even experienced involving DUI stops of ordinary motorists with what's unfolding on the video which captured this one involving Leach. And yes, watching the immediate deference of the patrol officers to Leach, them signaling each other, and then the video go silent, stirred some strong reactions in people. People hear and discuss and joke about the double standard all the time but the police department's own technology allowed them to see it firsthand. It's like hearing that preferential treatment's given out to politicians and police chiefs by officers often enough to believe it or to wonder if it's true and then voila, getting to see in a matter of speaking one such case of preferential treatment unfold.

To say the video in itself hasn't elicited some strong reaction would be putting it lightly but it's been like that since this whole thing began, with each update in the chain of events eliciting more ire that's aimed at the police department and also at City Hall. It could be a very interesting election cycle next year. Because of all the sentiment out there about needing to clean out City Hall including its government. Whether that sentiment will permeate into the election cycle which still remains almost exactly a year away remains to be seen.

The posting of the links on the news articles gives readers the opportunity to check out the investigative report that the publication had been trying to get hold of for several months but ran into some static from Riverside's very own City Hall which had asked either or both the CHP and the Riverside County District Attorney's office to suppress the report from release until after City Manager Brad Hudson completed his own report.

The Dash Cam (from equipment that was installed in squad cars beginning as part of the stipulated judgment with the State Attorney General's office) video provides the vantage point as if the viewer's sitting inside the squad car as the camera's installed adjacent to the rear view mirror. The camera also comes with wireless microphones which have a range of about 200 feet and can be worn by officers and as the video clearly shows, these microphones can be switched on or off by officers wearing them. The initial part of the video recording includes the audio portion but at one point when one officer is standing by Leach's door and the other is standing on the opposite sides, one signals the other, the other responds and at about 3:50, the officer on Leach's side moves his hand to his belt, a noise becomes audible closer to the microphone and then 3:55, the microphone stops recording sound as noted helpfully by the camera.

Departmental policy gives the officers the option of switching off audio recording if they provide a reason to supervisors for doing so as soon as possible after the incident. It's not clear if that happened in this case. It would be interesting to hear what the response to that would have been including when the issue surely arose during the Hudson probe.

The reaction to the video is pretty toxic, but then there's a larger picture to what's on the video. And that is what created the response to Leach by the police officers. Why were they so deferential? Why did they turn off their microphones? Because it's not just the two of them inside the room, but it's a very crowded room indeed. And when they called their immediate supervisor, that room began filling up. It's not difficult to understand in the full context why they did these things as offensive as they might be to people watching when you include the actions taken or not taken and the rationalizations for doing either by those who outrank them. If they gave preferential treatment, did anyone who came after them and from above them tell them to do otherwise, or that they were behaving incorrectly? Did someone come and tell them, hey dudes, microphones back on, or get the breathalizer or get the handcuffs out and put him in the car for booking and a citation?

No, what you have are the higher ranking individuals writing faulty reports that fly in the face of reality and those even higher, pretending they didn't have a clue that a police chief who was a "heavy drinker" could possibly be intoxicated even given the physical signs that were deftly picked up by two relatively inexperienced patrol officers.

So it's hard to look at them and analyze their actions as visceral as the response they elicit when you watch them, without looking at the larger picture.

Because who told them to arrest Leach and put him in the paddy wagon as a DUI? Who cited him and who told him he would have to appear in court for a DUI arraignment?


Why Did the City and Department Submit a Copy of Orta's Report Without Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel's Signature to the Public?

[This is a page taken from Orta's handwritten report. As you can see, there's no "reviewer's" signature next to his own which is the case on all five pages of it. Esquivel told CHP investigators that he signed it upon advisement of DeLaRosa and City Attorney Gregory Priamos (who allegedly told city government no alcohol was involved) but why was that copy of the report withheld from the media and the public?]

What's interesting about this report goes beyond proving that there was indeed a conspiracy (not the tin foil kind but the planning of more than one party in the commission of a crime or administrative violation) involved in trying to cover up the Leach incident from the public. What's interesting is that both the city and department tried to foist it onto the public as they had inside the department as an accurate reflection of what had happened at the same time patting themselves for their "transparency" (never mind that the complete CAD sheet including the entire CAD record of the traffic stop involving Leach has never been released).

Orta in his statement said that he had suspected Leach of being potentially DUI which wouldn't be surprising considering how inebriated Leach was and Orta being an expert on DUI evaluations himself. Orta even said that he told DeLaRosa about how he would handle it if it had been a mere mortal behind the wheel. DeLaRosa denies in his own statement that any officer would have mentioned "intoxication" to him, interesting indeed given that he spoke to Miller, Orta and even Leach on the phone along with Phillips. Then Orta writes a report that's complete fiction, a report that went unsigned by his immediate supervisor, Phillips, but as the public found out later, it didn't remain unsigned.

But what's fascinating about the written account of the Leach incident is that when the Press Enterprise submitted a CPRA request for the written police report, it and the public too received one from the city that lacked a signature from any supervisor. It had been rumored that Esquivel had signed the original report but when questions were raised by this blogger to individuals at City Hall why there was a disparity in the reports, none was provided. City Hall patted itself for not fighting the release of a public document by claiming it was releasing the report to be transparent but kept a very important part of that public record...confidential. So no, the city was hardly transparent in this process if such an important piece of information such as the signature of a supervisor (especially one in management) was excluded Why did the city not release a copy of the report to the media and public that was an honest representation of a dishonest report?

Of course this begs some inevitable questions:

1) Why did the third highest ranking employee in the police department sign the report and not say, the watch commander?

2) Why would anyone in management sign a hand written report with no date or time stamp on it?

3)Why would any management personnel sign such a faulty and suspicious report in the first place? Why would they sign it if they had misgivings about it?

4) Why would the City Attorney's office need to approve and sign off on the police report?

These are just some questions and then below, there's one that's looming larger in the past day or so. But then questions have never been in short supply in this city except the ones which receive answers.

Why did City Attorney Gregory Priamos Sign Off On Bogus Report?

[City Attorney Gregory Priamos (center) signed off and gave his legal stamp of approval to the handwritten report submitted by Orta on the Leach "traffic collision" to be filed away.]

Another blogger said that Priamos should do the right thing and sue rabble rousers or something like that. Well okay then, but first he should provide some assistance by answering the burning question of why he or his office signed off on the obviously deficient and very inaccurate handwritten report submitted by Orta? At least that's what DeLaRosa told Esquivel that he did and if that's the case, then Priamos should be answering the question of why he authorized on this report being signed off. His employers, the city council and mayor, will of course never ask him anything let alone to answer such a disturbing question. And this question among others will remain unanswered until the city has a legislative body that is fully accountable to the public and one that ensures that its direct employees like the city attorney are as well.

Because in his interview with CHP investigators, now-retired Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel said that he had struggled with whether to sign the report which is a pretty indication if that's the case that he knew for some reason that it was highly suspect. So he said he went to DeLaRosa who told him it was okay to sign it because the city attorney's office had reviewed it. Which is fascinating because it makes one wonder if one did a statistical study on how many officer criminal or incident reports were submitted to the city attorney before being signed by supervisors, what the results of such a study would reveal.

And if you did a study on how many police reports were signed by deputy chiefs in a police department...oh never mind.

Management "seriously deficient" states Hudson Probe

City Manager Brad Hudson issues his own report clearly not wanting to be upstaged by the CHP, the final statement in his own internal probe of the department (if not his office or City Hall). He also confirms for those who don't know that Orta has retired and that Phillips has been assigned to the Orange Street station in Personnel and Training which does happen to have a vacancy on the Personnel side since Lt. Gary Leach was pulled out of there and apparently against his will transferred to the day watch command vacated by a recently retired lieutenant. The reason was allegedly due to staffing shortages in the lieutenant's field ranks though Leach had allegedly lost a grievance filed against him by a sergeant not long before his transfer.

Trask, who's currently employed by the city's favorite law firm, Best, Best and Krieger denied any cover up was involved although being contracted by the city management which places itself at the top of the chain of command in the police department, understandably his scope of investigation in this matter was somewhat reduced. Of course there was no cover up because that was stopped in its tracks at least in the department's upper management but that can't be said about City Hall with both Hudson and his hired help, Trask serving as gate keepers of sorts of what and who is to be investigated.

This leads of course to the next question which begs to be asked below...

Why is Hudson Indicting the Same Police Management House He Helped Build?

[The highest level of police management implicated in both the CHP's investigation as well as Hudson's internal probe for mismanagement of the Feb. 8 DUI incident involving Leach. Hudson defended his decision to place him at the helm of the troubled department as the best choice even as DeLaRosa awaits anticipated disciplinary action.]

Hudson often intentionally or not injects some humor even in his most serious comments or speeches and this time, he said in all seriousness that the city has retained an acting chief at the helm of the police department who's the best for the position even though this individual has engaged in misconduct implicated by both the CHP investigation and Hudson's own probe which would be enough for a demotion to lieutenant and even separation. One of the hardest parts of trying to explain to city residents is why DeLaRosa has been retained as chief even in the face of his involvement in the attempted cover up of the Leach incident. People are just like what are Hudson and the folks at City Hall smoking anyway? It just seems illogical on its face. People look at this situation and seriously think the department's a joke at this point which might not be fair but it's just bizarre how this situation's played out since Day One and it just get worse over time instead of better.

Maybe the total of two council members including one voted out of office should go back and rethink their glowing endorsement of Hudson who might bring tons of heavily borrowed against capital to the downtown but when it comes to micromanaging the police department, he's done a considerable amount of damage in only five years. And was left to investigate a scandal whose origins lead back to different doors including his own.

And it is until you consider what Hudson's really doing and that's indicting the current management of the police department in 20 words or less.

Is it appropriate to have DeLaRosa in this position? Absolutely not and the reason is because the chief, acting, interim or permanent has the power to hire, promote, fire and...transfer. Keeping DeLaRosa at the helm allows him to make decisions, good or bad, about the fates of the officers involved in the same investigated incident that he participated in. Take Phillips for example, who was abruptly transferred out of the watch command to a "special assignment" in personnel and training which recently lost its lieutenant to the watch command division. Now, it's just human nature and some might call it common sense or even pointing out the obvious, to wonder if Phillips is being sent to this division to punish him or to reward him (considering it's a "special" assignment). "Special assignments" generally are given to people who compete for them, desire them or bite the bullet to take ones they might loathe to help their own career trajectories. The reason why these questions are asked about Phillips' status of transfer is because it's impossible to examine it any other way than through the filter that they were both involved, investigated and implicated for misconduct in the same incident.

Any competent management personnel would realize that having DeLaRosa make any type of decisions about Phillips is highly inappropriate and just fosters distrust in the process surrounding him. And unfortunately there's apparently enough distrust of process surrounding DeLaRosa's position as acting chief in the face of the results of these investigations confirming what most people knew, already.

But putting a lieutenant facing possible demotion in a "special assignment" that other lieutenants compete for and one was recently booted out of to fill a watch command vacancy. It's really hard to analyze that ridiculous situation with a straight face. And people are already criticizing having an officer about to be disciplined for misconduct in Leach's incident even placed in the Personnel and Training Division under Capt. Mike Blakely for the purpose of training officers whether that would be his actual assignment or not.

Still, you have to examine the issue of whether or not Hudson's saying that there's no one else that's competent to run the police department for several months or even several weeks inside the police department even though one member of management put in for the chief's job and made it all the way to the finals. If that's the case, then he's got to blame himself in part for that given his documented role in helping to build that very same management staff that he's now discrediting through his comments. After all, he was at one point apparently leaving the promotional process up to one or more city council members including one current official who had his fingers involved in no less than three promotions into upper management. So it's more than just a little disingenuous for Hudson to indict the management staff because whether it's true or not, he's condemning what he essentially played a substantial role in building since he first arrived in June 2005.

And as for the city officials who back him without question and praise him publicly, remember this fact. The city council voted to pay a huge settlement to two former lieutenants who filed lawsuits alleging among other things that City Hall personnel were involved in the promotional process at its highest level, for their lawsuit and them to go away. In hopes that Riverside's city residents would be denied learning the truth and the city would spend their tax monies to do so.

Fortunately as you will see in upcoming weeks, City Hall was not successful in this endeavor.

But one of the first tasks of any chief and one to show that he or she is truly autonomous is how the promotional process involving upper management positions will be handled. The vacancy rate at this level is fairly high at four and that number could always increase in the next six months or so due to attrition and retirements. At some point, one or more position will be filled and the new chief has to take the steps to reinvent that promotional process given how corrupted it's become in the past five years, in ways which will be examined and explained in future blog postings. The end results of decisions made by city management and even city council members of the disruption of the promotions at this level have led to an deeply fractured and insecure management team where collaboration appears to be a four-letter word and finding new places to stick stilettos appears to be the substitute for good communication and inter-relational skills.

But then Shakespeare were still hanging around, he would have a field day writing about the creation of the department's upper echelon of power. Where advancement isn't determined by leadership and management skills but on engaging in relentless lobbying and some say, ruthless tactics to get to the top of the ladder. Okay, maybe that's the norm of some Fortune 500 companies but it's disruptive and destructive as has been shown, an interesting study in social psychology dynamics perhaps but what's been proven especially in the last tumultuous months, is how shaky the foundation is that upon it, sits the Riverside Police Department.

Not that it's not interesting to read about reconciliation dinners in Corona between city council members and captain candidates who may have wronged them and disgusting to read about promotions being vetoed after being handed out as happened in one case. Or the puppeteer who controls them all like marionettes even those who outrank him.

But this is not what the city residents expect from the leadership of the police department. And hopefully this isn't what any new chief will expect or accept either.

But given Hudson's history of micromanagement including of the creation of the same management he just indicted through his endorsement of DeLaRosa, the odds against a chief just saying no to the past pattern and practice of building a management team are still very long indeed.

Prior Incidents Involving Leach?

Orta in his interview actually mentioned a prior incident involving Leach being given a ride home while intoxicated from somewhere in San Bernardino County by a captain who received a phone call from an inebriated Leach in the wee hours of the morning. This is the infamous Victorville incident and there were actually witnesses to this event in the vicinity of where Leach was picked up, including one who spoke with me about it. Allegations were also made that attempts to get Leach to go to rehab for his drinking were made by everyone from Hudson to former Councilman Dom Betro whose comments about Leach in the article about Hudson's five years with the city were interestingly cryptic. And experts do say that the best way to show an individual with a drinking addiction that you're in their corner is to kick them in the ass and get them to face their addiction rather than enable it, but most people do the latter all the way to the grave and apparently many did enable in Leach's case.

The captain involved in this Victorville incident was apparently promoted not long after.

Got Pressure?

[Capt. Meredyth Meredith, who directly supervises Lt. Leon Phillips was apparently given the task by Capt. Mike Blakely of recommending the discipline he'll receive in relation to sustained misconduct in the Feb. 8 incident. Having already survived the promotional process to captain from Hell courtesy of a current city councilman up for reelection next year, is this captain up to the task?]

Chief Interviews Held Today In Total Secrecy

The panel of community members, labor officials and policing experts will meet today in an undisclosed location to interview at least five finalists for the chief's position. Confirmed in this round include Police Captain John Wallace and Former Asst. Chief Mike Smith is heavily rumored to be the favorite candidate in this process even before it really got started. Others mentioned as applying are a high-ranking individual from the Los Angeles Police Department and Riverside County Sheriff's Department Perris Capt. James McElvain. Soon to be retiring Undersheriff Valerie Hill was lobbied to apply for the position but declined. Smith was allegedly recruited by two of the panelist from the police department and finally decided to apply at the last minute.

Rumors have been flurrying in all kinds of places that the panel's role in this process is for show and that the candidate has already been picked to fill the position with Smith's name coming up the most often as the choice. It's not hard for this sentiment to arise given that if it happened, it would mirror the hiring process of...Hudson himself who was hired completely outside the established and costly recruitment and hiring process (using the very same headhunting firm used in this case, again on the mayor's recommendation).

Also in the running is California Highway Patrol Capt. Jeffrey Talbott who it's rumored threatened to file civil litigation against the city after one of the city council member's legislative aide informed him at a social gathering that he hadn't made the finals.

Never a dull moment...

Wife of former councilman pleads guilty to crimes.

Unlike most people and being a pedestrian, I support cross-walk stings.

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