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

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

CHP Report Implicates DeLaRosa, Phillips in Handling of Leach DUI Incident

UPDATE: City Manager Brad Hudson releases updated report on the 2500 page internal probe.

---Best, Best and Krieger Attorney Grover Trask: No evidence of cover up just "tragically deficient decisions by police management."

Hudson: "Individuals responsible for these failures are being held accountable."


"I knew right away, I'm like, 'This is a political mess,' "

---Officer Grant Linhart, to CHP investigators about Leach DUI and clearly knowing the score about different standards for DUI enforcement despite less than three years employment by the RPD.

"Well, if it wasn't the chief, if it was anybody else, I'd arrest him and store the vehicle."

---Former Sgt. Frank Orta, to investigators who also seemed to be aware of the double standard probably including when he engaged in creative report writing.

"I said, 'I trust your judgment,' and that was it."

----Acting Police Chief John DeLaRosa who apparently never heard the Harry S. Truman adage, "the bucks stops here".

[The car involved in the incident that generated so many questions while it sits hidden away in a storage facility at Magnolia Police Center.]

The California Highway Patrol's investigative report on the Feb. 8 DUI incident involving former Chief Russ Leach was finally released after having allegedly been withheld by the Riverside County District Attorney's office upon request by City Hall. It does present some kind of portrait of events but raises even more questions than it does answers because of what appears to be some obvious contradictory statements among the parties involved and later interviewed as well as written documentation of the "traffic collision" turned DUI crime.

DUI Recognition 101

Should Rookie Officers be the Teachers and Management the Students?

The report's conclusion confirms what many Riversiders figured out a long time ago that the decision made to not investigate Leach for DUI was not made by patrol officers Jeremy Miller and Grant Linhart at the scene not even their immediate supervisor, Sgt. Frank Orta, three individuals vilified over this incident. Instead the decisions on how to handle the Leach incident were made by personnel who were higher up on the department's command structure. And that earlier indications that the officers statements would contradict each other appear to have born out as the statements of the patrol officers and Orta contradict with those of the higher ranking, Lt. Leon Phillips and Asst. (now acting) Chief John DeLaRosa. Phillips denied suspecting Leach was drinking until he was driving home while DeLaRosa said as far as he could recall, no one had mentioned Leach's intoxication to him.

Which is in sharp contrast to the two relatively inexperienced officers who believed from their first contact with Leach that he might be drunk, as assertion also reached by Orta when he arrived. So how is it then that two relatively inexperienced officers could note signs of the police chief probably being a DUI yet Phillips with his wealth of experience didn't realize Leach might be drunk until he drove him home san a DUI evaluation? Not to mention that Phillips was on the captain's list while apparently lacking the basic skills that his patrol officers showed in recognizing "objective" signs of a DUI in an individual who had bloodshot eyes, had been unsteady, who had been engaging in repetitive speech, who had no idea where he was and who apparently had lost control of his elimination functions soiling his clothes. Leach wasn't a borderline DUI, he had an extrapolated blood alcohol when he left Club 215 after his seven "doubles" of 0.29 and an estimated value of 0.22 when he was stopped according to the CHP report.

So Miller and Linhart can recognize a DUI and so can Orta and these individuals really have little reason to lie given that they are the lower ranking officers involved in the situation. And it's reasonable to expect that the more senior officers including those at the management level would be able to more quickly recognize a DUI than those with lesser experience. And according to this dash cam video from ABC, Leach clearly wasn't steady on his feet.

Yet the senior officer at the scene, Phillips was clueless that Leach might be drunk enough to at least do a DUI evaluation. He couldn't do the evaluation but he took Leach home rather than allow Leach to work out his own transportation. After all, if he were legally stone cold sober, he could certainly find his own way home even without a car to drive.

It's clear that the officers at the bottom and Orta realized the implications of busting the boss for criminal conduct given comments they made about the situation afterward and to investigators. Linhart knew it was enough of a career and political hot potato to warn another officer away, Orta warned DeLaRosa not to make things difficult for him and Phillips withdrew his name from the captain's list clearly guessing that trouble lay ahead.

But Orta said that he had discussed the situation with DeLaRosa which included a contrast between how he would arrest and impound the car in one case as long as it wasn't the police
chief. It's clear that in that context that Orta's comparison involved the discussion of a double standard that would exist between how a police chief would be treated in a DUI situation compared to an ordinary person. It's also clear that if what Orta said is true, then DeLaRosa should have known that alcohol was involved despite his protests in his own statement to CHP investigators that intoxication was never mentioned.

The only conclusion that can be reached here besides the obvious is that perhaps the rookie officers like Miller and Linhart should be teaching DUI recognition skills to the department's management personnel who seem to be totally in the dark about what a person who's roaring drunk looks like. Because those who supervised them, outranked them and pulled in larger paychecks them act in their versions of events like they had no clue at all.

Of course, for those who buy that, there's some beach property up for sale in Idaho for you to buy...but what throws a kink in the idea that the higher ranking officers didn't know what happeend comes to you in writing, in the form of Orta's report which essentially proves that some form of conspiracy (no, not the tin foil kind, the kind where two or more people get together to discuss or plan the commission of criminal conduct). Because it's very believable that the officers saw the signs of DUI and it's likely that their immediate supervisor who they called specifically to assist them with a probable DUI involving their boss would come to the same conclusions but it's above Orta that the situation gets murkier and yet also clearer. Orta's report is one major reason why.

No DUI Mentioned In the Police Incident Report by Orta

[The page of Orta's handwritten report that includes Orta's disposition that the accident was to be filed away as a traffic collision, with no mention of any suspicions of a DUI. ]

Orta's statements of suspecting Leach of having been drinking contrast greatly with the police report that he had written on the incident which hardly mentioned drinking at all, let alone included any information about a DUI evaluation being done, including information provided by the two patrol officers which should have been included in the report. If Orta so strongly believed that Leach had been drunk when he arrived to supervise the officers, then why doesn't his report reflect that? Why doesn't his report written hours later include any mention of the probability of DUI or even DUI at all for that matter? That glaring omission and Orta's assertion that the incident was a mere traffic collision provides a major clue that during the process of this incident that Orta was given instructions by someone else there to treat it as anything but. Orta gets the call for supervision from his patrol officers and the court recognized DUI expert arrives onscene and at some point talks to DeLaRosa about how he would handle the case...if it weren't the police chief which would be to arrest them and to impound the car for towing and storage. So if Orta is providing a compare and contrast scenario for DeLaRosa, then yes, Virginia it's a given that intoxication involving the police chief had to have reached DeLaRosa's ears and thus he did know about it.

So who exactly wrote this police report in the first place? Officially, that was clearly Orta but why would he produce a work product (literally) in writing that contradicted the statements he provided to CHP investigators? When and more importantly how did Orta's "immediate" suspicions that Leach was drunk become instead a report about a relatively innocuous "traffic collision" where "drinking" is mentioned in passing and no DUI investigation was conducted? But it's clear that if Orta told the CHP investigators that he knew that Leach was DUI and he knew that there's a different standard for Leach's handling compared with the mere mortals in this city who get caught driving drunk, then this report is pretty much pure fabrication and there was full knowledge by Orta and probably those above him that this was the case. And that there was some planning as part of the cover up to write a report that's essentially false, which just happens to be a crime. But then covering up criminal conduct and obstructing any investigation of it is also a crime for most individuals anyway.

But not for police management personnel in Riverside.

Political Hot Potato Alert

As noted earlier, the two responding patrol officers Jeremy Miller and Grant Linhart had performed an initial evaluation on Leach's sobriety noting "objective" signs including bloodshot eyes, disorientation, repetitive speech and then called for their supervisor, Sgt. Frank Orta who is a court recognized DUI expert. Not surprisingly, he noticed that Leach was drunk too. Both the patrol officers and Orta clearly knew the political hot potato that had been tossed their way, with Orta saying how he could handle the situation as a proper DUI stop if it were someone else besides his boss. Linhart made comments about what a "political mess" it would be and had warned the colleague who had responded not to get involved. Both officers had told the investigators that they felt conflicted between pursuing their suspicions of the chief being a DUI and having to bust their boss. So they did what other officers have done in cases like these which is call for the supervisor to take care of him which is what other officers have done in cases like these for different law enforcement agencies.

Orta knows it's bad news because he goes and tells DeLaRosa not to make trouble for him because he's close to retirement. Did he participate in this conspiracy to cover up for Leach because he was set to retire soon and didn't want anyone to jeopardize his retirement? Phillips as it turned out was on the captain's list less than two years after his July 2008 promotion to lieutenant to replace a retiring Lt. Ken Carpenter. His statements of not guessing that Leach was drunk until driving him home are highly suspect. If the subordinates at the scene including two relatively newly hired officers would recognize the signs of DUI on their boss as quickly as they recognize who the identity of the inebriated driver they had stopped, then why couldn't he? It's just impossible for the average person to swallow that Phillips really had been that clueless. He's clearly protecting himself and he's clearly protecting someone else as well, his supervisor that night, DeLaRosa. Which is really loyal of him but if he's read the CHP report by now which he probably is, he must realize that his loyalty towards someone who's above him in the chain of command like DeLaRosa was clearly not returned.

In fact just from the little that was detailed in the news article, there's more than just hints that DeLaRosa threw him under the bus. The officers say he's drunk, call supervision because this is a political hot potato. Orta arrives and say, he's drunk but there's how I would treat the average person and how the chief would be treated. Phillips throws up his hands and says, hey I didn't even guess he might look drunk until he was in the seat of my car and I drove him home. And DeLaRosa, the highest ranking officer involved who wasn't drunk says, hey I wasn't there, I was clueless and it's [pointing index finger]...Leon's fault. And Leon's probably thinking, hey wait a minute boss...I've been the loyal underling and you're throwing me under the bus as the patsy in this whole mess. And in this case, Leon would be correct because it's clear to the average person that this situation must have been DeLaRosa's call and the CHP appears to have reached that same conclusion in its report. Both men should have realized that a DUI might have been involved and both handled it inappropriately in a way that nearly protected Leach from prosecution for the crime of DUI which he later plead guilty to through an attorney at his arraignment.

Clearly not realizing that night that at least from the police department's end, the buck stops with him, part and parcel of being the police chief's second highest ranking employee. And DeLaRosa hurt his own cause by making statements about Leach being a "heavy drinker" and yet having no idea that intoxication could be involved in an accident involving Leach at 3 a.m. in the morning and he also leaves it to Leach to notify the city manager's office about the incident when that procedure of notification does allow both the assistant chief and deputy chiefs to themselves notify the city management of any incidents involving "high profile" individuals. If DeLaRosa were truly as clueless as he claimed about the DUI incident when it happened, he certainly knew hours later at work and yet he never notified the city management leaving Mayor Ron Loveridge's office (after it was tipped off by a female caller) to fulfill that responsibility.

He never initiated a DUI investigation against his boss by the department either but instead farmed it out to the CHP just at the time the phone lines were burning up at City Hall and the department by inquiring media outlets tipped off about the Leach incident.

Here are some of the highlights in the summary of events described in the Press Enterprise article and it's clear that even in this brief volume of information that there's some serious problems with this version of events.


In separate interviews, Linhart, Miller and their immediate supervisor, Sgt. Frank Orta, told the CHP that it was obvious to them, almost immediately, that Leach had been drinking. His speech was repetitive and disoriented; he didn't seem to know where he was.

"Well, if it wasn't the chief, if it was anybody else, I'd arrest him and store the vehicle," Orta said he told De La Rosa over the phone just after arriving on scene.

Phillips told investigators that it was not until he was driving Leach home that he began to believe the chief may have been drunk. And De La Rosa said that, as far as he could recall, intoxication was never mentioned to him.

De La Rosa, the assistant chief at the time, did not leave home to assess the scene personally. He briefly spoke over the phone to Leach, Miller and Orta, and traded several calls with Phillips, with whom he said he left the ultimate decision.

"I said, 'I trust your judgment,' and that was it," De La Rosa said.

Later that morning, however, the ramifications of what had occurred were clear. Phillips immediately sent an e-mail to then-Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel, removing his name from consideration for a promotion to captain.

And Orta told De La Rosa that with eight months until his retirement, he didn't want any trouble.

De La Rosa said that he told Leach, whom he identified as a heavy drinker, to come clean to City Hall about what had transpired.

"I felt at that point he should have already reported what ... had occurred to (the city manager's office)," he told investigators, "and you know (I was) just irritated with him in general, just for the circumstances."

All of what has been written here in this analysis is pretty self-explanatory from the excerpts published by the Press Enterprise. It's hard not to get more disgusted the further this situation goes in its evolution from pure fabrication to maybe some semblance of truth. But while the narrative provided by the newspaper gleaned from over 500 pages of criminal investigation material, the truth is still as X-Files character, Fox Muldur might say, still out there...somewhere.

The hardest part of this for many people is the damage to public trust that this episode has created in city residents, but harder than that is the realization for people that working hard to reform the pattern and practices of a department that's come a long way in 10 years means little if those in the decision making positions at its top echelon along with those who fill the top positions at City Hall aren't serious themselves and in fact, treat the whole process that's lasted more than a decade as a joke. Because for the city residents and maybe for quite a few employees of the department, the joke has been on us this entire time. Because while pushing for improved staffing, accountability, resources and promoting the philosophy of community policing has been important for most of those invested in improving the police department, there's been others at City Hall and at the higher ranks of the police department who have used the agency, its personnel and resources for their own often personal and very much political purposes.

This includes using the department of equipment for personal use including one very questionable financial transaction of sale which will be discussed in a future posting and for turning the promotional system certainly at the top of the management ladder into promotions for barter, sale and trade. If Phillips had been using this Leach incident to get himself promoted (and there's not really any evidence so far that he did), it would almost be understandable if you really sit and think about how the employees at the captain's level and above have been promoted since 2005. More details of what exactly happened in many of the promotions involving the current command staff will be more fully detailed here in upcoming weeks and after reading them, a lot about what's happened in the department including this so-called Leach incident will be placed in its appropriate context and will make much more sense including that the troubling episode with the former chief wasn't an isolated or random event but the culmination of at least five years of willful misconduct including from City Hall. Even if individuals from City Hall didn't really know about Leach until later on or after they turned their city-issued phones back on, they certainly knew of the high potential for such an embarrassing scandal that spread across the nation.

Is Leon Phillips Going to be DeLaRosa's Fall Guy?

Phillips has been described by people in ways similar to Orta. Both are described as being ethical and moral but both are also described as officers who would readily obey any order that was given to them by superior officers. It has also been said by some that Phillips would jump on the bayonet for a superior officer if asked. And it appears from their explanations of why they didn't process the Leach traffic stop as a DUI evaluation that they are protecting themselves with DeLaRosa going further and shifting the blame to Phillips, essentially throwing him under the bus. Because Phillips is just again, saying that he didn't know which makes no sense given his experience as an officer for nearly 30 years including many contacts with people who were DUI should have taught him how to recognize the potential for a DUI in a person staggering around with no clue where he was enough to have an evaluation performed. Through his statement, he's protecting himself but also DeLaRosa. Too bad for Phillips that DeLaRosa clearly didn't reciprocate and in fact, appears to be blaming Phillips by saying, hey I left it up for him to decide because I "trust his judgment" even though I'm also saying that no one told me about the intoxication part of it which essentially gave me no reason for telling Phillips that I trusted his ability to make a discretionary call on criminal behavior but...."

Then DeLaRosa goes further and says he told Leach to come clean about the incident and how much it irritated him. But DeLaRosa has yet to come clean about his role in the incident even as public hangings were called for the two patrol officers and their sergeant and DeLaRosa never said that he himself reported Leach to his boss, City Manager Brad Hudson which as assistant chief, he had the authority to do under the city's procedure of notification. He does helpfully point out that he knew Leach was a "heavy drinker" which then hurts his own cause because if that's the case (and hey, at least someone in a position of power did admit Leach's binge drinking), then that would have given him less excuse to be clueless about the potential for Leach's behavior and the condition of his vehicle being related to a DUI incident.

So far no disciplinary action has been dealt out in this incident though recently, Orta took a medical retirement. Phillips was transferred by DeLaRosa to the Orange Street Station for what the acting chief called a "special assignment" but allegedly, it was done to humiliate Phillips before he was to be disciplined, possibly through demotion to sergeant. DeLaRosa told a roll call session on May 29 that the investigation against him has been completed and the case is sitting on a desk awaiting disposition. It's been said that DeLaRosa's anticipating a demotion to the captain's position which if the case, is no disciplinary action against him at all given that he currently holds the classified position of captain and the appointed non-classified title of assistant chief which is an at-will title. Hudson tried to change the status of the assistant chief to a classified position serving under the will of the city manager's office but that as everyone now knows didn't work out in his favor though contracts were signed with at least two high-ranking police management employees including DeLaRosa. Contracts the city now denies existed.

Phillips isn't alone at Orange Street to cool his heels while awaiting his punishment. Former Riverside Police Officers' Association President Det. Chris Lanzillo who filed a claim against the city that included allegations that DeLaRosa knew what was going on during the traffic stop is awaiting termination from the department by DeLaRosa who despite being now completely implicated by the CHP's investigation in the mishandling of Leach is still handing out discipline and "non-disciplinary" transfers from inside Orange Street Station as the department's current top cop. Only in Riverside?

And as always, more to come...

Eastside Think Tank Speaks Out

Not long after the Eastside Think Tank called on the city to suspend the process of hiring a new chief, another member of the Eastside Think Tank speaks out on the community panel that will be interviewing applicants later this week and the newspaper reported the rumors of former Assistant chief, Mike Smith (now chief of investigations at the San Bernardino County District Attorneys' office) being the front runner and some say preordained pick for the job. Actually, Smith allegedly applied for the position in the last few days of the application process after being lobbied by several police employees and is favored to be among the finalists interviewed this week. Any rumors associating him with an elected official were not about former Councilman Frank Schiavone but about another individual still currently on the dais. Smith's playing it close to the chest neither confirming or denying he applied, which of course pretty much indicates that he did. If he hadn't applied, he'd deny it and Riverside Police Officers' Association remains hopeful and says that calling the process a sham is unfair. He didn't mention whether or not he played any role as heavily rumored in the recruitment of Smith for the chief's position. But it appears that so far without opening his mouth for questions by this so-called interview panel, Smith might already carry two panelists' votes. Of course it remains to be seen and even if the panelists themselves view the process during or after the fact as a sham, they can't talk about it because they reportedly had to sign confidentiality agreements with Hudson.

One confirmed finalist for the interview session is the police department's only inside candidate, Capt. John Wallace. Interviews are set for June 3 in a top secret location. Others not confirmed for the finals include Smith, CHP Captain Jeff Talbott and a high ranking Los Angeles Police Department officer. Also applying was Capt. James McElvain from the Riverside County Sheriff's Department Perris Station but it's not known if he made the finals.

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