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

Saturday, June 19, 2010

City Council Members Go Sailing and City Management Acquires Guns

Five Riverside Council members participated in the second annual Regatta at Lake Evans inside Fairmount Park to raise money for the new sailing program there and for other charities. The race consisted of two laps around one of the two lakes and after a little warm up and the sounding of the horn, they were off!

The wind picked up and died periodically during the race so the boats either remained idle or cruised along. Occasionally a boat or two went off course, while the councilman frantically worked the rudder to try to inch the stubborn craft along, attracting some curious looks from the local water fowl.

Last year's champion, Councilman Paul Davis was out of town during this race and Councilwoman Nancy Hart opted to stay on dry land but the others competed mightily. After the grueling second lap was finished, Councilman Andrew Melendrez improved off of last year's race and won the regatta in good form and with a commanding lead. Councilman Chris MacArthur squeezed in for second in the final yards over Councilman Rusty Bailey who atoned for his last place finish last year. Then came Councilman Mike Gardner followed some time later by Councilman Steve Adams who at one point, it looked like he would need rescue.

There were no sightings of the dreaded Lake Evans serpent.

Over a 100 people cheered the race on and ate at the barbecue while listening to Beach Boys song music.

Here are some photos captured of the event:

[The award ceremony after the successful completion of the Regatta on Lake Evans]

[Councilman Mike Gardner getting out of his boat after the race and a fourth place finish. He had scraped his head on the boom during the race.]

[Regatta winner, Councilman Andrew Melendrez returns to the dock after his race.]

[Although Melendrez won the race handily, it took a few moments for him to get his land legs back and he almost took a dip.]

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein comments on the regatta.

Meanwhile Back in River City...

"We are going to a new world... and no doubt it is there that everything is for the best; for it must be admitted that one might lament a little over the physical and moral happenings of our own world."

---Voltaire, Candide

Recently, I was given the unenviable task of trying to explain all the events that have taken place in Riverside during the past few months. It's getting harder to do so without a rather intricately drawn flowchart and it might irritate some who think we bloggers are all supposed to sit around and play Pangloss in the midst of all these emerging scandals. For some of us, it might be harder to do that than for others.

But while it was difficult enough to know where to start this narrative of incidents that created the chain reaction which led the city where it is today, again in the national headlines for something embarrassing, it's even more difficult to see where it all might end. The point in time somewhere in the future when all the dominoes will stop falling and none will be left.

Somehow it doesn't appear that Riverside's quite there yet.

Anyway, one of the most interesting if disturbing elements of the recently reported shenanigans involving the handling of the police department's operations by certain individuals at City Hall surely must be the now infamous firearms sale. That would be the one that took place involving the police department as the illicit dealer and City Manager Brad Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis as its customers. Now the two men when they had first set foot in the Wild Wild West which is Riverside said that they had to get concealed and carry gun permits. DeSantis stated on his permit application that he needed the gun because he had to go into dangerous neighborhoods and attend sometimes hostile and volatile community meetings.

Some issues arose with their CCW permits right off the bat. Hudson's included his work address, that of City Hall, instead of his residential address and DeSantis included a residential address that was located in another city not Riverside.

In both cases, not in accordance with the regulations concerning the issuance of CCW permits. Hudson had to amend the address on his permit and DeSantis had to have his permit issued by then Police Chief Russ Leach revoked and a brand new one quickly issued by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department after the Press Enterprise got wind of it. Senior Assistant State Attorney General Gary Schons, addressed both issues in his June 11, 2007 letter to Leach asking the question which many others have, which was how could such an obvious reason for rejecting DeSantis' application been missed?

Maybe that was the first sign that something was seriously amiss with this whole guns and CCW permit deal. Because one would think that a police chief like Leach would, when reviewing an application for any potential disqualifiers that he would have looked at DeSantis' city of origin (which wasn't Riverside) and said, hey wait this is outside of my jurisdiction for issuing CCW permits.

But then again, maybe that's what he did.

At any rate, DeSantis had to get a new permit with the county and apparently that's what he had on his record when a woman in Hemet called 911 on him after he allegedly brandished a firearm at her and threatened her while wearing his city issued polo shirt. The woman also mentioned something about him carrying handcuffs and DeSantis denied owning a pair. But then again, he wouldn't need to own a pair, not when he and Hudson have been apparently trying to collect police equipment to deck themselves out in. Cold Plates, emergency police equipment for vehicles, badges and Glock guns had been among these items.

The badges and the cold plates were illegal according to state law and it's interesting how after passing the buck to others, the city management employees say that this behavior wasn't illegal because they weren't charged with any crimes. Well, if it were true that the badges and cold plates were in compliance with state law, then both men probably would have been able to keep their badges and their cold plates and play around with both of them. Instead, the State Attorney General's office provided them with the opportunity to "fix it" to their criminal violations and it's not clear whether this remedy for avoiding criminal charges is applied to everyone else in this situation or just reserved for certain "high profile" people who were afforded the same special treatment they had made public statements prohibiting for other people including the city's former police chief.

Law Enforcement Agency or Gun Dealership?

What the City Government Paid to Keep Away from a Jury

[Riverside Police Department's administrative headquarters on Orange Street in downtown Riverside, the setting of a very questionable firearms transaction involving the police department and two city management employees.]

However, if the situation involving the badges, cold plates and emergency equipment wasn't enough, then came news that the State Attorney General's office had decided to investigate the department and city for potential illegal activities involving a gun sale that took place between city employees working for two different city departments. The state's highest law enforcement/prosecutory agency was concerned that laws might have been broken in the process and that the police department might have been placed in the position of serving as an illegal weapons dealer to two city management employees.

Ironically, in the beginning it hadn't looked like a sales transaction had taken place at all, more like a giveaway because somehow the two city management employees had just acquired these police guns. But in the process, some documents came to the attention of individuals who saw some improprieties on several documents. What had happened is that Hudson and DeSantis had gone to the firing range to participate in a firearms safety course they needed to take to qualify for carrying guns on their persons. At the range, the employee in charge had checked them out each a Glock with a model type and a serial number attached to it.

But some time later, when records checks were conducted on the CCW permit status of both men, something highly suspicious appeared on those records and that was that the weapons they purportedly had owned had the same information right down to the serial numbers of the Glocks which had been checked out to them by the department's shooting range employee while they had been taking the firearm course.

How could that be? How did these two city management employees wind up "owning" guns that had been the property of the police department?

[This is the document detailing City Manager Brad Hudson's completion of a firearms safety course before getting his conceal and carry permit from the Riverside Police Department. On it, you'll notice a serial number for a Glock used that was checked out by Hudson from the police department's shooting range for use in the training. These pictures aren't very clear so clicking on them makes them look better.]

[This is another document showing Hudson's status with his permit record. This is page two which shows his record of gun ownership and if you compare the two documents, the serial number for the two Glocks listed, the one he checked out and the one he claimed ownership of here are identical, meaning they're the same gun. There are also similar trends noted in similar documents involving Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis who would up "owning" the gun that had been checked out to him as well.]

There were some inquiries made and at some point, some sort of sales transaction was produced in an attempt to put those suspicions to rest so that life could go on as normal for the two gun-toting city management employees. But alas, the sales transaction itself began shooting up red flags all over the place. Not to mention questions about whether or not it was even a legal sales transaction at all.

Because though Hudson and DeSantis were the buyers, the vendor appeared to be the city's police department which wasn't legally licensed to sell guns and the "private party" (as noted on the transaction form) appeared to be a sergeant named Cliff Mason. These and other issues became the focal points of concern raised by the State Attorney General's office out of San Diego.

Schons and Leach engaged in exchanging letters between them while Schons investigated this situation. It's not clear whether Schons ever interviewed any of the parties or witnesses involved including the two individuals, Fred Haller and Mason who were both mentioned in the documentation of the firearms sale. Haller was on the purchase order to the city's Finance Department as the "requester" of the acquisition of the equipment, with his reason being that it was for "inventory per Mason" which is interesting given that another form listed the transaction as a "private party" sale. That makes it appear that rather than purchasing these particular items for "inventory" purposes, they are being purchased on behalf of "private parties" such as Hudson and DeSantis.

Interviewing these individuals and perhaps others including Leach, Hudson and DeSantis would have enabled these parties to explain in their own words closer to when this all transpired exactly what they perceived was happening and why it happened the way that it did. Why these two men who both earn generous salaries would have to be given guns as it appeared at least initially that a paper trail for any sales transaction was somewhat lacking.

Leach acted in the initial letter that he wrote in response to Schons telling him that an "inquiry" had been conducted which makes one ask, did that mean he was entirely clueless that the agency he was heading had been involved in a highly questionable and possibly illegal firearms transaction? Was it really news to him at the time he started hearing about it from the State Attorney General's office or like in the case of the cold plates situation did he already know and was this another case when his bosses overstepped their authoritative bounds?

[The first letter from the State Attorney General's criminal division asking for an explanation as to how Hudson and DeSantis were shown as owning guns they had "borrowed" from the police department for firearm safety training.]

It's pretty clear from the sales records provided for the weapon purchases for DeSantis and Hudson that the police department was the vendor of these sales. Initially Leach explained it as saying it had been legal because the department had only been conducting less than six guns sold each year so it qualified under an exemption in state law.

Schons didn't appeared very much moved by that excuse and he raised more questions in his letter, which Leach then responded to by saying that the weapons in question had been confiscated from Hudson and DeSantis and then the sale a "legal sale" was conducted through a local dealer, Centerfire Firearms in January 2006. But one really has to ask, why would it be necessary to seize back weapons which were clearly purchased by the police department from a vendor in San Jose to give or sell to Hudson and DeSantis? Why weren't the appropriate laws abode by in the first place so that the initial illicit transaction wouldn't have to be essentially laundered later on? Why didn't these individuals care enough about obeying the laws to handle the firearms transaction in an appropriate and legal manner from the start?

That clearly didn't happen since Leach had to respond to several letters of inquiries from Schons who asked questions about why the department was selling guns and why one of its employees had participated in that sale. Leach answered some of the questions but one he didn't really answer is why it had been done improperly in the first place, who caught them doing it and why they had to redo the sale and then why after that, was Leach acting as if were as surprising to him as it had been to Schons. So many questions but per usual not much in the way of answers except to dodge responsibility for the issue at hand, in this case the guns transaction which had been the focal point of an outside investigation.

[A page from the sales transaction involving guns and paraphernalia for both city management employees that clearly states on the upper right hand corner what city department is to be billed for the transaction, which is the police department.]

In July 2007, Schons did finally write Leach a letter dropping the situation but essentially Leach had done what DeSantis and Hudson had done so much already which was to pass the buck. It's a bit disconcerting that his first letter makes it appear as if he had no idea what was going on involving gun acquisitions by his bosses in his own department. And why like in the situation involving the badges and cold plates was a cleanup done, and would other people in this situation who didn't enjoy their status in the municipal pecking order had been afforded the same treatment as they received from Schons' office?

Three legal violations that the State Attorney General's office had to investigate and all three times, the parties investigated claimed they had no idea about the law, either before or after, they conveniently laid the blame for these violations on subordinate employees. But so-called ignorance of the law has never been a viable excuse for most people who in the scheme of things are mere mortals.

So what was Hudson saying about no one in Riverside's halls of power getting special treatment?

After this embarrassing episode, many people were left thinking that before making statements like that and about equal protection and treatment under the law, people like Hudson and DeSantis need to examine their own receipt of special treatment to ensure that they apply the same rigid standard of expectations to themselves.

Because three times there's been evidence provided that they tried to acquire the tools that they believed would grant them special privileges even among those their own positions afforded and three times, they were investigated by the State Attorney General's office, which is just three too many times. They act that after they've been pretty much pressured into compliance with the laws, what the fuss is about and how they didn't do anything wrong. But more people (certainly more than 50) are having trouble believing that. But despite that their actions were called into question to be investigated, and violations were found to have taken place that had to be fixed and maybe who they were provided them with the privilege of being able to do just that.

But what they never answered, was why these violations were committed in the first place, instead of doing things legally?

And except perhaps for the guns, they weren't really allowed to keep their toys.

One Councilman's Response to Cold Plates

[The license plate on Councilman Mike Gardner's Segway.]

Lt. Leon Phillips Skelly Hearing

Coming up is the Skelly hearing for Lt. Leon Phillips who was terminated by the city for his involvement in the mishandling of the Feb. 8 incident involving Leach. It had been scheduled earlier but had been postponed for several weeks. It's not clear at this point whether Phillips termination will actually be finalized or whether he'll receive lesser disciplinary action such as a demotion to sergeant.

Sources say that he's in good spirits and that as a man of strong faith, he will be fine with whatever happens.

Unlike with the case of Acting Chief John DeLaRosa, Phillips wasn't given a retirement option. DeLaRosa announced his July 23 retirement on the same day Hudson selected the city's next police chief, Sergio Diaz. It's alleged that Hudson issued him a notice of intent to terminate on the same day that Phillips and another employee, Det. Chris Lanzillo received their own notices of termination.

Lanzillo was terminated within 15 minutes of the ending of his Skelly hearing several weeks ago. Unlike Phillips, Lanzillo wasn't able to have his request for a postponement of his own Skelly hearing and his hearing was conducted by DeLaRosa, the same employee that had been listed as a defendant in Lanzillo's initial claim for damages and federal lawsuit. His attorney had requested to Hudson that someone besides DeLaRosa conduct the Skelly hearing due to a conflict of interest and Hudson denied that request.

The internal investigation was initially investigated against Lanzillo not long after he had confronted DeLaRosa in a roll call that DeLaRosa had visited and said he wouldn't support him.

The investigation was allegedly moved to the top of the priority list for internal investigations the day after Lanzillo's claim and his allegations about DeLaRosa hit the Press Enterprise.

In related news, I was asked about how many police retirements have been given out recently because people seem to notice that they've been given out seemingly like candy lately. Are they right, well that's a subject of debate but here's a list of some of them this year so far:

Former Chief Russ Leach

Former Asst. Chief (and Acting) John DeLaRosa (July 23)

Former Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel

Former Sgt. Frank Orta

Former Lt. Tim Bacon

Former Lt. Darryl Hurt

Believe it or not, that's actually about 1.5% of the sworn division of the police department. And the year's still young so who knows what will happen?

Riverside's Parkview Hospital faces its future.

Grand Terrace's council members are considering paycuts.

Public Meetings

Tuesday, June 22 at 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The Riverside City Council will meet to discuss this agenda.

Wednesday, June 23 at 2 p.m. Public meeting for Community Police Review Commission to argue over this agenda. This policy recommendation addressing intentional omissions of information from police reports will be discussed and voted upon. What still remains undecided for the fracticious and fractured commission is when they will hold their special meeting to you know, decide when to hold meetings. The commission is split nearly in half about whether they want to hold them at a time when city residents can actually attend them.

Riverside County Superior Court Unveils New Fees to Gouge Public

Not long after deciding to eliminate their monthly furloughs, the courts come up with more ways for the public to balance its budget, by charging fees not just to access documents and court records online but also to pay just for searching for names. It's going to be $1 per name searched and you can do an unlimited number of searches per month and pay $250. To really buy into the argument that this is going to save the county money is really difficult to do.

They are eliminating the $7.50 initial charge for downloading civil documents to $1 for the first five pages, a lower cost per page past that up to $40 cap. These fees are probably being lowered because the courts hadn't received as much money in fees as it had hoped when it unleashed the first round of fees six months ago. So they're hoping to make it up with name searches.

Good Luck. You can still access all this information for free though you'll have to pay $0.50/page for printed copies at the courthouse of record.

How Other Nearby Jurisdictions Operate

San Bernardino County Superior Court is still free for name searches.

Orange County Superior Court operates under an invalid security certificate so this can't be ascertained.

Los Angeles County Superior Court criminal fee shedule and civil fees schedule.

San Diego County Superior Court has no fee schedule for name searches.

Ventura County Superior Court has no fee schedule.

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