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

Friday, June 04, 2010

The House That City Hall Built Part. 1: Who's Who and Where

"This is way above us bro..."

---Patrol officer, before wondering if Leach might use his weapon on them if armed. Longer dash cam video here and if it doesn't come up, scroll down and click where it's listed.

"Hey John, it's Russ..."

----Former Chief Russ Leach on cell phone to Asst. Chief John DeLaRosa before Sgt. Frank Orta arrived onscene.

"Who's John. I'm like who's John..."

---Patrol Officer Grant Linhart to CHP investigators

"He's reaching under the seat dude, that makes me nervous..."

---Patrol officer to other just before Leach gets out of his car

"And as I got within arms' distance, he just stuck the phone at me and he said it's the Assistant Chief John DeLaRosa. So I thought that was odd. You know, so they handed me the phone and so he goes "Hey Frank what's going on there"? I said "I don't know I just got here. " He goes, well he goes, is he drunk?"

---Sgt. Frank Orta about a phone conversation with DeLaRosa, to CHP investigators

[Part of a letter by the Office of State Attorney General Jerry Brown to former Chief Russ Leach inquiring about potentially illegal conduct involving a weapons sales transaction involving the police department as well as the creation and issuance of flat badges to City Manager Brad Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis. Click the photo for a better look at the letter's wording.]

"So I put my head in the car and I'm really looking and I get a side view of the driver, looks like an old man, kind of get a frontal view and then he just kind of glanced my way and then I was like, "Oh Crap. That's the chief. The chief." I immediately went over the top and I'm like "Miller" and I pointed down and I'm like "it's Chief One"." He motions to me with a hand signal, you now the telephone to his ear, and he's like "Call the Serge".

---Officer Grant Linhart to CHP investigators during his interview.

River City: 2010

"Bro don't...You're good dude...We're Code 4, this is a political nightmare...Dude just leave. Go 10-8."

---Patrol officer Grant Linhart to another officer passing through the area of the stop. He could have told him Dude, welcome to River go home.

Welcome to River City, a location of very much activity and intrigue which it appears never takes much of a rest.

Within the city limits, lies a house called the Riverside Police Department, and within the past five years, that's become the house that City Hall built. And that house has inside it an assortment of colorful characters who were created along with the house.

But first let's start this story with a more current event, the latest fallout in the incident that arose from the house that City Hall built that crashed into the canvas along with Former Police Chief Russ Leach's city-owned Black Chrysler 300 on Feb. 8.

The day that the house built by City Hall began seeing its walls begin to crumble, its foundation begin to shake.

And now nearly four months later, the house has begun to collapse on itself like the house of cards that it turned out to be when trouble came calling.

Capt. Meredyth Meredith allegedly came into her office one recent morning and found a packet on her desk belonging to one of her subordinates, Lt. Leon Phillips who had been the watch commander the time of the fateful Feb. 8 Super Bowl incident which would once again, put Riverside on the national radar and remind everyone that River City is still very much alive and well. If Meredith, who also happens to be the department's highest ranking female, started to feel a little bit more pressure, it's hard to blame her for that. Because her job given to her by Capt. Mike Blakely of Personnel apparently was to recommend disciplinary action for Phillips. If she went too lightly, she herself could get into trouble for failure to properly supervise. If she went too heavy she could start a range war inside the department with her as a focus.

Meredith has already had some difficult situations to deal with, having had her last two promotions prove to be rocky experiences. Her promotion to 1999 helped spark a reverse racism and sexism lawsuit filed by a group of White male sergeants already charged up over the promotions of now retired lieutenants, Alex Tortes and Ron Orrantia. This lawsuit was actually a pivotal part of helping City Hall build its house because two of the litigants would later return in this story. Meredith originally was asked by members of the so-called "suing sergeants" to join in on their lawsuit and she demurred. When she herself was promoted to fill a lieutenant's vacancy that came about due to Audrey Wilson's promotion to captain, she became a focus of some of that ire herself.

But Meredith did ultimately get promoted and she worked as a lieutenant in different assignments including the Internal Affairs Division. Then she applied to be promoted to captain and around December 2005, Leach picked her as his choice. And someone from his office called Meredith to come down to his office to receive her promotion to captain.

Leach recalled in his deposition the process of notification of the promotion to Meredith and about how it went south.

(excerpt, Leach deposition)

"And that's when I had one of the two secretaries call her to have her--and again, this is like mid-morning, after 10:00 or so that morning. I said, "Have her come at 2:00 o'clock." Give me time to have someone prepare a Certificate of Promotion and find a badge--a captain's badge. And Then I think, absolutely within the hour, I got a call back from Tom DeSantis saying to look elsewhere."

Leach said it was the first time the city manager's office had ever asked him to veto a promotion from his department. And he responded in his deposition to the request to un-promote Meredith:

(excerpt, Leach deposition)

"Well what happened after that was, I wasn't really pleased but, you know, was told to take a look at the list. And obviously I took that to mean that she was not--approved for the promotion. So I called --and I forget which of the two secretaries it was. I said, "Call her back and tell her not to come." And it was a very difficult thing to do."

Meredith was friends with Maureen Mitchell who had worked directly in Leach's office before being transferred to City Hall to do the same for Hudson. She was the messenger for some of these conversations involving Meredith getting promoted and then un-promoted and had been very upset about it, according to Leach's deposition.

When Leach was asked in his deposition, what he had heard about any concerns he had heard or reasons why his promotion of Meredith was vetoed, he said that he couldn't recall any specifics but that he had heard that there had been some concern expressed by someone on the seventh floor about her promotion.

And who was that, Leach's memory reached for details.

(excerpt, Leach deposition)

"That a councilman, Steve Adams had expressed to the city manager or Desantis or both his concern over her being promoted. And so, you know, that was the reason why I got this phone call back from Desantis. He never mentioned Adams to me. He just told me-he never said Steve Adams was involved. Like I said, I learned that after the fact."

If this is the case, it paints a very disturbing portrait because it would reflect that there's some reason to think that Adams had involved himself in the promotional process of a captain inside the police department. To do so, would be a violation of the city's charter and Adams actually knew the law because he testified under oath that he had knowledge that for city officials to involve themselves in the promotional process was in fact illegal.

Now Adams has his own version of events and you'll read them in his own words later on in this series, including his terminology that he used to describe Meredith, the kind reserved for women, interestingly in a city where Mayor Ron Loveridge once stood at the dedication of the Martin Luther King, jr. statue and averred that the city had a zero tolerance for such comments. Some people whether or not they agreed or disagreed with Meredith's promotion have called this the most disgraceful incident associated with any police department position. Because surely that sounds like a reputable promotional process if you've ever seen or heard of one, what an embarrassment to any professional working environment to have this type of behavior take place involving anyone.

But Meredith did get promoted to fill a newly created captain's position which some say resulted after Meredith decided to play some hardball by threatening to file a discrimination lawsuit against the city, saying to Leach, hey I've got a case. Maybe the city attorney's office directed the department to do so to save the city from bankruptcy as a result of paying out on any lawsuit she would have filed on this matter.

At any rate, this is just one of the stories that came because of the house that City Hall built but in the meantime, Meredith had that packet on her desk and a decision to make.

But did she make it the recommendation to fire Phillips or did someone else?

Ground Zero: Arlington and Rutland, around 3 a.m. on Feb. 8

Sarg, hey can you come up to our stop? We're at Arlington and Rutland and I'll tell you, you'll know who it is. It's a black no plates Chrysler 300...really nice...and I think you know who drives that kind of car."

---Patrol officer to Sgt. Frank Orta, while at the scene of Leach's traffic stop around 2:53 a.m. The officer then warns an officer, telling him to leave and essentially get out of Dodge because we have a "train wreck" here. "I'm just trying to save you..."

"Aaaah, I'm all the way at Mag..."

----Sgt. Orta to Patrol officer when notified after hearing the description of the vehicle.

"I wish I could do that..."

---Patrol officer to the other, after warning another one to hit the road to avoid the political train wreck.

Lt. Leon Phillips Fired?

The house as directed by City Manager Brad Hudson served Lt. Leon Phillips with his papers for intent to terminate giving him about two weeks to schedule his Skelly hearing to contest his termination. Does this mean he'll be fired? No, he could receive lessor disciplinary action if this is a case of charging an uncooperative party with a higher offense so you'll get him to plea bargain to something lesser later on. Phillips' lawyer, Ken Yuwiler was very actively on the day of his notice of termination so this process is clearly playing itself out. It's probably fitting to demote Phillips for his role in the incident but terminating him in the absence of similar disciplinary action against his boss just sends the message that everything the city ever said about management accountability is essentially a lie to the public, not just by words but by actions because most often, it's actions that speak the loudest.

Still awaiting disciplinary action if he'll receive any at all, is Phillips supervisor that early morning, current Acting Chief John DeLaRosa who was praised by Hudson in this news article for delivering consistent stories to both California Highway Patrol investigators and to Hudson's own internal probe. While coyly branding Phillips for doing differently. But what's fascinating about the situation that if DeLaRosa were truly clueless as he claims after being on the phone at least three times with Phillips including likely towards the end of the traffic stop after 4 a.m., then why did the direction of the stop change from the officers' suspicions of a DUI to Leach getting a ride home from Phillips after Phillips got on the phone with DeLaRosa?

Not to mention having been talking to onscene sergeant, Frank Orta (who took a medical retirement) and Officer Jeremy Miller on the phone as well. DeLaRosa told investigators that he knew Leach had been a heavy drinker and Orta had said that he had specifically told DeLaRosa that the traffic stop involved a possibly drunk chief and then the two got into this kind of discussion about how to treat the chief versus a Riverside city resident and mere mortal.

Yet, even after Phillips talks back and forth with a supervisor three ranks above him several times, he still "decides" to give Leach a ride home. What's interesting about this situation too is that there are other questions which apparently were never asked including:

1) Why did Leach call DeLaRosa and in fact handed a phone to Orta with DeLaRosa on the other end of the line for him to speak with? And why call DeLaRosa in the first place?

2) Why didn't Leach call someone else Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel (who interestingly enough, said he had been "trumped") instead?

3) Why did Phillips decide not to enforce the stop as a DUI investigation after talking to DeLaRosa?

4)Why did Phillips after apparently deciding to treat it as a "traffic collision" with no DUI yet call DeLaRosa twice to have conversations with him including after 4 a.m.?

5) Why after talking to Orta (whose statement differs from DeLaRosa yet unlike Phillips, no innuendo coming from Hudson that he's inconsistent in his words) did DeLaRosa still have no clue that "intoxication" might be involved?

6) Why didn't DeLaRosa notify the city management of the "high profile" police contact that took place involving Leach? Why was no criminal investigation ever launched by the RPD and why did it take so long to farm out to the CHP?

7) Why to this day has City Hall not been investigated for any potential role in this incident?

Interestingly enough, what Hudson apparently doesn't realize that if he believes DeLaRosa's "consistent" account of not being aware that "intoxication" was involved, then essentially he's just branded two other officers, Orta and Miller as liars. And yet neither of them were fired nor should they be because they probably weren't lying about their conversations with DeLaRosa.

And what Hudson and DeLaRosa don't remember is this basic tenet. That in a truly accountable and honest police department culture when it comes to dealing with the boss's crimes, that once that first phone notification was made, period, then the traffic stop would have proceeded in the right direction. Even if all the facts were not forthcoming to DeLaRosa. Because it's not all the facts themselves that were necessary and they were provided to DeLaRosa according to other participants.

Why? Because a department with an accountable, ethical and honest management would through attitude, direction and through example on a daily basis (even outside of a crisis) would have made it absolutely clear, no doubts about it that any criminal conduct even by the chief would be handled as it would against any other person. Meaning it gets evaluated, investigated and a case is sent for disposition by the District Attorney's office. The individual whether chief, elected official or mere resident is given a citation of notice to appear in court. That's the tone that would be so firmly entrenched into the department's handling of criminal investigations including DUI stops, that most of the drama that took place during the Leach incident would never have happened or needed to happen. It happened because there's a serious breach of ethical expectations in the management personnel of the police department. There must be because if not, the DUI stop would have happened much differently than it did.

If the management structure which both Leach and DeLaRosa were integral parts of was accountable, ethical and honest, Leach wouldn't have been on the phone to DeLaRosa at the very beginning, clearly to "handle" it. You wouldn't have patrol officers being deferential to Leach, turning off their microphones and talking about being "torn" in their decision whether to do the job they took an oath to do. You wouldn't have a DUI expert and supervisor like Orta burn up the phone lines with DeLaRosa talking about how he would handle an ordinary person in a DUI situation or telling DeLaRosa he didn't want trouble, let alone writing a completely bogus report (and omitting information in a police incident report is as inherently dishonest as lying on it).

You wouldn't have Phillips chatting back and forth with DeLaRosa during the stop, or lying to investigators about not knowing Leach was drunk when everyone else there did. Driving the chief home and then removing himself off the captain's list the next day. DeLaRosa would have never had to tell the chief to come clean, to say that he didn't have to suspend people's beliefs by saying that even though he knew the chief was a drinker, he had no idea on the morning following the Super Bowl that alcohol could be involved. DeLaRosa would have notified the city management as required under policy because it didn't even have to be a DUI to do that, the fact that the police had any contact with Leach, who fits the "high profile" category, was enough for that notification. The fact that DeLaRosa didn't do it but inexplicably left it to Leach to do so paints a different picture than ignorance about a DUI incident, along with the fact that DeLaRosa didn't initiate an investigation inhouse and didn't farm it out for over 24 hours after the incident.

There's talk of "indecision" and mistakes being made but none of the mistakes were actually made during that traffic stop and its aftermath but in the five years of department restructuring at the top level that preceded it. The mistake being that it was allowed to happen unchecked. Hudson clearly thinks that most residents are stupid. Only time will tell if that's the case or not including during the next election cycle when people take their views on many civic issues including this episode to the voting polls with them. And you'll find during this series of blog postings just how stupid Hudson and a few others in City Hall think that the public really is about what's been doing on behind closed doors inside a publicly owned building.

But there's a place and a time where this all began...

In the House that City Hall Built...

[The Riverside Police Department's administrative headquarters, otherwise known as Orange Street Station, the place where many high ranking members of the "brass" hang out. Just as this is rental space the city is borrowing the county, so it seems are some of the promotions which have come out of this building...and.....]

[This building houses much higher players in the police department than those in uniform, including the man who on a recent recruitment flier for the police chief's position called himself, or more literally, his title the top of the police department's "chain of command" and oh, more than any of his predecessors, City Manager Brad Hudson has lived up to that title.]

[The design of the badge that City Manager Brad Hudson allegedly arranged to have created for himself and two assistant city managers in the wake of a legal opinion from the State Attorney General Jerry Brown outlawing such badges. These faux badges were ordered destroyed by the State Attorney General's criminal division. Hudson's excuse? The Community Development Division made me do it.]

[This is the design for a police officer badge in Riverside. Compare and contrast how similar it looks to the non-police badge just above it. ]

Okay, why on earth would a city manager even one toting a concealed weapon complete with permit need a badge?

[A page taken from a transaction that took place involving gun and assorted paraphernalia sold by the Riverside Police Department to city management employees, an action that attracted attention from the State Attorney General's criminal division to determine whether any criminal violations were involved. ]

[Oh, this is just an ATM machine located in the lobby of Riverside's City Hall but some people think that this is a fairly good representation of what the city management team sees when it envisions the police department.]

All these things will be described in much greater detail in future postings here but first there's some people that you need to meet in case you haven't already. Alas, this isn't a happy little tale but one that in retrospect will put this incident involving Leach and the mishandling and attempted cover up of his DUI incident in an interesting light. Because that incident wasn't an isolated event, but a culmination of some years of problematic behavior involving the police department and its micromanagement by different elements from inside City Hall.

It's ironic isn't it? The whole idea that the department that had so many chiefs wound up with none. But that road included a series of steps.

Cast of Characters:

Police Chief Russ Leach: the head of the police department who’s encharged with hiring, firing and promoting employees. He's currently medically retired after the DUI thing.

City Manager Brad Hudson[center]: Leach’s boss and some say puppeteer who under the city’s charter had the “final say” in promotions by his department heads

Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis[photo of his chief's "badge"]: Hudson’s errand boy and hatchet man, hired to run interference for Hudson or to pick up stranded elected officials in Orange County but alas, Hudson had to do for him after the infamous Hemet incident. He has the gun, he had the police equipment, he even (almost) had the badge and some say...he now has the chief's newly spiffed up Chrysler 300 as his very own.

Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel: Third highest ranking police employee and close friend of Councilman Steve Adams, helping him to “mediate” a dispute between Adams and captain’s candidate, John Carpenter. Retired in the wake of several internal investigations after considering going for the chief’s job.

Councilman Steve Adams: Retired police officer turned elected official and friend of Esquivel who factored into the promotions of no less than three captains, torpedoing one and allowing at least two others. Some say he played a bigger role in the police department than he did his years as a patrol officer. He's up for reelection next year, has recently married and has settled in with his new wife...and occasionally he spends time in his ward. Adams had his city-owned car towed from Newport Beach and put on Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis' Triple A card.

The Crafty Captains:

(in alphabetical order)

Mike Blakely[left]: Former deputy chief in another era who has in recent months reached alpha male status in the management pecking order. After DeLaRosa’s fall from grace courtesy of some cell phone disclosure, he essentially took over the helm of the police department, is now firmly in control of it, and is currently blissfully happy.

Mark Boyer: One of the “suing sergeants” who managed to parlay himself into the captain’s seat after bumping another candidate out of line. Retired in 2009 after allegedly being placed on paid administrative leave by Leach who apparently never got past the embarrassment with Meredith.

John Carpenter: Another “suing sergeant” who allegedly fell out of good grace with Adams endangering his promotional status until a peace treaty was brokered with Adams in a Corona eatery with Esquivel mediating. Carpenter was promoted less than 24 hours after that meeting and now is hitting the department's talk show circuit explaining the incident to his colleagues.

David Dominguez: The former deputy chief who is now a police chief in Palm Springs.
Allegedly, the city management including DeSantis wanted to demote him.

Meredyth Meredith: The only female in the group and not a suing sergeant, she nearly became a suing lieutenant when she was ousted over her promotion to captain in the 11th hour by Adams. She became the first and last captain of the department’s Communications Division within a year of the subterfuge involving her promotion. Unlike Carpenter, Meredith wasn't afforded the opportunity to appeal her endangered promotion to the head of arbitration, Adams.

John Wallace: Rather young but very ambitious officer who first lobbied hard to become a captain and then decided to apply to become chief. Did he pick up an inebriated Leach out in the High Desert one early morning and drive him home?

These are some of the characters who will be playing more or less prominent roles in the story of the House that City Hall Built, which will be coming to you in a series of installments in future blog postings. The information in these blog postings was information that City Hall didn't want anyone to see, and in fact, paid a considerable sum of money so that it would never be seen. As the city has done in many other cases, settling so much civil litigation (even when its insurance company didn't like its inability or unwillingness to actually take lawsuits to trial) so that the public wouldn't know what is going on inside buildings paid for by tax dollars and decisions being made by people also paid for by tax dollars including those entrusted to serve the city residents who vote them into office.

More to come from River City...

Riverside City Attorney Gregory Priamos goes on the defensive after allegations arose in the California Highway Patrol investigation report that he approved the controversial handwritten report on the incident involving former Riverside Chief Russ Leach before now-retired Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel signed it. But he's still not answered the questions as to why the city passed off an unsigned copy of Orta's report as the real thing to the media and to the public.

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