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 22, 2010

March 27, 2007: The Turning Point for the RPD and River City

“These guys don’t care…”

---Former Chief Russ Leach about his bosses, City Manager Brad Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis

“This is our city. Let’s make Riverside a better place for everyone. Together we can’t lose.”

---email sent out to community leadership about March 27, 2007

“We believe that having “at will” contracted positions at this level of the police department management is dangerous and bad for the community. Dangerous, because it has the potential to make a police department completely dysfunctional and may hamper the department’s ability to conduct objective investigations. Out of all the department heads in the City, the Chief of Police should have the highest level of autonomy, when it involves running his/her police department."

----RPAA President Darryl Hurt, March 27, 2007

Riverside City Hall
City Council Chambers
March 27, 2007 6:30 pm.

"I don't recall anything. It was a nightmare."

---Former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach in his testimony about March 27, 2007 who must have felt worse when he discovered that life was but a dream.

When elected officials walked into Riverside’s City Hall to convene at their weekly city council meeting, they might have been surprised to see hundreds of men and women sitting in the chairs and standing in the aisles and in the back of the chambers. In fact, more people spilled outside of the building into the open area between the building which houses the chamber and the main City Hall. Many individuals who congregated at the city council meeting that evening were members of both the Riverside Police Officers’ Association and the Riverside Police Administrators’ Association but there were community leaders there as well.

Like many people who attended that meeting, I remember that day very well. I had received news about the situation earlier that week and I had expressed my concern to the city council and mayor via an email sent out to them and to Brad Hudson and he had kindly responded. And then he had come up to me quickly when I entered the chambers and told me to ignore his email and that the process of making upper management police personnel "at will" couldn't be done and his clarification on the matter was very helpful.

Before anyone could speak during public comment on this item and many people had appeared to do just that, elected officials, city management employees and even then Police Chief Russ Leach stood up to address the packed room and give speeches essentially trying to head people off at the pass. To try to tell people there that this was much ado about nothing. That the city manager's office wasn't really trying to undermine the chief's authority over his direct management staff.

So one by one, the speeches began.

Leach opened up his speech by saying that he was surprised that he was the center of all this fuss because he was just minding his own business two weeks ago and then here he was, which when you think about it, is a rather odd statement by a police chief who's active in running a department. And if he had been, then he would have most definitely seen this controversy from far away but he made it appear in his comments that it had been news to him. He continued speaking but he never really addressed the topic at hand except to say that there was a "miscommunication a while ago" but that he was committed to speak loudly and clearly for the police department. Unfortunately, that's not the topic that most people there wanted him to address as the department's head.

He talked a lot about the department, the crime rate, even shaving off his mustache but very little on the actual issues that had brought the men and women in blue as he called them down to the city council meetings in such large numbers. And though he tried to say loudly and clearly that he was in charge of the police department, that was really the day it became loud and clear to most people that in fact, he really had little authority over the police department at all. And it was his own words that he communicated this reality through to his employees sitting and standing in front of him. At the time, his employers were standing or sitting behind him and several individuals on the dais were actively involved in even the police department's day to day operations, let alone its management. Both his employers and employees could send him packing but for his employers to do so would take many fewer votes.

It was also abundantly clear that while the city management had allowed Leach to take the stage to address the audience including many of his employees, they had him on a tight leash there as well.

Because while this drama had been taking place in public, behind the scenes, the city management was busy acquiring all its police toys and had put Leach in the role of having to explain a highly questionable firearms sale involving the city management employees and his department. You had city management employees decking themselves out like law enforcement officers, "several" city officials getting cold plated cars. And rumors of City Attorney Gregory Priamos rolling into a major incident with emergency lights on his city owned vehicle. Everyone denied knowledge of everything later on. Including when Hudson testified that he had no idea whether his city-issued Toyota Highlander had been cold plated although interestingly enough, a document detailing the list of city owned vehicles to be cold plated had a Toyota Highlander at the top of the list. Coincidence, definitely.

But it would seem to most people that the police department had many different people playing chief running around with their guns, their cold plated vehicles, their sirens and even badges. Some people think this is all a big joke or no big deal and maybe to those who associate with the people in power who have acquired this equipment to use to exert authority it isn't, but if the average person engaged in this behavior, they might be arrested for impersonating a police officer. None of these individuals were, though several were investigated for creating badges and trying to acquire cold plates not to mention the highly questionable weapons exchange but they were allowed to first, correct their legal violations and then turn around and tell people that they didn't break the law but that when it was pointed out that they did, they remedied the situation immediately. Then they hid their actions, even going as far as to try to use tax payer money to pay two lieutenants not to come to work, but as they discovered, the truth has a way of coming to light after all.

And that a police department with many chiefs at its helm can actually wind up with none.

[This is the list of city owned cars which were sent to be cold plated. It's difficult to read but if you click the photo, you'll find at the top of the list is a Toyota Highlander which happened to be the same make of car assigned to Hudson from the city yard fleet.]

What was interesting about the cold plate scandal is how it came down to a "he said, he said and who committed perjury" situation because they were all under sworn oath to tell the truth during their depositions. But there's one method to decide who told who to cold plate their vehicles and that's to do a simple survey. During Leach's nearly decade long tenure as chief, he served under at least five different city managers and several assistant city managers as well. You would think that if it were Leach telling everyone to get cold plates that he would have told the others including Larry Paulson, George Carvalho, Penny Culbreath Graft, Tom Evans and Jim Smith for example, to rush out and sign up for cold plates as well. Did any of these prior city management employees use cold plates on their vehicles?

Or was it just the latest group of city management employees and an elected official or two? If the answer to this question is yes, then you have your answer to who's telling the truth under oath or in news articles and who is not.

So for those who didn't know, March 27, 2007 was the day it should have been known that . Leach did hint that the city management had been trying to get the department to conduct administrative investigations against Lts. Tim Bacon and Darryl Hurt after they had been involved in researching what later became the badges, guns and cold plates scandals when they came to light. If what Leach testified to is valid, then apparently the city management employees believed that it was okay to violate the laws, not okay when it came to light and just perfect to investigate those who discovered that misconduct. That whether from accepting responsibility for its own actions and addressing them, the city management could instead try to use its authority and its energy to seek out those who exposed their deeds and punish them. As they allegedly tried to do with both Bacon and Hurt. Pay attention to the adage of punishing the messenger for the message because it's from an old playbook used by the police department and City Hall involving city employees. And city residents should be aware of this as well because of the enormous expenditures from revenues that are used to either litigate lawsuits filed by the city's labor force or pay them off whether by settlement which happens most of the time, or occasionally through the embarrassment of trial.

Leach opted out of making the unveiling of this questionable and illegal conduct by individuals at City Hall, "a full blown internal thing" and instead just focused on responding to the State Attorney General's criminal division through a series of correspondences with that office on the badges and guns incidents.

When River City's Promoting, Why's Leach in...DC?

Leach's deposition testimony is very interesting not to mention troubling as in it, he said that he had actually been in the Bull Feathers in Washington, D.C. when he first heard about the move to make two of his top management personnel "at will". Meaning that this decision had essentially been made by Hudson and DeSantis when he had been thousands of miles away. He testified that he chose to promote both the assistant and deputy chiefs but appeared to have little recall of either the details or time lines of both promotions.

But he testified that when he realized that the upper police management personnel would be serving not at his will but would be "at will" to the city management, he didn't like that much.

(excerpt, Leach)

"I sort of thought we were going that way. We're already that way, actually, now becauswe Esquivel's permanent rank is captain and DeLaRosa's permanent rank is captain. I dcan always reduce them to captain if I want. So I thought we were sort of solidifying that process, when it turns out they were taking a different direction. And this at-will status would be the city manager's office. So therefore, I couldn't support that because I'm their boss, essentially, but I'm not their boss because they would end up working directly for the city manager's office. So that's sort of where we parted company on that particular issue."

But it was even more serious than that, because the two employees would not only be "at will" at their appointed positions in upper management, they would be "at will" period, meaning that they would be surrendering their labor rights associated with their union affiliation which meant that they could be fired by the city management without cause or reason. So essentially, you might have a police chief who is "at will" to Hudson but you'd have his management personnel be "at will" employees to him as well. So essentially all three employees would be answerable to him which enables Hudson and DeSantis to maintain a vigorous hold on the reins of the police department even during times that Leach may have been in disagreement with his bosses.

If he was stubborn, they could just bypass him and go straight to his management personnel and they could have his own management personnel report back to them on someone who in more ordinary circumstances, you know those used in other cities, be their own boss.

But this major shift in the power structure of the police department and its dynamic with City Hall had begun in several stages as rather innocuous wording in meeting agendas, harmless looking until you really started looking past those words and reading the subtext which the heads of labor unions are more likely to do because these issues are under their purview and play a significant role in their operations.

There had been attempts by the city council which had been blocked to change the language of classification or even the classification itself involving captain ranks and upper management appointed positions like assistant and deputy chiefs.

The agenda item that caused the controversy only appeared on an earlier draft of the meeting's agenda, under item #20 that had been submitted through the city manager's office through then administrative analyst Jeremy Hammond.

[A copy of the "tentative" agenda created at a meeting of mayor, mayor pro tem and staff which took place several days before the posting of the "final" agenda on Friday, March 23, 2007.]

[At the bottom of the page, is text that was included for "tentative" agenda item #20 which was submitted by Human Resources employee, Justin Hammond that was to have created "at will" upper management positions. It was subsequently removed and not included on the final agenda for the meeting on March 27.]

So a bunch of people from different places went up and spoke on the issue, from different perspectives after City Hall and its servants had tried to cut off everyone at the pass with how the whole incident had been a "miscommunication." Many members of both police unions had hoped that there would be some kind of confrontation with Leach who was said to be very pissed off with Hudson over the promotions and his boss, Hudson but it never happened. What many thought would be a bang proved but a whimper. There would be a number of anticipated standoffs between Leach and his bosses over the leadership of the police department which would never take place. But what happened after the March 2007 confrontation at City Hall became a turning point for the department and not in a good way.

Not long after the "at will" brouhaha died down, Hudson issued Leach a huge salary increase for being the chief. Well the chief under the department's real chief anyway and on that date, the leadership of the police department had been effectively sold to Hudson and DeSantis.

From that point on, Hudson and DeSantis were able to run the department without any noise from their employee and looking back after the incidents which have unfolded during the past several months, it's clear what kind of grade they should receive for their diligent efforts.

And it's not a passing grade. During the elections to be held next June for four council members, the voters will have the opportunity at the polls to issue them grades as well.

The Mystery of the Disappearing "At Will" Contracts

Being a fan while growing up of Nancy Drew mystery novels, it has a way of shaping how what's going on in Riverside can be examined due largely to the fact that so many questions remain unanswered about the shenanigans involving City Hall and the upper levels of the police department. It couldn't hurt to have Nancy Drew, her pals George or Bess or even that guy Ned looking into these unanswered questions and unresolved issues and assigning them an appropriate title, including the mystery of the disappearing "at will" contracts. Okay, so it's not the secret of the old clock or the hidden staircase or even the whole Lilac Inn caper but someone's just got to get to the bottom of how city employees were able to sign contracts which must have existed in hard copy form at the time but apparently *poof* disappeared not long afterward.

How do things like that just happen? Is there a vortex inside City Hall where physical documents just wander into them and then voila, vanish in thin air? If so, there needs to be a scientific investigation right now to look into City Hall's own version of the Bermuda Triangle and fix it immediately through a seance or whatever to stop even more documents from vanishing in thin air.

Like those missing contracts for example. The ones that have not been seen for over three years and counting.

Here's some initial data on this rather bizarre occurrence. The first to naturally seek out is Hudson who is the chief...administrator of the city. He'd probably provide a better answer except he's apparently suffering from some form of memory loss on this issue.

[City Manager Brad Hudson found himself in the midst of a firestorm in March 2007 after two upper management police employees had allegedly signed "at will" contracts, contracts which later disappeared. In his deposition, Hudson said he had no memory of signing any of the "at will" contracts involving the two high-ranking police management personnel but would have authorized it if he did remember it.]

Hudson as stated said in his deposition that he had no memory of signing either the contacts of either the new assistant chief, John DeLaRosa or the new Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel. But the excerpt of an email below that he wrote seemed to suggest that contracts were signed by his office just as they would normally be in that situation. The language used here seems clear, concise and his response well thought out and deliberative. Nothing flaky or vague about it at all that might result from acute memory loss.

“…At will positions typically pay slightly more than their regular position counterparts; consequently, employees often choose the at-will option. I believe that is the case in this instance. We currently have over 100 contract employees and my office has signed these contracts as required by City policy. Nothing special or unusual was done with respect to the recent contracts you reference….”

---Brad Hudson in a March 22, 2007 email

So if nothing special or unusual was done, then they must have followed the regular procedure for contracts getting drafted, reviewed and then signed by the various parties. His sentiment about people signing "at will" contracts was very enlightening given that for many people it seems that these two words are more scary than welcoming. Because although people might get a slight pay raise, they can also be fired much more easily than if they hadn't gone "at will". Incidentally, the email he responded to had been sent by myself and he had responded to me separately from a later response to the city council and mayor. He later told me at the meeting to ignore the emailed response and that the contracts weren't allowable according to the city attorney. Which in itself might appear "special" or "unusual" unless this is how the city's been doing business with more of its "at will" contracts. Still, it was helpful that he made that clarification and as it turned out, the contracts were apparently voided according to testimony.

But if so, what happened to the originals? If they were created and signed, they should still be in the public record and made available to anyone upon request in accordance with the state laws pertaining to the California Public Records Act.

Well before that, let's move on to the second in the chain of the command of the city and police department, DeSantis who will be identified by the badge that he never was able to possess.

[Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis testified that he and Hudson met with DeLaRosa to discuss his "at will" contract with him. He said that the "at will" status gave the police chief the authority to actually fire the employee but then again, who has to approve all the police chief's firings?]

DeSantis testified that he and Hudson had met with at least one of the prospective "at will" employees and there's some mention of an earlier meeting with Leach. This wasn't long after DeSantis had allegedly blown up with another management employee, former Community Police Review Commission manager, Pedro Payne at a meeting and had ejected him just three weeks before Payne "resigned" which brought the city's definition of "at will" home for many people including those inside the police department. Meaning that if these employees who were "at will" to the city management office didn't bend to the will of that office's minions, then they would probably be releasing "resignation" letters of their own not long after.

But given that it's not clear whether the city management maintains a tight control of other powers traditionally exercised by Riverside's police chiefs such as hiring and firing, it's doubtful that the police chief such as Leach would have very much autonomy when it came to picking his own direct management staff if the city manager's office has to sign off on them. Something to keep in mind as being very critical now, given that a new police chief has been hired and will have to create his direct management staff. And given what's happened with Leach, how much autonomy will Sergio Diaz have to do just that? Who will really pick his management staff, he or the city manager's office?

Something to keep a very close eye on when he arrives in Riverside to take the helm on July 1.

But what was interesting to follow in the depositions was the reaction of one of the impacted employees, Pete Esquivel who had said his feelings had been hurt by what he felt was the reception to his promotion. The process involving it, he had already agreed to and according to him, he had sealed that agreement through signing a labor contract with the city manager's office.

[Then Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel testified that he had signed a contract to become an "at will" deputy chief, and that it had been sighed by Chief Russ Leach Hudson, City Attorney Gregory Priamos and an unidentified city clerk. He also testified that Hudson and DeSantis had told him that the contract had been "rescinded". Leach denied ever signing the contract in his own testimony.]

Esquivel had said that he had actually signed a contract when promoted to deputy chief that had "at will" terms that he had agreed to, and that had happened before all the controversy had arisen regarding his promotional status in regards to the "at will" situation. No one who spoke on the issue from any corner including the labor unions had actually criticized the promotional choices, just the process of the "at will" conversions to the positions themselves. Many vocally supported the choices but what's odd about this whole contract deal is the conflicting testimony about whether Leach had or had not signed Esquivel's contract. Esquivel testified that Leach had signed it in his presence. Leach denied ever signing either contract and added that he didn't believe there was a place for him to sign them.

But given all the gaps that Leach said he didn't recall including the time lines of either promotions, that brings into question how much role he played in either one.

[John DeLaRosa was also offered an "at will" contract to be assistant chief and accepted it but didn't testify about his own status or whether he had signed a contract.]

DeLaRosa who had been promoted to assistant chief in March 207 didn't testify on this issue or regarding his own promotion or whether or not he signed an "at will" contract though there's been statements by others indicating that he did. Like Esquivel's initial contact, his was voided after a period of controversy about the contracts being "at will".

[Former Deputy Chief Dave Dominguez was set to be promoted to an assistant chief position by Leach until it was vetoed by the city management, according to Leach's deposition. DeLaRosa had been promoted by Leach instead after the veto and apparently his promotion did pass the muster of DeSantis and Hudson.]

Dominguez was rumored to have been offered to go "at will" in the deputy chief position and had adamantly opposed it. If so, it was likely for valid reasons given that the city management had vetoed any suggestions by Leach of promoting him to assistant chief early on and had in fact, wanted to demote him. Dominguez was also alleged to have been included on a list of non-white management employees which included Art Alcaraz, Jim Smith and Tranda Drumwright to be targeted for termination, demotion or "resignation" and none of them are currently employed by the city.

Some individuals in the police labor unions sought to get the records released on this process including copies of the "at will" contracts signed by Esquivel and DeLaRosa. But the city initially told them they couldn't have access to them because they were "drafts" and then when challenged on that, the city had claimed they weren't just drafts (which are releasable under CPRA) but they were "preliminary drafts" without explaining why city management employees were pushing other management employees to sign "preliminary draft" contracts.

When pressed even further in the corner on this issue, the city finally produced the following excerpt of its written response to the CPRA request which is included below.

“Pursuant to Government Code 6253, the City of Riverside submits its response to your Public Records act request of April 27, 2007. In said request, you are seeking copies of any and all employment contracts for the position of Assistant Chief of Police and Deputy Chief Police entered into between representatives of the City of Riverside and John De La Rosa and Pete Esquivel.
Please be advised that there are no documents responsive to your request.”

---City Attorney Gregory Priamos, to a CPRA request by attorney Stephen H. Silver

Okay, now this is downright mysterious and this is precisely what is meant by the mystery of the disappearing "at will" contracts at City Hall which apparently is being impacted by some bizarre vortex or worm hole or something of that nature that is apparently sucking public documents right out of City Hall.

It's past time for Mayor Ron Loveridge to convene one of his special task forces to address the pressing issue of this vortex issue at City Hall. Perhaps then, these missing contracts can be found. And then the city could generate a new logo or slogan...Riverside: No Missing Paperwork here!

Thanks to the mayor in advance!

This incident might appear to be an isolated chapter in the history of both the city and police department but it was part of a pattern and practice of the dynamic which exists between City Hall and the police department. Many questions are being asked by city residents on what will be the situation involving Riverside's newest police chief and what it is that he will be allowed to do by individuals at City Hall like Hudson, DeSantis, Priamos and Councilman Steve Adams. Will he actually be a police chief who's autonomous or will he be a puppet?

And how long will it take for there to be an answer to that question?

Orange Street Station Update

The City Council and Mayor Ron Loveridge have received written notification via the leadership of the Riverside Police Officers' Association of the list of Skelly violations that former Det. Chris Lanzillo alleged took place at his hearing earlier this month. Lanzillo, the former president of the RPOA was given his notice of intent to terminate on June 4 along with former Lt. Leon Phillips. Shortly after, he submitted a written query through his attorney to Hudson asking that DeLaRosa be disqualified from hearing his Skelly due to conflict of interest since he's suing DeLarosa. Hudson denied this request and DeLaRosa did Lanzillo's Skelly hearing and terminated within 15 minutes of the end of the hearing.

Shortly after, Lanzillo filed a second claim for damages and had already filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

Phillips' Skelly hearing had been postponed but will be heard either at the end of this week or next week. The actual disciplinary action against him has not been either decided or enacted at this point in time.

Eight days until Diaz takes the helm of the police department and many individuals are counting every day until July 1. Two former employees of the department had some advice they passed along to other employees a while back on the importance of involvement in the things that matter in this city and of the responsibilities as well which are important to keep in mind if the department is to head in a different and healthier direction than it has been lately.

“Here at RPD, we have a proud tradition and coming to work used to be something you looked forward to doing. We believe you all deserve much better than acquiescing “at will” department heads; which is what you’ll get if Brad Hudson and his staff have a part in choosing a Chief. If you want to effect change in our department, then get involved. Educate yourself on what’s been happening in this City and police department since Brad Hudson and Tom DeSantis arrived. “Play along to get along” should never be the first consideration of police officers at any level of command when it comes to making decisions that are ethical and right.”

----Statement by former Lts Tim Bacon and Darryl Hurt, March 2010

Wi Fi Update

[The Wi Fi network has had some periodic slow performances and outages in the Northside Area on Iowa, related to the ongoing construction project involving Iowa and Columbia Streets near Hunter Park. AT&T will be running the network until around Sept. 12 when it will be transferred to the city for management and maintenance.]

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