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

Thursday, June 17, 2010

River City: When Racial Comments Can Get You Employed and When they Can Get you Fired

UPDATE: Marisa Yeager from the Woman's Democratic Club considering an election run for Ward One next year, against Councilman Mike Gardner.

More to come...


The Riverside Police Department conducted a DUI/DL checkpoint in the Eastside at around 8 p.m. near Bobby Bonds Park. Motorcycle officers reportedly preventing anyone from turning off the street leading to the checkpoint and a white unmarked car with people with green uniforms inside led people to believe that ICE or Border Patrol is involved in the checkpoint. People had to turn over their cameras for inspection and told they could take photos but a couple police officers allegedly took photos including that of a teenaged girl and then allegedly one detective laughed at them.

The operation's supervisor was said to be Sgt. Duane May of the department's traffic division.

The Press Enterprise published this article about the claim for damages filed by former Riverside Police Department Det. Chris Lanzillo who was fired on June 11, only several months after he had filed an earlier claim. In that earlier claim which later became a lawsuit, he had alleged that he had been retaliated for his union activities while serving as the president of the Riverside Police Officers' Association. Not long before filing his first claim, Lanzillo had allegedly confronted Acting Chief John DeLaRosa in one of his post-DUI incident roll call visits and said that he wouldn't support him. He also asked him why he had waited so long to turn the DUI incident involving former Police Chief Russ Leach over to the California Highway Patrol for investigation. Questions that many people were certainly asking and talking about outside the department and probably inside it as well but Lanzillo had spoken it out loud in a setting where DeLaRosa had been trying to make a strong impression as the department's acting chief.

Not the right thing to say as it turned out if you want to stay in the police department. Because even though Lanzillo had been right about DeLaRosa's early involvement in the Leach incident, it didn't appear that the acting chief had taken it very well.

The investigation against Lanzillo allegedly was initiated not long after he made these comments in roll call. After Lanzillo's comments about DeLaRosa had made it into the Press Enterprise, a directive reportedly was issued from Orange Street Station to the department's internal affairs division placing the investigation involving Lanzillo's use of racial language to the top of the list of cases to be handled by that division. Which in itself is pretty amazing dedication by the department and city given the history but as it turned out, more than a bit suspicious as well.

Before anyone claims that I'm defending Lanzillo for the racial remarks which he admitted to making, here's a little bit of history for those who don't know but I won a sustained complaint against him for discourtesy in the summer of 2003. In the autumn of the same year not long after that complaint was disposed, he was promoted to detective. As someone told me, the department didn't take it seriously when he was making comments towards me, but only after he starting challenging the system that he had worked under for 17 years and how it handled a controversial incident involving the chief breaking the law did he become a problem for the city. That's why this person said, he's been fired not too long after filing his claim with the city which included allegations of misconduct by DeLaRosa because he had gone public with what the city and department wanted to keep swept under the rug. A cardinal sin in his profession and in the city's own dynamic of secrecy at all costs (paid for by city residents) as well.

A rule that Lanzillo broke.

And the fact that they're trying to pin his termination directly or indirectly on racial comments or jokes he made just makes it all the more suspicious because since when has Riverside's management really ever cared about racism in its workplace especially after Black and Latino management employees at City Hall began "resigning" or getting fired after the current city management came to work for Riverside in June 2005.

How about never?

After all, more employees in this city have lost their jobs for complaining about racist and sexist language in the workplace than in for engaging in it. And many more employees in this city have lost or been forced out of their jobs for trying to challenge unethical or even illegal practices by management personnel than have been lost them for racist or sexist language. Even though the city posts guidelines to whistle blower protection all over its workplaces including the police department.

So yes, I find this sudden fervor to run off and place Lanzillo and his racial joke at the top of the investigation list and then to fire him very suspicious, coming not long after he called DeLaRosa on the carpet and then filed a claim against the city. And yes, it does smack of retaliation and also opportunism by the city to make this all about a racial comment which is laughable considering the city's own more than checkered history of addressing racism in its workplace. Especially when the city's currently actively fighting against cases filed by other city employees who have alleged racist language in their workplaces and when it comes to all the city's departments including that of the police, everyone knows by now that all of them have the same ringmaster and his sidekick running the show.

There's one Los Angeles attorney who just by himself is handling between 5-6 racial harassment claims in the city's work force right now at the same time that the police department management's in a dither about an employee's racial joke...but only after he's challenged DeLaRosa and then filed his claim with the city.

The only reason the management of the police department or anyone in the city gives a damn about this racial joke said in a cultural diversity training class is again because the person who said it later challenged DeLaRosa and it's at that approximate time, it became the capital offense that they're trying to make it look like now.

Sorry Lt. Blevins but while it would be interesting to hear what you had to say on the matter, you know the city won't allow you to open your mouth and it will speak for you under its indemnity clause until after it settles this case down the line and then it still might not let you speak. You could testify in trial if the city ever took any cases to trial which since its $1.64 million payout on Officer Roger Sutton's racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation lawsuit it doesn't not and will not no matter what it claims early on.

If he doesn't abide by those rules, then Blevins and Lanzillo could very well be standing in the same line awaiting dates with the labor arbitrator to get their jobs and/or their money back. The city government through the advice of its legal department and at the expense of the city residents doesn't buy truth, but it does buy silence.

No offense, but that's when some of us started to get a little suspicious of this state of affairs at the minute where the city actually takes a racial comment or joke spoken by a city employee seriously. Because that's never happened when many city employees have complained about them in the workplace throughout the city's history. And when it finally happens, it's one that again was allegedly uttered in a cultural diversity training class. A learning and teaching environment where the use of a racist or sexist comment or joke could be read depending on its context and the direction of the training. Probably the only workplace environment where that it's really possible, for a comment to be said that can be offensively intended or not and without further information, it's difficult to know the context. And there might be that same variation in how comments of this nature are read as well in that type of environment. Without further information and eyewitness accounts, it's a bit more ambiguous in this type of environment, more so than in others like those faced by other employees of the city.

I've lost count of how many complaints or reports that I've received of situations in Riverside's workplace of racist or sexist comments or jokes. It's a much, much shorter list of the times when these comments have taken seriously because believe it or not, Lanzillo's joke is the only member of that very, very short list.

I don't think the issue here is whether racial comments should be taken seriously or not but that's never really been the case in Riverside. They should be but one of the major problems in Riverside's employment ranks is that sometimes they are taken seriously and sometimes they are not and often what determines that is some factor outside the context of the incident itself. And as trite as this might sound, in Riverside, yes it does depend on who you are and on the circumstances.

Racial slurs, jokes and remarks in Riverside's workplaces including those outside the police department are hardly uncommon events. At one point last year, a single Los Angeles attorney who specialized in labor law was representing city employees in about six cases of racial harassment and hostile working environment that were filed as complaints, grievances or lawsuits. Rommel Dunbar, Anthony Joiner and 15 other African-American city employees filed a joint racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation lawsuit in 1997, which had been 10 years in the making since the first incidents of racism in the workplace including the use of racial slurs. Dunbar, a well known martial arts instructor needed his skills just to protect himself in the workplace when he was assaulted by other city employees while trying to clean off spray-painted racial slurs, swastikas and "KKK" spray painted on walls at the city's corporate yard on Lincoln Street. Human feces were smeared on vehicles used by Dunbar and Joiner.

The city refused to respond in any way about what was happening despite numerous meetings between the employees and city management with members of the city's community relations division mediating these discussions. When these employees later sued the city, they received letters from their attorneys telling them that if they lost, the city would go to court and force them to pay its legal bills.

But for actual incidents that took place and their disparate outcomes which often depend on who you are and what your place is in the city's pecking order, here are a few that happened more recently.

But what's really fascinating here, is the correlation between the terminations and whether or not those fired had initiated any complaints, grievances or lawsuits. Because the answer is yes in all the termination cases whether the person terminated had been the one who complained about the racial joke or comment or the one who made it.

You file the lawsuit and you're the complainant, you get fired. You file the lawsuit and you make the comments, you get fired.

So as you can see, there's very little to this situation that really has anything to do with racist language except that this sudden concern over it is being used to cover up some questionable behavior by the police department's management.

When Saying a Racial Slur is Okay and Then Not Okay

Employee: Fired

Lawsuit filed by employee disciplined: Yes

Lanzillo allegedly made his racial joke when attending a cultural diversity training at about the same time that Leach had made his ill fated drive through Riverside while inebriated. It didn't appear that what he said caused problems at first. Lt. Ed Blevins who had supervised the Vice/Intelligence Unit where Lanzillo had been assigned had reported the comment though it's not clear whether or not he had actually witnessed the incident.

Lanzillo was technically fired when his statement about having made another racial comment about three years earlier wasn't substantiated by witnesses. Well it's possible any witnesses might have been leery to admit that they'd heard it knowing that the next question might have been why they hadn't done as Blevins did and report it so going back and looking for substantiation isn't necessarily going to result in much further information. But because there was no agreement with his statement, he was fired by the department for dishonesty and the time frame from the incident to the Skelly hearing where his firing was upheld was just over four months, with the investigative process taking somewhat less time to complete than that. Which does lend support that for whatever reason, it was a highly prioritized investigative process.

But Lanzillo had two things against him. The fact that he had challenged DeLaRosa and that he wasn't a member of the command staff.

When Saying a Racial Slur is Okay

Employee: No Discipline, Retirement, Job at City Hall

Lawsuit filed by employee disciplined: No

This incident when I first heard it shocked me. Okay, maybe considering the history of how racist jokes and remarks are treated in this history, it should have appeared more as par for the course but this notorious incident is one of the city's worst kept secrets and it is a definitive example of how there's a double standard of behavior for those in higher management positions in this city even beyond being able to engage in shenanigans including illegal actions involving badges, cold plates and illicit gun sales. This incident also involved a police department employee, in this case a lieutenant, who in this case used a racist slur, "wetback", in a training session. The outcome of his case is much, much different than that involving Lanzillo.

One day, an assistant city attorney had to deliver some training on the legal issues associated with Use of Force incidents. The class of police employees including one lieutenant who was assigned to of all divisions, Internal Affairs watched videos of highly controversial use of force incidents. One of these incidents was the 1996 beating of undocumented immigrants by Riverside County Sheriff's Department deputies. After conducting some training, the class took a break and they engaged in chit chat. The topic turned to some of the videos viewed in the training including that 1996 video.

The lieutenant at some point said something like "that beating of those wetbacks looked pretty good" and the reaction was immediate. Brown walked out of the room abruptly and another lieutenant in the class started loudly asking everyone in the room if they heard the slur. Now this lieutenant who later reported the comment could have been very concerned about what he just said or it could have been because he had been #2 on the captain's promotional list behind only the lieutenant who used the slur and thought reporting him might help his own trajectory. Anyway, an investigation was done and the lieutenant just received a copy of the incident in his file. He wasn't written up, suspended, demoted and certainly not fired.

In fact, this lieutenant retired later on and currently works as an investigator under City Attorney Gregory Priamos at City Hall, remarkable given that he had made this slur in front of one of Priamos top employees.

But this incident actually comes in two parts with the earlier portion detailed below.

When Saying a Racial Slur Is Not Okay But Becomes Okay

Employee: Suspension, then Written Up

Lawsuit filed by employee disciplined: No

The lieutenant mentioned above worked in the Internal Affairs Division overseeing its operations which included the sergeants who conducted investigations involving the department's employees. Not long before this lieutenant used the racist slur, his division had been investigating a special investigations detective who had in what must be one of the all-time greatest coincidences, used the very same racist slur...also in training!

Only this detective was providing instruction in a roll call session, inside one of the rooms that had to have a camera installed with a live feed to the police chief's office to help reduce the occurrences of racist and sexist comments and jokes under the five-year consent decree with the State Attorney General's office. His comment had been more along the lines of saying that they had gone into the "wetback's house" and his comment was reported for investigation as well. Only in his case, he had been looking at a 40-80 hour suspension.

But all that changed when the Internal Affairs lieutenant had been the focus of investigation for the same slur and had received really no disciplinary action at all. So in the interest of appearing to be committed to due process and equal protection under the law and all that, the detective's disciplinary action was reduced to a written reprimand. It remains to be seen whether he'll get a City Hall job after he retires.

When You Read the Racial Slur the Wrong Way

Employee: No disciplinary action but complainants terminated by city

Complaints filed by employees disciplined: Yes in both cases

Not too many years back, an employee who worked for the Park and Recreations Department was in the same room as another employee in his unit who was talking to someone on the phone and in the process, the employee on the phone said quite loudly, a racial slur. The employee who heard it complained to the head of the department who told him that he must have heard it wrong and that the employee hadn't meant it "that way". The employee who reported it wasn't swayed by that explanation so he filed a grievance with the city. Within two days of filing it, he was terminated in a meeting with the department head and former Asst. City Manager Michael Beck.

Another case involved a woman in the police department who had among other things, reported that a male volunteer asked a male officer if he wanted to hear "a Black joke" while they were at a coffee place not long after they all had been assigned to work one of the police department's first DUI checkpoints in the Eastside. She tried to complain to the volunteer coordinator and was told that yes, things like that happen but there wasn't anything that could be done and they all had to get along. Within two days, apparently the management of the department couldn't "get along" with her, because she was discharged from the volunteers program. She met with an Internal Affairs lieutenant (but not the one who made the above racial slur) and it's not clear whether any investigation was conducted.

These are but several examples of the many different ways that the city and its departments handle the use of racial comments, slurs or jokes among the employment ranks. And yes, it does seem that some people may get fired, they might get reprimanded, they may get no disciplinary action or they could even get jobs with City Hall after they retire. There does seem to be a difference with how the command staff in the police department is treated in respect to other officers and there's some tacit understanding of the differences and how bad they might look given that the detective who made the remark in roll call had to be re-disciplined with a lessor action.

But there's more on this chain of events to come as this situation involving the police department and City Hall continues to play itself out in the upcoming weeks.

William Malone, embroiled in controversy over his handling of the Fox Theater loses his contract with the city's municipal auditorium.

Riverside's Fairmount Park debuts its new universal playground on Saturday, June 19 at 10:30 a.m. not long before the City Council's sailing regatta competition at 1 p.m.

[Officer David Taylor and his former canine partner, Von who retired and later apparently died from a heart ailment. The city council will be voting on an item to purchase a new dog for Taylor and for training at Adlerhorst International.]

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