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, August 12, 2010

Chief Diaz Addresses a Meeting and Defends Blakely Against Esquivel

UPDATE: Intrigue still surrounds the disciplinary action involving Lt. Leon Phillips. Was his demotion overturned by the city management and when the shift change takes place on Aug. 20, will be be a sergeant or a lieutenant?

“The men and women of the Riverside Police Department are hard working crime fighters. They have a great reputation in the law enforcement community and I will be honored to join their ranks.

They deserve committed leadership that will help develop them for the future."

---Newly hired Asst. Police Chief Chris Vicino about working in Riverside where he will report to duty in about three weeks.

[Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz appeared and answered questions at a town hall meeting held by Ward Four Councilman Paul Davis.]

About 40 people congregated at the Orange Terrace Community Center to attend a town hall meeting held by Councilman Paul Davis and one of the presentations given at this meeting was by Chief Sergio Diaz who appeared with Lt. Vic Williams who serves as the area commander of NPC East which includes Orangecrest. Diaz began working with the police department on July 1 and said that he's found the police department to be a very good one, including in terms of responding to phone calls for assistance, responding to calls for service with officers and doing followup on investigations by detectives. He said that the officers weren't always well led or well served by the leadership who directed them. He said that he had done promotions from captain to sergeant and that he looked very closely at the qualities of the candidates.

"Ones that shone throughout their careers of serving the public...", Diaz said.

Diaz said after filling vacancies through 13 promotions done on July 30 that the department's staffing was adequate to deliver on the demands for public safety. Three areas which the department had been focusing on recently were domestic violence, narcotics and parolees. He believed on operating on the "broken window" theory of maintenance of environments as a deterrent to criminal actions.

He hired Vicino who applied through the process put forth by the city's Human Resources Department. He said that Vincino would be instrumental in the department's strategic planning, calling him very experienced, very capable and with a high level of education. Vincino would restore pride and trust in the police department by the community and the officers.

Police department's press release on Vicino is here and there's also references there of written work put out by Vicino in response to various investigations involving Pasadena's police department.

Diaz said he would bring people up through the department if they were qualified but not look only internally.

"If we have to go outside, we'll go there," he said.

He planned to stay at the helm of the department for 5-10 years and when he left, be replaced by an individual who had worked themselves up through the ranks. Some people asked questions ranging from dealing with registered sex offenders living in their neighborhoods to addressing the costs of drug abuse and vehicle traffic. He provided answers to them and said that he was still evaluating programs in different areas to see what would work best with the department. One cut program, PACT lost due to budget cuts might also be reevaluated in whether it would return but Diaz said that the officers have been "vigorous" when addressing the parolee issue.

Diaz also discussed the department's upcoming strategic plan which he said that the department would be working on the next few months. A lot of work had been put into it and he didn't want to throw that way. He said he planned to come to a few meetings in the next several months to solicit more community input for the strategic plan.

When asked about whether or not he had been micromanaged by elements of City Hall, Diaz said he has had no complaints. He's made a number of decisions, involving personnel and he's not had any made that have been challenged or done by City Hall. He said that a lot of the same people who are concerned about micromanagement by City Hall want to be involved in personnel decisions involving the police department but he's not interested in hearing from the community about who should be promoted.

Community leaders as they were certainly are opinionated in this town but for the most part, most of them believe that while they're opinionated they really don't have any say in who gets promoted. The vast perception among them in that area is that members of the city government have much more say in what happens with promotions. No community leader is going to truly believe that he or she has more say in the promotional process than say, Councilman Steve Adams who apparently directed Leach and Hudson on at least two promotions at the captain's level. That's the perception that Diaz has to work hard at changing and he has to make it as clear to city council and the mayor in ways that the community can hear as well that they won't influence the promotional process. Past practices have nothing to do with the current chief but that doesn't mean that the ripples of those past practices don't still exist and need to be dealt with in the present. Make it clear that community leaders have no influence in the promotional process but also make it clear that people like Adams play no role either.

One way to remedy so-called lobbying by community leaders can be readily fixed and that's by taking the newly promoted employees from Deputy Chief Mike Blakely and Capt. Mike Perea on down to meetings to introduce them to community members because except for Perea and the officers with Riverside Police Officers' Association connections, the community leaders let alone members know or personally recognize very few names let alone faces on the recent list of 13 employees promoted. The reason for that is that the majority of them worked in assignments like SWAT/Metro and administrative assignments including Personnel and Training, which while vital to an operating law enforcement agency by nature are insulated from the communities and the public. Some of these individuals had lessor experience as patrol sergeants which are the most likely to come into contact with the public. In fact, several individuals went from one special assignment to another with no or little time spent in patrol and thus contact with the public in between.

The work of personnel and training except for recruitment appearances at community events is almost entirely internalized and SWAT/Metro by its nature and purpose is a very insulated and isolated unit as well from the public, except when it appears at recruitment events. So consequently, when individuals in these fields and two of the three lieutenants promoted worked in both assignments are promoted, there should be more effort to introduce them and make them much more visible to the public. If that's done then quite a bit of the concern about how promotions are done might be addressed. Community leaders get concerned when they see officers elevated through the department that they haven't interfaced with or that haven't interfaced much with the public. Community policing might be in its embryonic stage in the department as a philosophy but to the communities in Riverside, it's important and part of that is getting to know and work with police officers including those who are promoted. Address that and the phone calls to talk about personnel promotions would probably decrease. But do most community leaders actually believe they have any influence in the promotional process, the answer is no. Again, do they believe that individuals at City Hall including elected officials do, that answer's yes. The best way to change that perception is prove it wrong through action because ultimately actions define promises and pledges made in any branch of government or department leadership.

He spoke about the chief's advisory board which essentially was created by Leach and operated under conditions more secretive than the CIA. When you create a board and don't allow community leaders to disseminate information to the communities they purportedly represent or say they represent then you're just using them for your own purposes. Any type of board like that is worthless if it's not two-way advising, hence the words advisory board, and the "dog and pony" show that despite its secrecy, most people knew it to be. So any news that it will be a mutual advisory committee that's hopefully more transparent to the communities its members represent would be beneficial.

Esquivel Claim "Groundless"

Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein writes about the flurry of litigation filed by employees in the Riverside Police Department. Since Feb. 8, a number of employees have filed claims for damages and lawsuits including former deputy chief, Pete Esquivel and Officer Neely Nakamura along with former Detective Chris Lanzillo. The city most likely has rejected the claims that it has received as that's fairly routine. Bernstein interviewed Chief Sergio Diaz about the recent claim filed by Esquivel and he had strong opinions about it especially allegations of illegal conduct made against current Deputy Chief Mike Blakely. People had asked what definition of the word "outrageous" Diaz had meant when he made his previous comments on an earlier article on the Esquivel claim. But there's no confusion now.

Diaz responded to Bernstein's questions particularly on the Esquivel claim.


"Groundless." The phone info "was not obtained illegally" and, "I reviewed the investigation of Esquivel and his use of city time and the relationship he references in his claim. I'm impressed with the sensitivity of handling a difficult situation by internal affairs officers under Blakely."

He wasn't quite finished: "Esquivel makes the point that he was a whistle blower, that except for his intervention and his insistence on investigation, the DUI case against Chief Leach would not have been pursued. I looked at the chronology of events, and I'm convinced this is a ridiculous claim."

Diaz is probably right in that Esquivel didn't whistle blow on the Leach incident but that was because he was a member of the management team and no one at that level in either the police department or City Hall blew any whistle whatsoever on the incident. Most of them were too busy making sure the public and perhaps even some elements in City Hall ever found out about it. Customarily in situations such as this one where a high-ranking employee of the government or a public safety agency screws up or violates the law, there's a bunker mentality from those around him and immediately blow him or her to batten down the hatches so that no one outside that protective circle finds out about it. Consequently if anyone else does find out about it, it's usually when the information goes outside that protective circle that exposure takes place. Face it, if anyone in management had done the right thing as entrusted by the department and public to do, there wouldn't be as many vacancies needing to be filled especially from the outside at that level.

It went against the best interests of anyone involved certainly on the department's interests from DeLaRosa (and Leach) on down (though lessor so for the patrol officers) for any exposure of the Leach incident let alone public exposure. So unfortunately, there's not going to be any appropriate or whistle blowing behavior at this level. The people who are most responsible for instilling the public's trust in city government or the police department are instead acting in a way that's counter to that mission because they have already committed actions that they need to protect. And that's the way it played out though there's probably certainly those in upper management in both the city and the department who disagree with that and perhaps the written records of those events differ as well but in that case, you have to remember who's writing them and who's recording that history because after all, history belongs to the person who has both the power to write it and to insure its dominance in all the recorded events of that period of time.

But no, management wasn't out running around handling this situation appropriately on Feb. 8 or even during a large part of Feb. 9. Why would it, since it goes against its best interests to do so? Why this is, is one of the reasons why the management level or executive staff as it's called essentially has to be rebuilt. The same factors that played into Feb. 8 involving the management team's nonresponse to the illegal behavior of its chief played into why at least two high ranking management employees had to be hired from outside the department. And both of these issues are heavily threaded into ongoing problems that date back to at least 2005 involving the police department. Paying the price for all this intrigue that was years in the making before it broke the veil of secrecy earlier this year were the city's residents and the vast majority of the police department's officers and civilian employees.

And of course these department employees are pushing for more ethical behavior and a restoration of their pride in their agency because they received zero benefits from the management's misbehavior and paid a high degree of cost precisely because they are most readily identified by the public as being representative of the department, good or bad, because they interface most with the public. But that's why it's important of these employees to be cautious of the promotions being made above them to ensure that officers who don't have prior character or judgment violations are elevated because of the higher risk of recidivism and thus bringing more of a similar burden to these employees as that faced by events earlier this year.

The people who ensured that it wasn't buried under the carpet probably weren't the individuals at the management level of the police department or at City Hall. Because those individuals were too busy doing other things at the time. These were the individuals that the public should have trusted to do the right and responsible thing when their boss broke the law and got caught by his own officers but until the media started beating the doors down by Feb. 9, no action was taken.

The biggest clue to the attitudes about the department's management towards the chief's drinking which didn't just start on Feb. 8 was if you listen and watch the video taken of the incident from one of the squad car dash cameras. The two officers engage in a rather extensive discussion of what a political train wreck this situation is once they realize who's behind the wheel of the black Chrysler 300 they've just pulled over. In fact one of them is clearly seen and heard warning another patrol officer away from the scene, essentially warning him away from this political train wreck and then adding that he wished he could leave too.

Lt. Leon Phillips was calling then Asst. Chief John DeLaRosa back and forth throughout the traffic stop.

Even though three current and former police officers said they told DeLaRosa over the phone that Leach appeared drunk or that it was a DUI situation, DeLaRosa later told CHP investigators that no one had done so. DeLaRosa said that he left it up to Phillips to make the decision and went to bed.

City Manager Brad Hudson was too busy inspecting theaters in Pasadena with his city-issued phone turned off the entire time to address the issue yet even though phone records obtained by the Press Enterprise showed no incoming or outcoming calls to that phone on Feb. 8 until after 5 p.m., somehow he had been notified before that time about what had happened. Mayor Ron Loveridge was too busy in Sacramento most likely conducting business as the League of Cities president to be in his office when an anonymous woman called earlier that morning reporting the incident. City Attorney was too busy trying to make sure that his city-issued cell phone records wouldn't be released to the media citing attorney-client privilege and then later briefing elected officials by assuring them that alcohol played no role in Leach's accident.

But as for his comments about Blakely and his Internal Affairs sergeants, John Capen and Frank Assumma being "sensitive" in their interviews, it's good that he's provided that clarification because out here in the city there's been a great deal of concern and even anger about how Nakamura in particular was allegedly treated in her interview. Because even though she was alleged to be interviewed as a mere "witness", the actions of compelling her in the parking lot and walking with her to the bathroom and having her turn over her personal phone do not appear to be other but treated her like the subject of the investigation or even a suspect in a criminal investigation perhaps.

But what's really got people upset particularly women in leadership positions is the questions that Nakamura was asked during her interview, including those provided in the following excerpt.

(excerpt, Esquivel/Nakamura claims against Riverside)

Q: (IA) Okay and again I-I-I apologize for being graphic, but can you describe the type of sex acts that we're talking about just so we're clear?

A: As far as intercourse?

Q: Yeah uh well, you've already said intercourse.

A: Right.

Q: ...occurred. Did other sex acts occur?

A: What type of sex acts?

Q: Oral copulation uh, masturbation, anything like that uh or was it always just intercourse?

A: All of the above

If this is indeed an excerpt from the transcript of the Internal Affairs interview involving Nakamura, then there's a couple of details which come to attention fairly quickly. The first being the apology by an unidentified investigator, for being so graphic in his line of questioning. And it is "his" questioning because everyone in the chain of command on the administrative side of the department stemming from Internal Affairs is a male and all the current sergeants in the Internal Affairs Division are male as there has not been female sergeant in that division since Melissa Bartholomew several years ago. And before her, Meredith Meredyth who worked in that division as both a lieutenant and sergeant. So you have an immediate difference between Nakamura and Esquivel right off the bat.

She's a female officer hired by the department as a lateral in December 2005 and Esquivel is a deputy chief who has about 36 years with the agency and has "maxed out" on his retirement. She's being interviewed only by officers who outrank her. He was interviewed by a mixture of sergeants, possibly a lieutenant and with Blakely and DeLaRosa in the room. He can be asked questions by subordinates but only DeLaRosa or someone from the city management office could compel him to respond to them. But there's a difference between officers interviewing a subordinate to themselves and officers interviewing a superior officer even with higher ranking personnel present in the interrogation. Esquivel's retirement is pretty much secured, with Nakamura's employment by the department on much shakier grounds.

They are hardly the first officers, one subordinate (usually the female) and one a ranking superior (almost always the male) in the department "fraternizing", they're just the only coupling that's been outed in the public. And Nakamura's been given the scarlet letter for a practice that seems fairly common inside the police department. So much so that at least two of the recent promotions made involved officers disciplined in the past for sexual activity on duty. And predicatably the higher ranking of the two received lighter disciplinary action than his subordinate, mirroring the case involving the DUI incident with Leach.

But anyway back to the unknown investigator who apologized to Nakamura just before unloading some "graphic" questions.

One wonders if the investigator ( given the tendency to good cop/bad cop even internal investigation interviews) was equally apologetic when asking her questions about her sexual relationship with a superior ranking officer in the department. Based on the wording of the statement made by the investigator, probably not. But it does indicate that the investigator is aware that he's stepping outside the boundaries of the questions asked previously to establish that sexual relationship and thus provide any reasoning to sustain any potential policy violations if any were done and the apology in those circumstances would be largely for his own benefit to reestablish himself as the "good cop" and not hers.

The interesting part of it comes in that same sentence with the word choice being "describe the sexual acts" which is an interest contrast with the apology that came just earlier which further establishes the role of the "good cop" in the interrogation of Nakamura. When the investigator reminds her that she's already admitted to intercourse with Esquivel, it's clear that through the interrogation process that had already been established. Consquently if that admission essentially sustained any policy violation stemming from improperty fraternization, then the work of the two interrogators and their supervisors in the chain of command is essentially done. The purpose of the interview is to obtain through a question and answer session a version of events in relation to any potential violations of administrative policies.

If there were a policy prohibiting "fraternization" between a superior officer and a subordinate, then the admission of a sexual relationship would establish if any such violation took place. It's not clear to at least many city residents how admissions to oral copulation and masturbation and other sexual activities is going to be necessary to prove any policy violations already sustained or uncovered by the previous admission to sex. Perhaps if she had said, no we didn't have sexual intercourse then asking about other sexual activities to ascertain whether or not those same policies were violated through the commission of other sexual activities besides intercourse might have been an integral componant of the interrogation process. However, she had already admitted to sexual intercourse with Esquivel, hence any fraternization or other policy violations related to sexual relationships between officers particularly those at different ranks would already have been leaning towards sustained (contingent mostly on information gleaned from other people interviewed including Esquivel).

So to many city residents, the questions about other sexual activities including oral copulation and masturbation seem extraneous and the perception is that they were done solely to embarrass, humiliate or intimidate Nakamura, in a sense punishing her for behavior before it had even been sustained through the established departmental policies and practices for adminsitrative investigations of police officers. The clincher actually also appears in the excerpted transcript and it's this statement:

Oral copulation uh, masturbation, anything like that uh or was it always just intercourse?

Most people would seriously ask what point is there to a question like this one when again a sexual relationship has already been established as taking place? What's the difference in violating departmental policies (or not) if they stuck to penetrative sex or they engaged in oral sex or masturbation. Why is a roster of their sexual activities really necessary as if to say that yes, it makes a difference rather they stuck to sexual intercourse or broke it up by engaging in other sexual acts as well. Why not ask whether he or she was on top when they did it and provided a percentage of time spent doing each? Why not ask whether they engaged in Kama Sutru practices or whatnot?

And it's not actually clear whether investigators did or didn't ask these or other similar questions! It doesn't take a genius, police officer or not, to figure out that questions like the ones in the excerpt above are asked to embarrass or humililate the "witness". It's not clear if Esquivel was asked similar questions because no excerpts were provided of his interview in the claims for damages or whether this practice is solely reserved for women who are in relationships with men who outrank them in the department. The reason why these questions were asked is probably because the process involved with interrogations in relation to internal investigations which is a highly insulated process and thus was never supposed to be known by the public. In this case at least, it appears that a small excerpt of a much larger interview was released. If investigators knew that it might be, would they have asked the same questions? That part can never really be known in terms of whether 99% of the interview was done in a "sensitive" fashion. It would be interesting to see the whole interview transcripts for both Esquivel and Nakamura to see whether that excerpt was the exception or the rule in the line of questioning and whether both parties were treated the same in their interviews.

But we all might have to wait for trial to see that play out or if there's depositions that are released to the public if the case gets that far. After all, City Attorney Gregory Priamos was able to sit this batch of claims out and not report publicly on how "frivolous" the city believes the claims to be and how vigorously the city will fight them. Diaz was able to respond as police chief to that instead. Still, the best way to know for sure how accurate the allegations are is if both the city and plaintiffs agree on one thing which is to send this case to jury trial. Frivolous? Don't settle yet another such claim or lawsuit behind closed doors. "Groundless", okay we'll see the feuding parties in the nearest trial venue where both sides can prove their arguments through evidence and testimony in a public forum.

Of course I'll tell you right here and now, that day aint ever going to happen. The moon will be proven to be made out of cheese and eaten (and regurgitated) by a huge flying purple polka-dotted Holstein cow before the city will ever take another labor-related lawsuit involving the police department to trial. It can't do that now that it's no longer insured by an outside carrier but is proudly self-insured on litigation. And the city's learned that once its employees, most of whom are subpoenaed by one side or the other are put on the witness stand, all kinds of "answers" to questions come pouring out. There's no real way to control that outflow of information because even if objections are sustained, you can't unring the bell.

And whether Esquivel's claim is true or not, there's a huge bell waiting to be rung that's permeating this case which has already been hinted it through the line of questioning tossed at Nakamura and hasn't been addressed by anyone and the city knows it so hence, even if Esquivel's actual claim is indeed a hill of beans, it won't see a trial date.

You read that here first.

Former San Bernardino County Assessor Bill Postmus got arrested again.

Who will get the bullet train?

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