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

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The House that City Hall Built: The Costs of Scandal

UPDATE: Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz hires Christopher Vacino who is Pasadena's acting chief. Here's a short bio. Guess who's his soon to be ex-boss while he was interim? Hint: It's an ex-Riverside City Hall employee who now works in that city.

His background according to his bio is community policing and Strategic Planning, having over 30 years with the Pasadena Police Department.

He also has this page at Rate My Professors. Also this article on his hiring as interim last year including comments by City Manager Michael Beck.

UPDATE: Rumors of intrigue at City Hall over the fate of one of the players in the Leach DUI incident...has there been any developments out of the Seventh Floor?

The Fate of Lt. Leon Phillips:

Demotion or something else? Did he meet with Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis and have his demotion and suspension reduced to lighter discipline? City Hall has battened the hatches on this one but if this is true, what happened?

[The epicenter of what's been going down in River City.]

"Take me back

To a world gone away
Seem like yesterday..."

---Chicago (1975)

There's been a lot of debate about whether or not city residents should be playing close attention to what's been going on inside the police department and inside the halls of power of City Hall. Some say that city residents should just forget about it, move on and focus on other things. There's some merit to focusing on the positive but while that's life affirming and leaves one feeling lighter, it's been very difficult for many city residents to do that especially when the scandals just keep on coming. It's also very difficult when the denizens at City Hall keep everyone enraptured by their behaviors, both the past ones exposed and the current ones when addressing the scandals that had been after all, locked up in a closet somewhere with the key purportedly kept in a safe place. City Hall used city residents' money to keep this closet locked up and the key hidden but it's like the Rolling Stone song says, you can't always get what you want.

But maybe Riverside can get what it needs.

A thorough cleaning out of those responsible for wreaking the havoc in Riverside that's been seen the past few months but really stems from behavior taking place behind the scenes of the city and police department since at least 2005. Because until this is done, it will be more of the same, more scandals, more embarrassment and ultimately more cost to the city's residents. No point in going broke before the true costs of Riverside Renaissance comes to light. And if the city becomes more of a liability with the emergence of more scandals, that will impact its bond ratings. Which might be when City Hall finally really starts to feel the repercussions of a lack of responsiveness to what's been going on in the past few months to the point where people have been hearing pins dropping all over the 'Hall. But in the meantime, Riverside's hottest serial drama/reality show continues.

Are the producers of Survivor and American Idol paying attention?

[Long-time Mayor Ron Loveridge who's not been in town much as his activities as the president of the League of Cities keep him on the road but apparently he's found enough time to broker the creation of a new position reporting to him at City Hall.]

So far the reaction in City Hall including by Mayor Ron Loveridge who's not been in town much lately since he's been selected the president of the League of Cities is to contemplate hiring another employee to handle public information requests and intergovernmental relations at City Hall. This person would report to the mayor, mayor pro tem and chair of the Governmental Affairs Committee and probably wouldn't be working for free. It's interesting that the city would suggest this after laying off employees especially in the areas of libraries, museums and public works. But it's more than considering this plan, it's trying to get it implemented.

As if the Mayor's office needs another staff member, while huge vacancies exist in libraries (which lost most of its actual librarians) and museums (which lost at least half of its assigned personnel) not to mention public safety where there's still high vacancies including in the civilian divisions.

The denial of public records, as selective as it clearly turned out to be, is not about ignorance of the law (which is an acceptable excuse only inside City Hall) or about "mistakes made", nor can it be fixed by hiring another public relations employee. Doing this just masks the real issues which led to the selective release or denial of public documents to various city residents, media outlets and city labor unions for the past five years.

It's about the city council and mayor holding their direct employees, Hudson and City Attorney Gregory Priamos (who remember, couldn't find two police management contracts in his own office three years ago) accountable to both ethical and honest behavior including but not only involving the CPRA. Let's poll the city right now and see if many agree that this is what's being done and if so, who the city residents find ultimately responsible for the transgressions. But until the city council and mayor realizes that abiding by state laws including CPRA just isn't optional and until the city government collectively holds its direct employees accountable, nothing will change, they'll just put another employee against them to first, barricade themselves against being accountable to their constituents on public information requests, and second, have a convenient scapegoat to throw under the bus the next time they get caught trying to not release public information that might expose them to embarrassment by highlighting misconduct including criminal violations.

It might be interesting to do another poll in May 2010 just before the mail in ballots start flowing into the Voters Registrar's offices to be counted. And then there's the most important poll known as the election process.

But what really has people concerned about what's been taking place isn't just the cost to public trust in Riverside's City Hall which plummeted along with that of the police department after Feb. 8 but the financial costs and fallout of what has taken place. Mostly through the recent rash of expensive retirements, medical and otherwise, that have taken place during the past few months.

The question many ask, if the recent antics of City Hall are what's contributing greatly or more likely causing these slew of expensive retirements and litigation to be filed and ultimately settled, then why are the city's residents being sent the bill of payment rather than those responsible inside City Hall? And these actions taken by city employees including those in other departments besides public safety, are not being filed for frivolous reasons or because people just love to sue other people, they're stemming from behaviors that have resulted both from how City Hall conducts its business involving its own labor force as well as management of specific city departments including police by the city manager's office. The city will prove this point by settling these cases not to avoid the cost of litigation but to avoid the cost of losing.

These payouts are the costs that City Hall doesn't include on its Web site or advertise during the "economic success" reports given by council members at regular city council meetings. The most that City Attorney Gregory Priamos has to say about it is that there's no reportable action when these claims and lawsuits appear on the closed session agendas as two police-related ones did this week. City Hall can't or won't talk about them citing confidentiality laws even to explain why the city apparently settles at some point many labor related actions.

What does the public hear when they're filed? Priamos or one of his employees saying the claim or lawsuit's "frivolous" and that the city will defend itself vigorously. And it does, all the way to the demurrer stage or even occasionally the motion for summary judgment. But when things get more quiet and fewer people are paying attention, these cases all settle and some of them do get reported but how many don't?

The Human Resources Board tried to obtain just basic statistical information about lawsuits filed in the various courts by city employees. The lawsuits themselves once they hit the courts are public but apparently according to Human Resources Director Rhonda Strout who was channeling both Hudson and Priamos at one meeting said no, that information can't be released by the city and it's outside their purview. Hudson did feel compelled to attend a Human Resources Board meeting to smooth some feathers and essentially told the Board to "redefine" its mission so smoothly and skillfully that he left the board members thinking that their own redirection away from some sensitive issues was their own idea. That's the art of manipulation that only can come from a highly skilled player in action and really something to behold in person.

But no, the city doesn't want to be handing out even statistical information on the money spent on litigation stemming from the current management of City Hall. And yes, a lot of it has been initiated, some might too much. But there's a clear pattern in the processes behind many of this inhouse litigation.

1) City employee does one of the following:

a) files a complaint of discrimination usually involving the disciplinary or promotional process (i.e. Roger Sutton, Christine Keers, African-American and Latino employees from various city departments including public works, women alleging ageism). They usually start by filing claim for damages, many of which aren't accessed by the media or public due to the insulated nature of that process. Discrimination might be by race, gender, age or political affiliations, i.e. labor associations. At this stage, hardly anyone outside the person or department might know of the allegations of misconduct.

b) Employees complaining about corruption within city departments, City Hall or violations of policies, practices or even state laws including the penal code. This may or may not lead to investigations of said allegations by outside law enforcement or prosecutory agencies. Sometimes this may or may not be publicized depending on the nature of the investigations or whether either party releases this information for strategic reasons.

2) Investigations are initiated against them and/or relatives of theirs after these employees initiate complaints through the inhouse and as a result, more insulated process that the public often doesn't have access to in regards of information. The investigations might involve allegations that are recent or in the past because the statutory of limitations on disciplinary action only starts when misconduct is suspected by at least a supervisor. Also, in many cases the actual disciplinary action might be secondary to the exposure of the investigation. In several cases, criminal investigations against employees were initiated after claims were filed, i.e. Keers and in her case, an arrest was made by the department in direct violation of the D.A.'s office.

3) Employees either file lawsuits which are more public, claims which become publicized and consequently, the city residents might find out for the first time when this happens. It also makes it appear as if the employee is complaining about their allegations after being investigated or suspected of misconduct.

4) City Attorney's office claims publicly lawsuits or claims have no merits, are "frivolous" and will be rigorously defended by the city. Then the case gets farmed out by his department filled with deputy city attorneys to an outside firm.

5) City ultimately settles litigation which may or may not be revealed publicly. One case, Sutton, went to trial with jury and presiding judge both saying that the retaliation aspect of his case was the most compelling evidence wise.

But it's been an interesting few weeks with even more interesting revelations about what's taken place at City Hall particularly its Seventh Floor have come to light. Particularly for some on the roster at City Hall.

Getting to the Bottom of his Bag of Tricks?

[City Manager Brad Hudson said that ultimately the "cold plates" scandal had been on his watch but he pointed the finger at former Chief Russ Leach (who incidentally had started the circulation of the cold plate list that ultimately found its way to the State Attorney General's office) and his own subordinate, Tom DeSantis. ]

DeSantis, Meet Bus

[Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis who was unceremoniously tossed under the bus by his boss, City Manager Brad Hudson over the cold plates deal. Some people were shocked but could the man who followed Hudson to Riverside be vulnerable?]

Targeted by His Own Employee?

[In case Councilman Paul Davis doesn't know it yet, his employee, Hudson has allegedly called him a "one term" councilman for his bucking the culture of the current city council of "going along to get along", the mantra that could do for City Hall what the "Heavens will Fall" quote did for outgoing Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco.]

[One of the employees from the police department who both retired and filed a claim for damages alleging retaliation from the city and department. Are his allegations true, maybe so, maybe not but the city will settle his claim or lawsuit when things get quieter as it does in almost every case except for its $1.64 million mistake in 2005.]

[Asst. Chief turned Acting Chief John DeLaRosa retired from the police department in July allegedly after receiving a notice of intent to terminate by City Manager Brad Hudson. Even in retirement, he's still counseling key people inside the department. ]

Riverside Police Department Departures and Retirements

(Since Feb. 8, 2010)

Police Chief Russ Leach (medical) convicted of DUI

Asst. Chief John DeLaRosa: Delayed criminal investigation into Leach incident, involved in decision making to take him home. Retired suddenly the day that the hiring of the new chief was announced.

Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel: Thought about putting in for chief position, before internal investigations opened up on him, retires instead and then files claim alleging retaliation by city and department.

Sgt. Frank Orta: Took a medical retirement after involvement in Leach incident as supervising sergeant. Authored controversial report later signed off by Esquivel.

Det. Chris Lanzillo: Fired after confronting DeLaRosa in roll call and then filing a claim against the city for retaliation. Sued the city and allegedly met with DeSantis recently. Will the city offset a costly firing by the former acting chief backed by Hudson with a retirement for the former RPOA president?

Sgt. Frank Patino: Long-time officer of over 30 years had investigations opened on him in hopes of pushing his retirement? It might have worked as Patino's set to retire later this month.

Lt. Tim Bacon: Retired after settling a lawsuit alleging that he was retaliated for his activities as union PAC member by the department and City Hall for among other things reporting the guns, badges and cold plates scandals to the State Attorney General's office.

Lt. Darryl Hurt: Retired after settling a lawsuit alleging that he was retaliated for his activities as union president by the department and City Hall for among other things reporting the guns, badges and cold plates scandals to the State Attorney General's office.

As these folks retired, further vacancies were created inside a police department already facing a 10% vacancy rate over all and approximately 19% inside the civilian ranks. Those vacancies were filled through three promotional phases under DeLaRosa and more recently, a quite extensive promotional list put out by Diaz on July 30. These promotions were necessary to pull the department out of the direction of moving along with a very young and relatively inexperienced patrol division (created by the post-1999 exodus which was followed by two hiring waves) with less and less supervisors handling more and more work shifts especially in the watch command division which saw its numbers cut in half just in the past six months.

A next important step that needs to be taken by the city and department is to open up vacant patrol officer positions and create more of them to overcome the losses generated by the rash of promotions which ultimately draw from the bottom rank. Not to mention addressing a rash of retirements and departures as well as the reality that Riverside's a city that's still increasing greatly in population through migration even as over a dozen annexations have been put on ice.

But in the midst of all this, some desks have been filled at the department's administration headquarters on Orange Street. Filled by officers who were transferred there in the police department's equivalent of the Island of Lost Toys. Their fates aren't clear at this time because nothing much has happened to them for the months that some of them have spent there. Two of the original group, Lanzillo and Leon Phillips were given notices of intent to terminate though only Lanzillo was actually fired.

But others man the desks and the phones as the clock keeps ticking.

Answering Phones at the Orange Street Station

These officers were sitting in what some call the "penalty box" last spring and they're still there, for various stalled investigations or disciplinary processes instituted by DeLaRosa and current Deputy Chief Mike Blakely. Several originally were set to be terminated but is it possible that the department is waiting for the clock established by Governmental Code 3304(d) to expire on these cases? There's been internal debate about whether or not they are where they should be but their cases have essentially put them in limbo and having them sit around awaiting the clock to run out so they can't be disciplined appears to contradict the purpose for putting them there in the first place which is to have them await disciplinary action for misconduct. It's just odd on its face though no doubt there's some internally generated logic to have officers sitting in limbo at desks if only to allow the statutory limitation for disciplining them to run out. That's clearly what's happening if a situation's allowed to drag itself out essentially in limbo until the one year anniversary of the alleged notification of possible misconduct by an officer was made.

Because if officers commit misconduct that's sustained, you discipline them certainly if it's serious enough to warrant sticking them in Orange Street Station in the first place and not allowing them out in the field as patrol officers. And if you have serious intentions to discipline for misconduct serious enough to take them off the streets, you do it within the time required by state law. But if you allow the clock to run out instead so your hands are tied so to speak, then clearly the misconduct if serious enough to move officers out of patrol even before it was investigated and proven or disproven, didn't happen to warrant disciplinary action. Actions like these are among those which ultimately cost the city money through grievances and lawsuits.

[Deputy Chief Mike Blakely (l.) known for his impressive work ethic has been quite busy in his newly regained assignment. And with an officer whose loyalty lies with no one in a city where you need a score card to determine who's beholden to who about what, he's truly the wild card in the infrastructure of the police department and City Hall.]

Here are the current roster of people hanging out by the phones at the Orange Street Station, attracting some attention by those walking its hallways.

Officer Richard Glover: involved in October 2009 incident involving arrest of allegedly intoxicated people. Testified in the criminal trial of former Officer Robert Forman in late 2009 and made waves when Blakely allegedly fired his wife. Did either or both come back to haunt him?

Officer Michael Bucy: Glover's partner and also testified on behalf of Forman in his criminal trial late last year as a former trainee of his.

Officer Jeffrey Adcox: Involved in a pursuit/officer involved shooting with another officer and was facing termination all earlier this year Convicted of a DUI after car accident in March 2009. Supervisor in that incident with the pursuit currently working for Internal Affairs.

Officer Justin Mann: Involved in same incident with Adcox and also testified in the Forman trial last year as the officer who reported the incident involving a victim who eventually filed a $1.9 million claim against the city.

Det. Ron Kipp: He's on administrative leave or duty for an out of town altercation between himself and police officers in another city. Long a magnet for controversy and disciplinary action, it's not clear what lies in his future. He's doing his time at one of the police facilities.

Officer Neely Nakamura: Filed a claim for damages against the city for her treatment by the police department during its quest to allegedly retaliate against Esquivel. It's not clear what her fate currently is but forging a future in the department that hired her in December 2005 would be extremely difficult at that point. And you know when management and those in a lower rank screw up or get investigated for screwing up, management retires and the person in the lower rank gets the discipline. Just ask former Lt. Leon Phillips.

Nakamura's alleged treatment by internal affairs including the highly detailed and graphic nature that it appears the questioning took has disturbed many people following that story. You sit there reading the excerpts from her interrogation by Internal Affairs personnel and many people are asking, okay was it necessary after an admission of an intimate affair between her and Esquivel to ask questions about whether or not they engaged in specific sexual acts? That appears to be a tactic done primarily to embarrass or intimidate someone being interviewed because if an admitted intimate relationship constitutes a departmental policy violation or any fraternization policy then that's already been established without further questions on sexual acts. It does make one wonder if these questions were actually asked of Nakamura, what the real purpose of the interview was by those interrogating her and those directing the actions of the interrogators.

And how did her interview with interrogators contrast with that done with a male officer who worked at management level given that no excerpts of Esquivel's interview were included in the claims for damages filed by both of them. Are interrogations like this routine practices in the department and are investigations for so-called fraternization common, because if the comments at the site are any indication, if everyone got investigated most especially closer to the top of the department, who would be left?

But the allegations raised by Esquivel and Nakamura in their claims should be investigated thoroughly. Yes, kidnapping and extortion are serious allegations which is precisely why for all involved, there should be an objective, timely and thorough investigative process and since the allegations involved the department's administrative investigative and oversight process, it might not hurt to have someone outside review that process. Including perhaps the Human Resources Board for example.

At any rate, there's a lot more going on in the department and City Hall which will certainly attract more attention as more and more of what's been kept hidden in some case for some time comes to see the light of day.

To Be Continued...

Steve Adams Gets an Early Campaign Donation

[Captain John Carpenter who had the sit down with Councilman Steve Adams in Corona to "clear the air" before his January 2008 promotion after being too closely associated with a police association which didn't endorse him apparently got it *right* this time allegedly donating money to Adams' campaign coffer for the 2011 election. Otherwise, Carpenter is busy settling into his job as being in charge of Special Operations with a lot of divisions on his lap and assignments coming in fast and furious from Blakely. Maybe that's why he spends most of the time in his office these days but then the captains have been quite busy. Adams of course is running for a third term as the Ward Seven councilman. ]

A Former Councilman responds....

Former Councilman Frank Schiavone did respond on the cold plates issue to say that his city owned vehicle had never been cold plated. He said that the Press Enterprise printed a correction on the article just published on the cold plates story involving elected officials whose vehicles had been assigned cold plates. He said that he did drive a Toyota Highlander for a period of time that had been assigned previously to Hudson and then may have been later assigned to Councilman Rusty Bailey.

And the publication posted this on the article at its Web site:

Editor's note: This story has been updated from a previous version to clarify the status of city cars driven by former Riverside City Councilman Frank Schiavone. He drove a car with untraceable plates for most of 2007, but a car issued to him in 2008 did not have such plates.

He also asked the question of what benefit did having a car with cold plates provide for elected officials such as himself.

WI FI Service Restored

[The city's WI FI system currently managed by AT&T until next month was returned back online by Tuesday evening after an city-wide outage lasting over 24 hours. Numerous people called the city asking what was up with that. The cause was unknown but computer tests run by this blogger narrowed the issue to problems with internet users accessing the internet through the network's DNS servers. ]

Public Meeting

Thursday, Aug. 12 at around 6:00 p.m. at the Orange Terrace Community Center, Councilman Paul Davis is holding a community meeting to discuss issues as well as to welcome Police Chief Sergio Diaz to his ward.

RPOA School Program

The Riverside Police Officers' Association is holding events to issue backpacks with school supplies to lower income students in this city. They will be doing so at three parks as part of a joint effort with the Riverside Unified School District after spending several days putting the 400 packets together.

They did this so far this week at Highlander Park and Islander Park.

The locations, dates, and times for another event:

Thursday August 12th at Mt. View Park at 11.00am

It's very good of the RPOA to show its involvement in the communities of Riverside by engaging in these project. Believe it or not, this is part of what community oriented policing is about and the department needs to undo the damage that's been done to that philosophy of policing by budget cuts and the decentralization of the department's resources that had a negative impact on the advancement of community policing even if it provided benefits in other areas.

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