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

Monday, August 09, 2010

Oh What Tangled Webs We Weave...City Officials and their Wheels

UPDATE: City Wide WI FI outage enters into its second day after it quit working at noon on Monday...with no ETA announced yet for restoration of the city's free internet service. ATT currently researching the source of the problem since it received the service request yesterday afternoon. Multiple reports from all over the city.

The city is scheduled to take control of the network's management and operations by Sept. 12.

"That's not the position that any public official wants to be in, that you don't know that you are doing something illegal.

---Riverside Councilwoman Nancy Hart

"Why would I suggest it?"

----Former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach

"I think ultimately he's responsible as our top law enforcement officer to give our city manager advice on that, and he gave him bad advice," Bailey said.

How can this be true when Hudson said he never heard about cold plates until after the attorney generals inquiry?

Can anyone down there on the City Council tell the truth?"

---Commenter, who makes an excellent point but then the truth doesn't have to be remembered.

The whole cold plate scandal took a rather interesting turn when it was revealed through the Press Enterprise that five former or current city officials had also been driving around cars issued cold plates by the city. At this point, few people are really shocked to learn that this took place but it does explain the city council's rather blase attitude towards the recent scandals to rock City Hall. It's difficult to point fingers at your direct employees for what you've been doing too and besides, those fingers have all been collectively pointed at former Police Chief Russ Leach, a rather easy scapegoat in this mess. But probably not an accurate one.

After all, City Manager Brad Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis have a rather extensive history of equipping or trying to equip themselves with various paraphernalia including badges, illegally purchased guns and emergency equipment in the case of DeSantis for his vehicle so he could "roll in" on critical public safety incidents. Hudson and he were allegedly highly involved in seeking out police paraphernalia since they first arrived in 2005 since it took all of six months or even less for the shenanigans involving the use of the police department as an illegal gun vendor to take place. The officer listed on the document as the agent of sale, he got promoted by Chief Sergio Diaz last week despite being demoted from that same rank little more than a year ago.

But the interesting thing about both Hudson and DeSantis is that every time they say something publicly, it's not too difficult to create a counterargument to what they have said, or corrections of the way they have said things. And so it is the case with the mystery of the cold plates. You have to remember that the newspaper is building its record of it based on again, very selective release of public documents pertaining to the issuance of cold plates provided by the city management at City Hall. Something that if the city council believes is going to be fixed by hiring another public information employee, then it's fooling itself which isn't good certainly not on the eve of an election year.

The infamous Cold Plate list

River City's Cold Plate Hall of Fame

"Sure, it makes you mad, but you move on. I'm tired of hearing about them, actually."

Said the plates on his city issued car where changed in late 2009 and he didn't know why

"I think ultimately he's responsible as our top law enforcement officer to give our city manager advice on that, and he gave him bad advice."

"There is really no benefit to having those plates. It doesn't allow you to park illegally, it doesn't allow you too drive fast. Why it was done, I don't know, and I don't understand even today."

[Note: Adams had his city-issued car impounded in Newport Beach allegedly for being "illegally parked". It was cold plated at the time and Former Chief Russ Leach had testified in a deposition that Adams had identified himself as an undercover police officer.]

"I'll blame Tom for the cold plates, Tom and the chief, with the chief getting a little more of the blame. But ultimately, I'm responsible." He said he didn't know about them until the you-know-what began hitting the fan.

Blames the chief who he directly supervised for the issuance of cold plates but if you've been watching closely, the accounts by city management have evolved through time and retelling more than that of Leach. But then he's been quite busy lately.

So you have five elected officials and their explanations as to why they had cold plates on their cars. It's only "old news" to them rather than their constituents because the city tried very hard including behind closed doors to make sure that the public wouldn't ever find out what took place.

They point the finger at Leach because he's easier to blame because he's a convicted criminal of sorts and has gone off into retirement after a scandal that shook the city. But the problem with this version of "I did it because Leach told me to" is that this doesn't explain why Leach then went and complained about the cold plating to two former lieutenants, Tim Bacon and Darryl Hurt who essentially no longer work for Riverside in large part because Leach wasn't really the responsible or the sole responsible party. Why would Leach institute illegal actions and then report them to Hurt and Bacon knowing fully well that they might or would take them to the state attorney general's office? That seems a bit bit foolish on its face and it doesn't jive with the portrait of an eager to please Leach who all of a sudden after four previous interim or permanent city managers and two assistant city managers decides to engage in illegal actions to give police-related equipment to his bosses. It doesn't jive with the reality is that Leach showed a pattern and practice of complaining to various people when disagreeing with actions that he was ordered or told to do by his bosses, Hudson and DeSantis. He didn't like what he was doing, he went off and told people about it.

And he's kept his version of events fairly consistent while Hudson and DeSantis' change their own with all three scandals.

[Another picture of the cold plate list which is difficult to read but on the bottom, next to the written notification for Schiavone (which is below a listing of his city-issued vehicle), there's a right slash (which means "per") and then "De Santis" which means that the authorization appears to have actually come from DeSantis.]

Per usual when the city gets caught doing something, the document record it provides after CPRA requests isn't complete but what was received seem to strongly indicate that the appropriate procedures for acquiring cold plates were violated. Even though the forms are required to be signed by Leach as the head of the law enforcement agency, they were instead signed by a former office specialist named Virginia Titus. So again, if Leach is so onboard with these cold plate issuances outside of the police department, then why isn't his signature on it or at the very least that of a high ranking designee if he was indisposed? Why leave it to an office specialist to authorize? Interestingly, one who just happens to no longer be employed by the city and issued a "no comment" response when called by a newspaper that clearly knew where to locate her. That's not an uncommon response to a journalist request necessarily but if it's a former employee, was a nondisclosure statement involved? As has happened in the case of some of the city's more high profile retirements since Hudson and DeSantis arrived in 2005.

The form even states that it's supposed to be signed by the head of the law enforcement agency and also states clearly what the very narrow parameters are for the issuance of cold plates, yet these forms were still processed anyway. But then the sales registration forms for the weapons purchased by Hudson and DeSantis by the police department clearly state that knowingly providing false information on them is a misdemeanor offense yet it didn't take long for a representative from the state attorney general's criminal division to query the city about questionable and ultimately false information produced on that form.

What's interesting about the belated email produced by DeSantis to *prove* that it was Leach who authorized the plates without of course explaining why his own name appears as authorizing Schiavone's plate on the cold plate list. Interestingly enough, the email was addressing the cold plates put on Schiavone's city-issued vehicle. The email subject line indicates that Leach was emailing administrative manager Karen Aquino about Schiavone's cold plate. He claimed to the Press Enterprise that the email was taken out of context. His email was written in January 2008 about a month before emails were sent by police employees to the State Attorney General's office. Leach had met with them on Jan. 8, 2008 about the issue and then later allegedly sent them the list of cold plated vehicles which were then forwarded to the State Attorney General's office.

Perhaps DeSantis could shed some light on the situation and provide the context by forwarding the entire email exchange to the Press Enterprise and the public in the spirit of this new pledge by City Hall to be more open and transparent. Very nice platitudes indeed to announce that the city government's going to make better efforts not to violate the CPRA law but it's time to see some actions.

Leach mentioned getting further information on vehicle codes from former Traffic Lt. Ken Carpenter (who retired in 2008) and that list of codes does include provisions for "confidential plates" which can be issued to a roster of type of people including elected officials but these aren't the same as cold plates. But even though all this took place including correspondence with the State Attorney General's office in early 2008, the city still issued out cold plated vehicles to city officials including Councilman Rusty Bailey who received his in September 2008.

Bailey and Hart then say that Riverside's politicians weren't the only ones to receive cold plated vehicles. After all, look what happened in neighboring Hemet, they said as if that had happened out of the blue. And it's true that Hemet Police Chief Richard Dana had to remove cold plates from several vehicles used by city officials upon learning it was illegal. But what Hart and Bailey don't mention is that Dana took the job in Hemet after retiring from the Riverside Police Department as a commander. In his interview with the Press Enterprise, Dana said he didn't know the practice was illegal because while working in Riverside, he knew that nonpolice employees had cold plates on their vehicles. So ironically, what happened in Hemet wasn't an isolated incident in a vacuum but stemmed from behavior that had been taking place in Riverside.

Adams who's up for reelection next year said in the article that he was puzzled at why it would be a good idea. Earlier he hadn't believe it was likely that vehicles issued to city officials would ever be used again as police cars because they had too much mileage on them. But then when his city-issued vehicle had been impounded in Newport Beach allegedly for being "illegally parked" it had been cold plated at the time and Leach had alleged in a deposition that he gave that Adams had identified himself as an undercover police officer and that a watch commander at Riverside's police department had been contacted to discuss that.

Several city council members including both Hart and Adams have issued dismissive statements about how it's all "old news" and it's time to move on. But while the city officials are eager to erase their memories and those of city residents especially before next year, what many city residents are thinking right now, is what the hell will be coming down the pike or spilling out about City Hall next? Because the scandals at Riverside's City Hall are the gift that keeps on giving.

It's difficult for city residents to be as blase about all these scandals as City Hall clearly wishes they would be but seriously everyone's just waiting to see what happens next in his unfolding soap opera. Over the weekend the latest scandal involving the filing of a claim for damages by former Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel hit the national news once again putting Riverside on the map as an epicenter for scandals. So far the reaction at City Hall has been to talk about hiring another public information person to handle intergovernmental relations and public information requests.

But Riverside's been hitting the national radar since earlier this year and it's interesting hearing from people outside the city and the state wondering what the hell's going on in this former city that historically had been more interested in its now vanishing citrus industry rather than in generating scandals. But this is reflective of an indecisive body of leadership at City Hall which remained silent on all the scandals involving illegal behavior as they erupted until it decided it was time to hire another employee on the Seventh Floor to monitor public information requests which still will be overseen by the same two direct employees, Hudson and City Attorney Gregory Priamos who have generated most of the problems involving the city's compliance with the CPRA. Remember Priamos was the one who three years ago couldn't find two police management contracts which were generated by his own office as evidenced by his office's information being stamped on every single page of these contracts when they did finally show up just a month ago. It comes down to elected leadership being able and willing to collectively hold their direct employees accountable including for their misdeeds and that's glaringly absent from the equation so much so that many city residents have picked up on it as an election cycle looms for four elected officials on the dais. City officials including those who are elected don't take responsibility for their actions or those of their direct employees and pass the buck elsewhere, this case at Leach who's responsible for his own share of misbehavior but there's more than one individual involved in this rash of illegal behavior and misconduct that's shaken the confidence of many residents in City Hall.

Look at the scandals and look at the sheer list of claims for damages and lawsuits faced by the city from all over its workplaces. Major litigation is brewing that could embarrass the city in several different departments not to mention employees who suddenly don't work for the city anymore. The cost of this ligitation including that at the grievance level (and the city does lose quite a few even at this stage) will be one that many city residents would be shocked to know. Which is very distressing in a city that prides itself in being self-insured.

And the sense is that when it comes to revelations about more scandals, there are still plenty more of those where they came from currently sitting on the horizon. After all, 2010 isn't over yet and when you combine apathetic, rudderless leadership at the top with entitlement and opportunism in upper management, it's hard to imagine any other outcome.

After all, Riverside is reaping what it has sown.

Riverside hires another manager at the Fox Theater to be more user friendly?

More pension troubles erupt in Riverside County.


Another outage took place beginning about noon today. The extent of it is not clear nor is the estimated time for restoring the service back online.

Scandal plagued Maywood severs its "marriage" to scandal plagued Bell.

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