Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How to Know Your History or Be Doomed to Repeat It

[People including Councilman Mike Gardner listen to a presentation of the Strategic Plan at the downtown Marriott Hotel]

[Tables were filled with people attending the Strategic Plan forum for public input at the downtown Marriott Hotel]

The management team brought the Strategic Plan input process to the downtown Marriott Hotel which attracted about 30 people including members of the Downtown Area Neighborhood Alliance. The meeting was hosted by Lt. Chris Manning who is the area commander of the Neighborhood Policing Center North. Asst. Chief Chris Vicino who's been the emcee of the forums introduced the police personnel including first, Sgt. Jaybee Brennan as his "partner" in the Strategic Plan process, a bit of progress since the first forum where they forgot to introduce her. Then he moved onto referring to her by her first name whereas the male officers had ranks and surnames used. Two women walked out on the forum after listening to that for a few minutes because again, it's one of those "click" moments for women. Clearly when it comes to one particular area so far, Vicino remains a work in progress but then most people are in one way or another.

But in related news, Vicino did attend at least one roll call session not long before Monday's forum, his first in a couple of months.

While Sgt. Brennan did her presentation on the background of the extensive work that had gone into the Strategic Plan, Chris continued to solicit input from people who attended the forums, asking questions about the strengths and weaknesses of the police department which appeared at least at the earlier part of the meeting to be similar to those solicited in earlier meetings. The management team of the police department including Chief Sergio Diaz, Chris, Deputy Chief Mike Blakely and Deputy Chief Jeffrey Greer have been witnessing the contributions of input from city residents in person which does add to the meaningfulness of the process. This allows the management team including the three newcomers to the police department to have multiple opportunities to listen to comments made by a number of the city's residents.

There's still forums coming up to be conducted in both the Central and West NPCs in upcoming days and then in November, there will be a larger meeting of personnel inside the police department to solicit input from the police employees. The Strategic Plan which already had been written in the spring will apparently either go through revision or be redrafted, including the underlying themes, from embracing diversity (which nearly got dropped from the initial Plan and remains the most endangered theme) to increased traffic services, to management accountability and training.

But it still remains to be seen how much of this newer input along with the previous draft of the Strategic Plan will make it into the newer version and how much of the original state-mandated Strategic Plan will be included. A lot of what was recommended by public input mirrored a lot of what was included in that original blueprint. That's a question that many people have been asking and many are awaiting answers that hopefully will be forthcoming by the time the next draft of the Plan is brought to the Public Safety Committee before appearing before the entire city council.

But then Strategic Plan II has come some distance from being loggerjammed by City Hall management personnel until late last autumn when several city council members finally got on the ball and shook it loose after some persuasion.

Former Riverside Police Department Officer Anthony Fletcher was convicted of six felony counts of child molestation after about two days worth of deliberation by the jurors in his trial. Having witnessed part of the trial, what struck me the most about it was Fletcher's own conduct. I had witnessed the prior trial and mixed results of the case involving former Riverside Police Department Officer Robert Forman on sexual misconduct under the color of authority and sexual battery charges and his conduct was quite a bit different from Fletcher's. Whereas Forman sat there quietly most of the time, Fletcher engaged in behavior particularly involving the prosecutor, a young guy with excellent trial skills, where he would mad dog the attorney many times. The prosecutor called him on it several times which helped his own strategy but it was hard not to see it. And one thing that doesn't bode well for any defendant on trial for his freedom or for his life is to act in an obviously antagonistic or aggressive manner. So why did Fletcher do that? His attorney Chad Firetag clearly didn't appear too happy about it.

Fletcher already had a history of at least two onduty altercations including one where he waited inside a station for an officer who he had been upset with over the stashing of work equipment in a locker and in a vehicle at one of the stations. The truly eyebrow raising part of the trial was when the defense tried to make it look like officers physically fighting on duty was normal, and as long as the officers cleared the air afterward, no real problem with it. There's so much wrong with a statement like that, it's difficult to know where to even begin. But then the attorney had a lot of disturbing elements of Fletcher's life to explain away, not an enviable task.

Off-duty, there's fighting that's gotten officers into trouble. Former Det. Scott Impola was fired after being arrested for a physical altercation involving his spouse's male friend in a house after using the CLETS database to identify the man's truck which was parked. Another officer was allegedly fired earlier this year not so much for getting in a physical altercation at a bar but for lying about it to investigators. In the final weeks of former Chief Russ Leach's tenure in the department, he fired at least three officers, including Fletcher.

But anyway, the fights which allegedly threatened Fletcher's job with the police department should have been treated as a definite red flag but were they? They don't have as much to do with any child molestation he allegedly committed except there's a sense of entitlement that is in both situations, which is the belief in the person's right to physically fight on duty or that right to molest one's own daughter if that's what Fletcher did as the jury decided. Fletcher had testified admitting that he had lied to his wife, his father that he had lived a double life and then said he didn't molest his daughter on the stand. One of his friends, a female RPD detective testified to a version of events of what he had told her but later on the stand said never happened.

The prosecutor used his visible demeanor to tell the jury during one of his closing arguments that he and Fletcher were alike in one way, that they liked to confront situations head on and the prosecutor sounded like he was right. He used that to contrast with Fletcher's decision to head to Reno when he heard that a restraining order might have been filed against him by his wife and teenaged daughter. Why didn't he call anyone to find out whether that hearsay was true, why didn't he call the courts to check it out, why didn't he even read it when he had been served instead of handing the unopened envelope to Sgt. Pat McCarthy who worked in Internal Affairs and who attended his trial?

The prosecutor said that it was because he had already known what would be written on it, he knew what he had done. These were the actions of a guilty man, he said. Perhaps the jury agreed, though it's hard to know without being in the deliberative process with them what ran through their minds and what was said in the jury room which led them to their unanimous verdict.

But the verdict marked another sad chapter for the police department even though Fletcher has not been employed by the agency for over nine months. Fletcher's was the fifth arrest and prosecution out of six involving the department's officers including Leach during a 14 month period. The charges ranged from onduty sexual assault under the color of authority, to armed robbery and kidnapping, to two DUI incidents, to assault and misuse of the CLETS database. There were at least two other arrests that didn't lead to criminal prosecutions and at least another allegation or two of illegal conduct onduty that apparently didn't even lead to an investigation.

All the officers who were arrested and prosecuted had red flags popping up from severe addiction to prescription drugs (Dave Reeves, jr. ) to prior disciplinary action (Fletcher, Forman) to health and family stress (Scott Impola who was recently medically retired). Two of the three prosecuted DUI crashes in the past 10 years involved police officers involved in fatal onduty shootings within two years of their incidents. So were any of these red flags popping up addressed through the department's early warning system or at all?

And then there was the police chief who had past issues involving public intoxication involving alcohol and admitted problems with prescription medication for a back injury and surgery. But if the situation involving Leach's issues went unaddressed for years until they finally reached their inevitable conclusion, then is it surprising that red flags popped up involving the other officers on that list which may or may not have been addressed by the department. City Hall officials like City Manager Brad Hudson denied knowing any of Leach's history which looking back seems difficult to believe given that other individuals had told former Press Enterprise Mel Opotowsky that was included in an op-ed piece he contributed to this blog.

Many people asked questions about what was happening in the police department in the spate of arrests and prosecutions which put the rate of officers being prosecuted at 1 in 75. And these questions began even before the sixth officer, the former police chief, committed a DUI offense on Feb. 8. But with the events that unfolded soon after, these questions aren't nearly as difficult to answer, given that what happens at the top of the chain of command inadvertently affects what happens at its lower levels. And with news of city officials allegedly violating the city charter by involving themselves in the promotional process, the police department being used by the city management as an agent in an illegal gun sale which caught the attention of the State Attorney General's criminal division, it's not that difficult to understand why problems including illegal behavior happened at the bottom as well. Not that the majority of police officers engaged in that behavior but the message appeared to be sent from above that engaging in inappropriate, unethical and illegal behavior by them and individuals at City Hall was perfectly fine. The disturbing part of this trend of behavior is that there's been no clear message from the leadership at the top inside City Hall as an entity of elected representatives how very wrong all this behavior that took place really was. Not much said, just silence, so much so a pin could be heard dropping on a City Hall floor.

Not that it won't become an issue during the next round of city council elections next year when the voting population will be able to perform its method of ethics evaluation (free from the much diluted complaint process of the city's "code") at the voting polls in four wards.

The number of officers who did get arrested and prosecuted remained fairly small but there's reason to believe that officers particularly those facing other issues or with past disciplinary history for misconduct might be more vulnerable to falling in that group. What's to stop some individuals from thinking if the management's engaging in bad behavior or breaking the law whether in the department or City Hall, why must I hold myself to a higher standard? Especially if they have a history of other problems anyway?

Law enforcement agencies have long grappled with similar issues where high profile critical or controversial events have traced back to previous problems in officers. Lawrence Powell one of the officers indicted in the beating of Rodney King by four Los Angeles Police Department officers had just failed a baton swinging test against a non-moving object in roll call that day and had to undergo quick remedial training. He had been disciplined with a lengthy suspension for a previous incident with his baton. Officer Timothy Wind had been disciplined at his prior agency in the Midwest for a physical altercation with another officer where he threw a battery at his head.

One of the reasons why most police departments placed under federal or state oversight including those in Riverside and Los Angeles were required to create and implement early warning systems to track officers who were flagged for problematic behavior or actions taken against them. In hopes of addressing smaller issues involving police offices before they increase in magnitude. Annual statistics have shown that the number of officers tracked by this system in the Riverside Police Department range between six and a dozen. Were any of these officers who ultimately were arrested and prosecuted and others who were arrested or investigated without charges being filed ever placed in the Early Warning System to be tracked? There's no way for the public to know if this was the case. It can just hope that the department's carrying out its responsibility of doing this tracking both to protect the public and its own work force.

Particularly with Forman who just several years before being arrested and ultimately prosecuted for onduty sexual misconduct, had been caught by his own digital audio recorder issued by the department having sexual contact with a homeless woman in Fairmount Park. When Forman started deleting his recordings first singly and then dozens of them, did the department pay any attention or flag that disturbing behavior considering he had been implicated in prior misconduct by his audio recorder? Because considering his history, the deletion of his recordings and a failure to record should have set off some serious warning bells that he was either engaging in problematic behavior that he didn't want recorded or traced back to him or that he had problems.

Forman engaged in some very reckless behavior onduty that put himself in danger not to mention other officers, including when he went back to that woman's apartment without telling the dispatcher or anyone else where he was going. The reasons why were obvious, because he was intending to engage in unlawful conduct and was hiding it from everyone else but what if he had gone back and something dangerous had been waiting instead? How would he receive assistance in that situation if no one knew where he was or was supposed to be?

He also repeated this behavior when he and one of the victims engaged in a scheme to "jack" a man near Circle K market on University Avenue. The woman acted as if she were a prostitute and this man paid her $100 which she then took and got into Forman's squad car. This man was angry enough about what happened to actually pursue a police car. Forman stopped, the man stopped, an angry confrontation ensued and then other officers get called to the scene not being informed by Forman that it arose from a setup, a petty theft (that a jury convicted him of committing at trial) that he and the woman had engineered. That certainly doesn't seem like the most prudent action by an officer and it's potentially putting his colleagues at risk by withholding information from him which was why the man was angry enough to follow a squad car (as that doesn't seem like usual behavior) which indicated that he was very angry.

Two audio recordings by other officers there clearly showed that Forman had been involved in something suspicious. He called the officers for backup without letting them know fully what they were walking into and what if something else had happened to the people there besides Forman getting away with a theft? Were there any other examples of that type of behavior in his background as well?

So there's an officer who's engaging in sexual misconduct, erasing or deleting recordings by the dozens (and later "losing" his memory disc) and engaging in criminal conduct with civilians which officers he works with including some who were his friends have to address where he's lying to them about the situation or at least misrepresenting it. But Forman hadn't been terminated for his earlier sexual misconduct (caught on tape) in which there's some disagreement between the police department and Riverside County District Attorney's office in terms of whether that encounter with the known female victim was consensual. The police, sending the recording over to the D.A.'s office which didn't file charges against Forman and the D.A.'s office, that the Internal Affairs Division told them the behavior with the homeless woman had been consensual.

As consensual as any encounter can be between a homeless woman and a officer with the authoritative powers to arrest her for any of an assortment of criminal charges including some that are difficult for homeless individuals to avoid like loitering, public urination (a big controversial issue in Los Angeles for example) and others. Involving a police department which has a use of force policy in place that states that the two lowest stages of the use of force are a uniformed presence of an officer and verbal communication. Both of these were used by the prosecutor in the Forman case to explain why a police officer ordering a woman to go into the bedroom (as Forman did on the case he was convicted on) and a civilian standing in her house and saying the same thing.

Forman didn't even have to sound menacing when he said those words, because of what's stated in that use of force policy and the impact of a uniformed officer as being an authoritative figure to many people including this woman. But watching Forman break down on the stand swearing that he let the woman perform oral sex on him in a moment of weakness was one of the turning points of the trial because the jury apparently didn't know that he had apparently "weakened" back several years earlier at least once (because maybe it got excluded under a judge's ruling on admissible evidence) but some people sitting in the audience and working on the case must have known.

And with Reeves, who was arrested, prosecuted and ultimately convicted of armed robberies and kidnappings committed in Riverside and Moreno Valley, was he flagged earlier than that for his severe addiction to prescription pain medication that had been given to him by doctors for several severe off-duty neck injuries. The police department allegedly had asked him and then later compelled him to submit a sample for drug testing and then later on, tried to get him into drug rehab but he apparently refused to admit he had an addiction. By that time, he had already been placed on administrative leave. He was unable to medically retire through the city because both injuries that disabled him were suffered off-duty. His actions during several days until he was apprehended by bystanders and arrested by police resulted in a lengthy prison sentence.

Fletcher had been in his two physical altercations with police officers and allegedly nearly faced termination for at least one of them. That's a far stretch from allegations of child molestation by a family member but it might speak to issues of judgment.

Now during the previous paragraphs, there's been considerable "rehashing history" (alert, alert) but unfortunately, that's what any responsible and accountable early warning system is about, it's about being mindful of the history and keeping it fresh to use as a means to monitor that officer for similar behavior, escalation of that problem behavior or newer behavior that might have negative repercussions. An early warning system can't function without in a sense rehashing or revisiting an officer's history when evaluating their actions under that type of oversight. In Forman's case, was his history quickly forgotten or was it kept in mind when his recordings started disappearing?

That's when his history would naturally come into play.

The goal of an early warning system it seems would be to prevent a Forman, part two as took place in 2008 but in his case, whatever oversight if any was exerted over this former officer, now felon and registered sex offender, only the police department knows that.

As for Fletcher, pursuant to the law he was convicted on, he has to undergo a doctor's evaluation for part of his sentencing by court-appointed Dr. Rath who is commonly called in these types of cases. Still awaiting trial is Impola on his assault charges, with a trial date in December having been vacated recently.

But this spate of arrests had many people asking questions about what was going on inside the police department primarily at the top of the chain of command but it soon came to light that some of those at the top of the chain of command in the police department and inside City Hall had been busy all that time...doing some pretty disturbing things like buying guns, getting flat badges and cold plates. And then the dominoes began falling inside the police department and inside City Hall, with an influx of new management personnel coming into the police department including an outside chief. The standard that the management sets for appropriate and law abiding behavior (which given some of the antics inside City Hall might be a challenge after the honeymoon period's ended) will be critical in a sense though for the most part, the employees lower in the hierarchy inside the department had been behaving quite a bit better than those higher up the ladder.

Still that's one thing a lot of the public will be watching is what kind of standards the management team including its leader will set for the agency which has been through a particularly difficult year. And what kind of department will arise from the ashes of 2010.

Human Resources Department Employee Prevails in Grievance Hearing

[The Human Resources Board at an earlier meeting made a pivotal recommendation by vote in a recent grievance hearing involving an employee from the same department which provides them staff support]

Word came in that the Human Resources Board voted 6-1 to recommend that the three day suspension given to a longtime employee of the Human Resources Department be rescinded and that be noted in her personnel file. After hearing both sides present their cases, the Board went into deliberations this week and were left to weigh the facts and the testimony and the majority felt that the discipline needed to be rescinded and that the employee had very good evaluations with the problems seeming to begin when the Human Resources Department was staffed with new people, including those hired from Riverside County. The recommendation has been forwarded to City Manager Brad Hudson's office for final resolution but the vote of the Human Resources Board bears watching because not only did it find in favor of a city employee but it essentially voted to rescind a disciplinary action issued by the department which offers staff support for its operations.

Both Human Resources Director Rhonda Strout and Asst. Human Resources Director Jeremy Hammond regularly attend board meetings and provide almost all of the information along with staff support. It remains to be seen how this will impact the board's ability to do its work given how other city board and commissions have been impacted when they do or carry out actions or make decisions the city perceives as being against its best interests. These include both the Community Police Review Commission and the Human Relations Commission which recently has received interference from City Attorney Gregory Priamos when trying to agendize items for discussion at its own meetings.

So what will happen next for the Human Resources Board? That remains to be seen.

The Western Regional Water District election has attracted an interesting cast of candidates.

Once again, the business ties of elected officials in Temecula are questioned.

Hemet's firefighters are delaying the votes on their contract.

An interesting article about a new book by an ex-secret service agent that reveals that Lyndon Johnson was almost shot by him by accident after becoming president after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Riverside City Hall's Annual Chili Cookoff Fundraiser

Many of the city's departments from the fire department to Public Works and everyone in between decorated booths and offered a wide variety of chilis to fit every palate. The money raised was part of a fund raising drive for United Way.

This year's event offered something a little bit different, a chance for people to purchase tickets to dunk certain elected officials and two of their direct employees.

[The price sheet for a chance to send elected officials and their direct employees into the dunking tank. As you can see, the highest priced ticket was sold out.]

[Councilman Rusty Bailey taunts a person just before that person lobs a killer throw sending him into the dunking tank.]

[The premier person who sold the most tickets at the highest price for a chance to dunk was City Manager Brad Hudson.]

[Hudson after he's been dunked about a half dozen times by various ticket holders using various methods]

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