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, March 30, 2010

Feb. 8, 2010: A Moment in Time Involving the RPD Phone Tree in Action

I agree with all the posters. Every city employee should be fired and their penisons returned. We should take the law into our own hands, because we know best. We don't make mistakes, we would arrest our own bosses, mothers and close friends, for any vilolation of the law. We will know better than those who should know better (what the heck does that mean anyway. Are we so stupid we don't know better too?)

If only we had Dan Bernstein, Casy McDuff , and Mary Shelton running our city. They have all of the answers to every problem this city has ever faced. Only then will we live in Utopia.

Oh ya' It's all Bush's fault.

----Anonymous comment at the Press Enterprise

Thanks for the sweet note! I'll confer with my fellow appointees, Cassie MacDuff and Dan Bernstein and get back to you on our joint municipal platform after rewriting the city's charter a bit and moving in some office furniture! But first a little bit of house cleaning at City Hall including a new paint job including the core values of an accountable government transcribed on the walls. Also an auction to sell any excess city owned vehicles given that certain city employees have more than one allotted to them even as city employees are being laid off, public safety positions are being frozen and library hours are being cut. All the money from the auctioned off vehicles including seven Chrysler 300s (allotted to Leach during his tenure), a few Crown Victorias assigned to the city manager's office and any others including what's left of Leach's crashed vehicle will be deposited in the city's general fund for reassignment to where it's needed. Speaking of which, how many assistant city managers does this city really need? And a city attorney given how many cases get farmed out to Best, Best and Krieger? Public Works gets decimated and there's still three city managers and investigators being employed by the City Attorney's office?

After said auction, there will be a chili cook off (with different categories), a huge block party and some live entertainment celebrating the installation of the new regime. Everyone is invited.

But seriously it's always so enlightening to realize the plausible deniability surrounding an act of malfeasance involving the attempted protection of one city employee and the excuses given to people of why they're supposed to not hold their public officials accountable for what is done in their name. Besides, it's when corruption is rewritten as a "mistake" that is one way that it's allowed to flourish in the first place. It's not about being "perfect" or having "all the answers" to every problem. It's certainly not about Utopia or trying to rephrase people's concerns about corrupt behavior as something totally unreasonable. It's about accountability of management employees, municipal officials and reminding them they work for the city residents and not the other way around. A couple city council members did learn that the hard way by not being invited back to political office by residents in their wards and with at least five years of micromanagement behind it, so did the police department where it's time for the management employees to explain to everyone else why they made the decisions that they made including on Feb. 8.

Riverside City Hall has finally decided to release the cell phone logs of key players in the Feb. 8 traffic stop involving former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach. And there weren't very many surprises on that list of city issued phones which were used while Riverside Police Department officers including supervisors at the scene were deciding how to handle an intoxicated police chief inside a car that had been driven on rims for several miles after having hit an object or two and narrowly missed at least a couple vehicles with people inside them. Some of those on the list who made calls were Sgt. Frank Orta, Watch Commander Lt. Leon Phillips and to no surprise then assistant and now acting chief, John DeLaRosa who either called or was called by Phillips three times during the period of Leach's traffic stop. Two of those phone calls made from 3:15-4:15 a.m. lasted about three minutes apiece.

All the involved parties who were calling each other during the traffic stop in question have declined to provide any comment and except for Loveridge, the other elected officials have declined to provide any comment as the news coming out about what transpired on everyone's watch gets more and more troubling. Actually it's all been troubling since this first started but this is just the gift that just keeps on giving when it comes to eliciting that response in city residents who have been given a look at the police department and City Hall and have determined that not all is pretty. And many people are wondering how long the city has left them in the dark about the problems which have been going on there that led to an apparent cover up of criminal conduct committed by the police chief. Because more likely than not, this crisis was years in the making.

Here's a chronology of all that dialing and dishing that took place during the wee early morning hours after Super Bowl Sunday, according to the Press Enterprise.

2:51 a.m.: RPD Officers Grant Linhart and Jeremy Miller stop Leach's banged up city-issued Chryler 300. Orta responds to their call for a supervisor within several minutes.

2:53 a.m. Leach calls friend and current or former Internal Affairs Sergeant Marcus Smail who told Press Enterprise he missed the call. Leach makes three unidentified phone calls within first 30 minutes. Hopefully Smail isn't working on the department's internal investigation.

3:02 a.m. Orta calls Phillips

3:10 a.m. DeLaRosa calls Phillips. Why did he decide to call him at this time of the morning anyway? Alas, the phone records didn't help there.

3:21 a.m. Phillips calls DeLaRosa's phone

4:04 a.m. Phillips calls DeLaRosa and both calls last about three minutes in duration

And what came out of all these phone calls?

A trip home for Leach without a sobriety test (although his blood alcohol was later extrapolated at about 0.22 and mixed with medication) and no investigation conducted of a suspected DUI and hit and run accident by the police department. Only a report to be "filed" away was created at some unknown point in time and according to the city manager's office, no notification was given that office about what had happened, as required by city policy. With a partial representation of the department's chain of command including its highest levels on that cell phone list, surely someone would have come up with the idea to conduct some form of investigation of Leach but alas, the answer is of course as we all know it, absolutely not. A crime was committed by Leach and the police department that he led tried to cover it up. What should have been an arrest for DUI became instead a report to be handwritten and filed away. Did it really all come down to several cell phone calls?

One question remains to be answered, was any help afforded to the department by City Hall? And was this whole affair really about just one car accident and traffic stop involving Leach or was this a culmination of years of similar cover ups by police personnel and City Hall denizens? Was this the only criminal conduct that either the department management or City Hall tried to cover up involving the relationship between both of those entities? And how well do you think the Hudson probe will answer these questions? And yes, that last question was rhetorical.

Other listed phone calls:

9-10 a.m. (time varies) Anonymous woman calls Mayor Ron Loveridge's office to talk about Leach incident.

1:24 p.m. Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis calls Leach, about four hours after woman tipped off Loveridge's office. Loveridge who was out of the office at the time had said that when contacted, he had made inquiries at Hudson's office about the incident. City Manager Brad Hudson doesn't use his city-issued cell phone to make a phone call that day until 5:08 p.m. and it's not clear whether he ever tried to contact his direct employee through this cell phone on Feb. 8 though it doesn't appear that he did.

4:44 p.m. Loveridge's earliest call by his city issued cell phone that day but if he was out of the office and was notified by his office about the anonymous phone call why is there no record of that call? And again, why is there a big delay between the morning tip and the city manager's office now saying it was notified in the afternoon?

5:08 p.m. Earliest phone call made by Hudson's city issued phone. Really?

Now it's not clear just from the phone records which pertain only to identifying the users of city-issued cell phones (as those not issued by the city aren't covered by the California Public Records Act), what all these folks were talking about on the phones while they were handling Leach's traffic stop. It could have been the weather, or what a great game the Super Bowl had been or this party or that one. Orta could have been trying to tell Phillips about the great movie that he saw and DeLaRosa could have been contacting Phillips around 3:10 a.m. to tell him how great the weather would be later that day. And Phillips could have called DeLaRosa back to tell him twice about his favorite Super Bowl Game play while trying to kill time waiting for the other officers conducted the DUI investigation involving their boss. Leach could have been calling those unidentified people to tell them about his scenic tour of Riverside while waiting for Orta to give him a field sobriety test. One can suppose that's what could have happened but it probably didn't.

But at least now everyone knows that the cell phones that they pay for some employees to have were ringing off the hook that early morning. That a phone tree perhaps of sorts had been activated and words were being spoken up and down the chain of command. Whether about the Super Bowl, the weather, those great threads that someone wore at the office the other day, all critical conversations to have that early in the morning, or perhaps instead given the serious situation, orders were being issued out to be followed by officers at the scene on how to handle Leach and his little problem. The public also knows that there were unidentified individuals who were called by Leach while he was being stopped by officers and that there might have been other people who were calling on unidentified phones, outside the scope of the CPRA request. Two comments were posted on the Press Enterprise article addressing this issue.


Isn't it wonderful the city attorney would release records that verify his cronies innocence when he didn't have to? It should read, "Clearly the records show that no one at City Hall used their city-issued cell phones while involved in a coverup."

This is common practice in situations like this. The command staff is instructed to call city leaders on non-city owned lines. This way there is deniability. They didn't get to where they are by not being able to play the game!

It's also not clear whether or not the request included text messages which if stemming from city issued phones are public information, as were the phone logs for city-issued phones no matter how City Attorney Gregory Priamos chose to bend the CPRA request this time as if to appear that City Hall released the records (well not those involving his own phone of course) to the public out of any adherence to the twin components, accountability and transparency. Don't believe it. The city knew they would lose to the newspaper in court if it came to that, giving it even more bad publicity.

Mayor Ron Loveridge who later said his office had received a phone tip about the incident from an anonymous woman had this to say about the flurry of phone calls involving police department employees at or about Leach's stop. Once again Loveridge displays his grasp for the obvious.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"Obviously there were conversations going back and forth," said Mayor Ron Loveridge. "What was said, I don't know."

Like stated earlier, clearly conversations were taking place involving the Super Bowl, the weather and other topics. All around 3 a.m. because these of course are such pressing matters. Of course nothing was actually said about disregarding suspected criminal conduct of the police chief and giving him a ride home instead of arresting him and taking him to be booked for a DUI. Nothing was said about covering up the commission of a crime committed by the top cop of the RPD, not long after a 14 month period that had seen five other law enforcement officers arrested and prosecuted for on or off duty alleged criminal conduct. And these phone conversations were followed by zero action by the department in terms of handling what had been a crime committed and in fact, doing no investigation and taking nearly two days to farm it to an outside agency for handling. That's what makes the phone calls seem like a series of communications among the involved parties to make the decision not to treat Leach's commission of a crime as a crime.

Riverside Police Officers' Association President Det. Cliff Mason has modified his earlier comments somewhat when providing the following official response of the labor union to the release of the cell phone records. The officers went from performing professionally at the scene of the traffic stop to being placed in a horrible situation by Leach. A bit of a leap for the president who had gone to meetings urging reconciliation and a concept of family, which mirrored that which DeLaRosa and other (albeit reluctant) command staff members were presenting to police officers at roll call sessions not long after the incident.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"They got put in a horrible, horrible situation and I feel the responsibility lies with Russ Leach for the decision he made that evening," said Detective Cliff Mason. "The accountability will rest with management."

Oh if that were true, then this incident might never have unfolded the way that it did, meaning that if management were accountable and practiced that as a professional philosophy then if Leach had chosen to drive drunk, he would have been arrested for it rather than having it become the "horrible horrible situation" that Mason describes where he nearly got off scot free and officers would have helped him do that in order to keep their jobs, avoiding what some have called "career suicide". There would have been a culture within the department where officers could engage in arresting their boss if he broke the law in their jurisdiction and if they needed a supervisor to assist them, the supervisor would help them carry out the arrest not engage in a cover up upon direction by someone higher on the food chain. This incident most likely is a text book example showing how that kind of cultural accountability in management clearly doesn't exist within the Riverside Police Department. Why it doesn't would involve researching further how management was created through the attrition and promotional processes of the department. After all, you get what you choose to promote through the ranks in terms of both the process and qualities sought by management. Are promotions a process of advancement or more akin to barter and trade?

What did the RPD get through this process, and have we just seen it? Because a law enforcement agency that can't or more accurately, won't enforce the law against its leader is in some major respects failing in its mission.

And if had done what it's sworn to do which is uphold and enforce the law, the city residents wouldn't have received a primer in the double standards of law enforcement involving the vast majority of them who would have and may have received far different treatment than what Leach received. But the truth is that the Feb. 8 traffic stop might not have been an isolated incident but the culmination of many other incidents and problems involving Leach, the department and elements of City Hall over the years. To what extent might never be known by the public. That's by intent on the part of the city.

The incident involving Leach's traffic stop and its aftermath might simply be the most visible manifestations of deeper problems, the tip of the iceberg sticking out of the ocean so to speak. This latest revelation of the mystery involving the cell phone activity might answer a few questions, it raises many more and it's clear that some of the key players in this sorry incident really have a lot to answer for in terms of addressing any crisis of faith and trust lost by city residents in both City Hall and the police department.

Hudson and DeSantis are forthcoming and perhaps honest or perhaps not about not being contacted by police department management as required by some city policy requiring that notification when the department has a negative professional contact with a "high profile" individual. Yet, neither has answered any questions about their own adherence to city policies say whether or not they abode by the one that required Leach to be tested for drugs and alcohol intoxication because he damaged a city-owned vehicle. Some individuals were caught chatting with each other on city-issued phones and some were not. Since DeLaRosa contacted Phillips before Phillips called him twice, that indicates strongly that he was monitoring his own phone and received those two calls. So the two men talked most likely about what was going on with Leach and yet, Leach doesn't get a field sobriety test let alone a DUI ticket. He gets a trip home and his accident which was potentially a hit and run gets written up and filed away by Orta most likely at some point after Phillips two phone calls back to DeLaRosa.

Riverside Police Department protocol also stated that the deputy chief, assistant chief, chief and city manager were to be notified in cases of the "arrest, pending arrest, or implication of serious 'criminal conduct' of a police employee or high-ranking city official." So that would have meant that Hudson, DeLaRosa and Pete Esquivel would have been on that notification list, scratching the chief of course who was the "police employee". But were any of these people notified besides DeLaRosa? That question hasn't been fully answered. And if they weren't notified by DeLaRosa who had three phone contacts with Phillips, then why was that the case? And if those three phone contacts took place between the assistant chief and the watch commander, why was the incident involving a man later charged and convicted of drunk driving filed away as a report with Orta recommending that no criminal charges be filed period? The management including the acting chief needs to step up and do some explaining to the public how this was allowed to happen on its watch and why. For the public as well as the police department which has greatly lost public trust in large part through the current silence.

Orta's recommendation in his handwritten report to not pursue criminal charges arrived from having done zero investigating into complaints about a "potential DUI" made by 911 callers who saw Leach's car throwing off sparks. He didn't carry out or order any sobriety evaluation despite the two officers noting that Leach exhibited "objective" signs of being drunk in their interviews with the CHP investigators meaning that in a sense, they did do DUI evaluations on Leach. Not to mention, video footage from police vehicles which CHP investigators said showed Leach being unsteady on his feet at the scene of the traffic stop.

So the officers notice that Leach might be drunk. Orta, the court recognized DUI expert would have certainly recognized it too. But clearly at some point, Leach's intoxication magically went away and the crime of DUI, covered up and erased, including by any personnel in the department or City Hall who ever told anyone that Leach wasn't drunk or that alcohol was not involved in his accident and traffic stop. What the cell phone records release has done is to make it clear that there needs to be a public accounting of the answers to questions raised here as well as others raised in other venues involving the situation which arose from Leach's traffic stop and exactly when it led to a cover up.

More to come....

Hemet faces more budget woes.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Tale of the Two Hudson Probes and Acting Chief John DeLaRosa implicated in coverup

UPDATE****Cell phone records as reported in the Press Enterprise show Acting Chief John DeLaRosa called Watch Commander Leon Phillips once after Sgt. Frank Orta also tried to call him and Phillips called DeLaRosa twice after that for several short calls. Calls also made to one current or former internal affairs sergeant Marcus Smail by Leach from scene. Okay, who out there reading this is really all that surprised? And maybe that's why there's been news about DeLaRosa keeping close tabs on Phillips while he's on duty.

Many of the city residents knew there was a cover up since it started, and yes, it probably involved the top players because if DeLaRosa talked to Phillips, why didn't he report the incident as required to City Hall unless of course, the two men talked about the football game or the weather...Thanks for the update City Hall and for abiding by state law but the pressure is still on you...Pressure on, cover off as they say...

"Pay no Attention to that man behind the curtain."

---L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz

Trivia: Is the amazing story about the origin of the wizard's coat in the movie version fact or fiction?

NOTE*****Photos will return once Blogger fixes the downed server that's hosting them...hopefully soon...

Riverside had one of its annual air shows at the Riverside Municipal Airport which attracted many thousands of aviation buffs and more casual fans and many great acts including a female wing walker. Santa Ana winds delayed or modified some of the acts but a great time was enjoyed by all. There were military aircraft, stunt planes and the Riverside Police Department's SWAT/Aviation and K9 units put on demonstrations for the estimated 95,000 in attendance.

I spent the day there and had a great time, even though I took a face plant fall while walking there on Arlington on the sidewalk and can't move one of my shoulders today very well, and only somewhat with the other one. Oy! Fortunately (in this case) I have a lot of experience with busted shoulders.

[Riverside Police Department K9 Officer David Taylor with his canine officer, Von.]

[Riverside Police Department K9 Officer Brad Smith and his dog Rocco who he's had for just over a year after his previous dog died. They later performed in a K9 demonstration. ]

[The Riverside Police Department's newest helicopter which was just delivered a few months ago from its San Diego based vendor to the SWAT/Aviation Unit. The department currently has five helicopters with one going up for sale soon.]

Tale of the Two Probes

The cardinal laws of internal probes are the following:

1) To protect those who are responsible for corruption

2) To punish those who are trying to expose #1

Remember those two rules of the internal probe and it becomes a bit easier to understand what is probably transpiring involving River City's own internal probe of the moment being conducted by its city manager's office involving seemingly everyone in the city's municipal fabric except naturally, the city manager's office. Actually that would be both probes but there's more discussion of that further down. First comes news that shouldn't really surprise anyone but here it is anyway.

Former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach might just be getting that medical retirement after all.

And that's not bad for an "at will" management employee who's now been convicted with breaking the law when he drove with an extrapolated blood alcohol level of 0.22 around Riverside, running red lights, nearly hitting a car while conducting an illegal u-turn and driving for miles in a car that had suffered "major damage". And even though he had made significant contributions to the department under the stipulated judgment with the State Attorney General's office, he in some major sense left the department as it was when he arrived in terms of suffering a tremendous loss of public trust and being buried in claims for damages and lawsuits along with allegations of problems going back years including those involving the department's promotional process. All of these issues will be inherited by the next police chief whoever he or she might be which may not matter all that much if the city manager leash trains him or her quickly enough and the problems continue throughout this person's reign because the problem wasn't just involving Leach.

Currently, in just claims, the department is facing at least $24 million total in terms of that process and then there are the five cases of officers who were arrested and prosecuted in a 14 month period (hence at least three of the claims) which may or may not include all of those who were arrested in 2008-09. So there's definitely a lot going on and that was magnified intensely by the decision that was made to cover up the accident and traffic stop involving Leach and his banged up city-issued black Chysler 300. To prevent Leach from becoming the sixth known officer in the department prosecuted for a crime within an 18 month period, an effort which ultimately as everyone knows now proved a futile exercise.

That decision by certain individuals to engage in this cover up of the Leach incident and any priors wound up penalizing a lot of people and continues to do just that to over 600 employees in the police department and over 350,000 city residents because this code of silence that involves any involved police management and any of their handlers at City Hall must prevail even at the cost of an agency that had worked hard to build itself up in the last decade. But apparently while the city grapples with the at least $24 million in claims (and this doesn't count the many pending lawsuits against the city in relation to the department in both federal and state courts), some payouts will be forthcoming in a matter of time including Leach's.

While the city gets ready to pay out half of Leach's salary, at least partly untaxed, City Manager Brad Hudson continues onward with what originally was one internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the controversial Feb. 8 accident and traffic stop which ultimately took the much longer route of leading to Leach's retirement. This so-called investigation has since apparently become more than one probe. And the development of the latest probe is very troubling indeed and speaks to one reason why the city government should have not been intent as a body in supporting the original inhouse probe but should have farmed this one outside the city as other cities have done in similar circumstances. And no, that doesn't mean hiring an attorney from its stable of Best, Best and Krieger attorneys to provide "independent oversight" and putting him under the contract of Hudson's office. That means having an entity do the investigation that doesn't have a vested interest in generating a specific outcome at the expense of the truth of what happened. But the city's asking the city residents who are paying for their dual probes to indulge their decision to engage in this "sweeping" exercise. Hudson perhaps meant "sweeping" in terms of all encompassing but many people read it instead as an attempt to sweep it all under the bumpy rug in the corner.

After all, haven't we already seen the difference in the quality of investigations put forth on this incident by the Riverside Police Department (which was not investigating its top cop) and the California Highway Patrol (which wasn't)? Which of the two departments actually conducted an investigation and which one didn't even initiate one? Which of the two departments worked under constraints to its investigation which were created through the actions of the other one? Which agency issued a lengthy analysis including recommendations for filing charges and which one didn't? If the criminal investigation had greatly improved by moving it(albeit slowly) to an outside agency with no vested interest in the outcome, then think about what this could do for an internal investigation!

It's very suspect at least to place investigations in the hands of those who themselves need at the very least to answer questions rather than ask them. And it's not appropriate to have an internal investigation inside a police department either be directed by police management personnel who perhaps should be answering rather than asking questions themselves and that same rule applies to people outside the department in City Hall as well. And it's become clear that elements of City Hall are utilizing the confidential nature of this probe to cover up some rather strange antics that are taking place in the name of this ahem, probe. The same one that was purportedly initiated to investigate the alleged cover up that clearly took place which led to Leach receiving preferential treatment by his own department and even attempts to hide the accident itself. Not to mention certain aspects of it including erasing any mention of those words, "alcohol" and "DUI".

But while City Hall remains quiet and community leaders all clamor over who will be picked to represent "community" on Hudson's much ballyhooed interview panel to be used in the selection of the next police chief, who's watching the probe? Is it turning into something else than what Hudson told city residents at a variety of different public venues? Who is actually being investigated here? Unfortunately, as Hudson keeps saying, the public can never know who did what, and they will certainly never know what Hudson did while conducting his so-called probe.

The answer depends on which of the two probes that you're talking about. Are you talking about the one that the public was told about in terms of its approximate scope or the one that makes it clear (if only the public knew about it) why an outside agency should have been brought in to conduct this internal "sweeping" probe from day one? Remember the difference between having the Riverside Police Department investigate its chief for a DUI and having the CHP do that investigation with much less to work with, meaning no blood alcohol tests. But then City Hall should have known better that you don't hand off probes to be handled by those who should be investigated themselves, or have them participate in the investigation process when they weren't honest about information involving Leach when they absolutely needed to be. City Hall also should be aware that much of the public isn't buying into even the first probe being a legitimate fact-finding process and knowledge of the second probe would give them less reason to trust it.

But it's not exactly as if the current city government has shown it can hold the feet of a couple of its direct employees to the fire on a serious crisis in this city which if traced back to its fundamental roots, might lead back at least in part to them. Because in these troubled days of our city and police department, one of the things most lacking has been leadership. It would be nice to heap praise on different people in City Hall for being more forthcoming, but that's difficult to do when the only sound that people here from there is silence.

Unless you have city employees who pick and choose how they respond. Like Hudson and Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis. They'll announce to the media that the department's management didn't adhere to a city policy to notify their office about their "high profile" police contact on Feb. 8 but neither will be as talkative about whether or not Hudson adhered to city policy to test Leach for drugs and alcohol intoxication after he crashed a city owned vehicle. Hudson might make innuendo about Leach's "past" problems at public forums but wouldn't answer a question asked by a woman at a public forum about whether or not he or his office had any knowledge of these past problems when they weren't in the past. It's a bit naive to look at the information they parse out every so often as any meaningful example of transparency. Because any effort towards promoting ahem, transparency on their part doesn't apply to their own actions and the questions those actions might have and definitely should have raised in regards with their interactions with the police department going way back to when both became city employees in 2005. And certainly they're not going to be asked those questions let alone have to answer them within their own probe. In fact, they will never have to provide an accounting of any questionable behavior they might have engaged in since they arrived in Riverside at all.

Not until it becomes someone else's probe.

Riding in Riverside writes about service cuts for RTA buses and routes in Riverside County.

The Future of Riverside's Wi Fi

[A Bell100 one of many of them in the city sits on a street light to service the Wi Fi network. Hundreds of similar devices including many Bell200s failed over the city when the rainy season started in January. They are being replaced and repaired city-wide as AT&T tries to extricate from its ongoing contract with the city to manage and maintain the network.]

Does the Municipal Wi Fi network have a future in Riverside?

That's a pressing question as AT&T prepares to sever ties to the city through a contract that still had over a year to go before it expired. The past few months have been very difficult for both parties as hundreds of access points failed when the rain started falling in January and currently, the company is replacing a bunch of devices due to a manufacturing defect that is believed to have been the root cause of many of the outages.

Right now, the network is back up in many areas but both paid and free service are not operating at a very fast speed with page loading currently at approximately two minutes and thirty seconds in the morning and about six minutes at night for the paid Metrofi service.

CPRC Holds Annual Elections

The Community Police Review Commission held its annual elections as required by the city's charter at its March meeting. And in both races, you had squeaker results. In the chair's race Brian Pearcy regained his chairmanship after a year off by a 5-4 vote with the City Hall aligned bloc losing this round. Pearcy was chair for two years until he ran into a two-term limit for consecutive stints. However, Pearcy's going to have to work to improve his attendance record to be an effective chair. With Pearcy at this meeting, interesting how there's a bit of shift in the voting served to break the City Hall aligned voting bloc at least in some respects.

In the vice-chair's race, incumbent vice-chair Art Santore narrowly defeated John Brandriff in another 5-4 vote. The swing vote in both elections was Rogelio Morales.

What will all this mean for the beleaguered and micromanaged commission? That will be revealed in the weeks and months ahead.

Lawsuit Filed in D.A.'s Race

You know it wouldn't be a county election year without at least one lawsuit being filed and this year, it's in The Riverside County District Attorney's race. The lawsuit is being filed over candidate and Riverside County Superior Court Judge Paul Zellerbach's campaign statement and is being filed by perennial political candidate Ruben Rasso. Rasso and incumbent District Attorney Rod Pacheco have something in common, both were clients of election consultant Brian Floyd, who's known primarily for backing losing candidates in races where more than a little bit of mud is flung around.

Former Riverside City Councilman Frank Schiavone also launched his political campaign last year by suing over a campaign statement, this one by challenger and current city councilman, Paul Davis.

De ja vu anyone? Someone could write a good primer of similar duplications of events that stir the feeling of having been there before for residents and that would put a lot of people in good stead.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Former Riverside Chief Russ Leach Pleads Guilty to DUI Through Attorney and the Veil of Secrecy Continues at City Hall

[Riverside County Supervising District Attorney Stephanie Weissman addresses questions from the media after former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach's guilty plea and sentencing en absentia for DUI accident.]

Former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach didn't appear in court on his behalf but dispatched his attorney, James Teixeira to enter a guilty plea for one count of DUI with the second count being dismissed and Commissioner Bambi Moyer dispensing his sentence after speed reading a 40 page written analysis of the case submitted by the California Highway Patrol. The analysis was part of its 522 page report (which hey, is 516 pages longer than that filled out by the Riverside Police Department) on the Feb. 8 vehicle accident and traffic stop involving Leach.

Leach received nearly $2,000 in fines and restitution fees, three years summary probation, 30 days of electronic monitoring through Leaders in Community Alternatives, Inc. and a first offender's drunk driving program. He will have until the end of August to fulfill his 30 day requirement of home monitoring in lieu of community service or the Riverside County Sheriff's Department Work Labor program.

Before the sentencing, lawyers for both sides debated on the case against Leach. Moyer asked Riverside County Supervising District Attorney Stephanie Weissman whether or not there was a blood alcohol measurement for Leach and Weissman said, there wasn't but the case was based on surveillance videos, witness statements all included in the lengthy CHP investigative file including the detailed analysis of the case.

The standard sentence for a first time DUI offender was written on the board in department 21 where misdemeanor arraignments are often done including many DUI cases. There's a standard fine of nearly $2,000, three years summary probation, a first time offender DUI class which is about 4-5 months long (and required by the DMV) and six days in jail or a sheriff's work detail program. But Weissman said that this sentencing wasn't adequate for Leach who had certain factors with his case that warranted extra time. She felt that he should have 30 days time due to the fact that he committed numerous reckless acts while driving his vehicle around Riverside. He ran a red light which was captured on an intersection camera and had been driving on his rims for several miles.

In addition, the extrapolation on the estimated blood alcohol level from the seven "doubles" he had consumed was approximately 0.28 and with the "burn off" time up to when he would be driving, about 0.22, which was considerably higher than the legal drinking level of 0.08.

"If police had taken him to jail and booked him, he would be a high BA(blood alcohol)," Weissman said.

Teixeira argued that Leach should have been offered the more appropriate standard of a first time DUI offender.

"There is no blood alcohol," Teixeira said, "None whatsoever."

Of course there was no mention by the defense attorney as to why this turned out to be the case. But Moyer said that she was inclined for the most part "to agree with the People". She agreed that there was certainly no blood alcohol result, but "there were certainly reasons behind this." The closest anyone came to talking about the aftermath of Leach's DUI inside the courtroom which dealt with the DUI incident with a much more narrow scope.

Moyer said that the facts couldn't be ignored and that clearly "something dreadful" had happened to Leach's vehicle given the condition it was in by the time it was stopped. She recommended 20 days and the standard fine and fees along with the class. Weissman agreed with the judge's assessment and said the extrapolated blood alcohol score could be backed by he court given that Leach had at least 11 drinks and took prescription medication.

Teixeira then did Leach's guilty plea to count 1 en absentia. Attorneys for both sides addressed the media outside the courthouse after the hearing.

Teixeira said that Leach was "very, very sorry for his actions" and that he had wanted to admit his culpability. He planned to move forward with his life, being retired (according to Teixeira), and since he had done some speaking engagements in the past he might consider doing that. He didn't believe he had a problem with alcohol but "has some medical issues" that he needed to address. He also hoped that people would believe that his actions had no reflection on the fine men and women in the Riverside Police Department. When asked about whether Leach had received preferential treatment or knew about the cover up, Teixeira had a brief comment.

"We never discussed that," Teixeira said.

When asked if Leach was treated any differently than any other DUI offender, Teixeira said he didn't think so.

"He didn't get special treatment," Teixeira said, "He got 30 days."

Weissman along with John Hall, public information officer for the D.A.'s office also talked about the case. She said that Leach had committed hazardous acts while driving including almost hitting a witness while doing an illegal u-turn on the intersection, Arlington and Van Buren where he would several minutes later get caught on camera running the red light. He was driving on the opposite side of the city where he was trying to get to in his car. The CHP had searched a couple square miles for the accident scene but was unable to find it. She did say that Leach didn't hit the fire hydrant and light pole as claimed in Sgt. Frank Orta's infamous police report.

So in a sense one chapter of this saga closed, the criminal case conducted inside a public forum called a courtroom and with Leach left to fulfill the terms of his sentencing. But just over a block away, the veil of secrecy regarding that other investigation continued at City Hall. And some people are perfectly content that this is what's going on but many people are somewhat less than happy. As some people have said since this started, the real crime's the cover up of a criminal act. And is that an action that's continuing?

Open the Windows, City Hall

The Press Enterprise Editorial Board responds to comments made by City Manager Brad Hudson about whether or not former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach received "preferential treatment" by his own officers during his Feb. 8 traffic stop. In other words whether there's a cover up that took place which most of the city knows already. Actually, the city's moved on from that and it appears that now it's engaging in the cover up of a cover up of a criminal act committed by one of its former department heads.

In this editorial, the newspaper chides Hudson and others at City Hall for keeping its internal investigation into determining who was involved in the covering up of Leach's apparent DUI related accident very quiet.


Expressions of concern from City Hall, however, cannot erase the evidence of unequal justice. Effective policing requires public trust in the Police Department's fairness and integrity -- the qualities directly at issue in the handling of Leach's accident.

And community confidence in the police rests on candid city answers to pointed questions: Who made the decision not to cite Leach that night? A claim filed this month by a Riverside police officer against the city alleges the cover-up extended all the way to the department's assistant chief. A legal claim is hardly an objective source. But it defies credulity that patrol officers would not ask for guidance from someone higher in the chain of command before deciding the chief's fate.

City officials say they only found out about the accident through an anonymous phone call hours later, despite city policy that requires notification of city management in such cases. Why? Have there been any other cases where high-ranking officials or others received special treatment from Riverside police? And how will the city ensure impartial policing in the future?

Riverside will never silence public concerns about unfair policing with an official statement that City Hall has taken some unspecified appropriate action. "Trust us" is simply not an acceptable response.

Damn straight it’s not and residents of this city shouldn’t sit and accept what little the city has fed them regarding the handling of this incident although many people have complained. And that goes from community leaders as well who for the most part have been such as silent as City Hall and just as accepting of Hudson’s “sweeping” probe even though many city residents know how as long as City Hall can shroud this troubling episode in secrecy, the probe will simply be remembered as the covering up of a cover up. Because what the city is facing now, is the noninvestigation of a "traffic collision" that has grown now into the former chief pleading guilty to a count of DUI. And Hudson, DeSantis and those they work for have yet to explain why there's such a huge gap between the department's assessment of the situation and that of the CHP and the D.A.'s office. Except to say they'll never really be able to explain it or at least that's what Hudson's saying. But maybe they can answer the question of why the city's claiming Leach is on medical leave and his defense lawyer's telling the media he's retired.

The management at the police department including its acting chief John DeLaRosa is even less capable of explaining how the incident that it deemed to be "filed" away and forgotten as a collision report wound up turning into a case with two counts of DUI being filed against its former chief with him taking a guilty plea for one count. The department that waited nearly two days to hand off its "filed" traffic incident to the CHP for an investigation to be conducted, virtually eliminating any chance for a blood alcohol reading to be taken. But then why else fiddle for that long before doing what should have been done right away? If that was done so that no blood alcohol could be determined then it was pretty much for naught. But now that Leach has plead guilty to a criminal offense, it's clear that if there's a cover up then it acted to obstruct or deter or deny the investigation of that crime. It would also be clear that someone in the department made the decision to engage in said obstruction when this person made the call not to investigate Leach for DUI but to ignore that and have someone take him home from the scene as if a crime hadn't been committed.

Hudson has already said that the city's residents will never know the identity of any individual involved in any cover up. That they might be able to guess that something happened but will never know the truth of what happened and the identities of the players involved. What Hudson has already announced at several public forums is that City Hall including presumably himself and his assistant city manager, Tom DeSantis have already been cleared in the probe. It's not really all that clear who investigated the employees outside of the police department because since the investigators of this "sweeping" investigation work for the police department's internal affairs division, they have no jurisdiction to investigate anyone outside of the department. Which makes it appear that the city employees who work for the city council are left to investigate themselves.

Hudson and DeSantis had already appeared in the media to clear themselves by claiming that they weren't notified of the accident and traffic stop involving Leach when it happened as required by city policy. However, Hudson's been mum about whether he had adhered to another city policy which requires that Leach be tested by the city for alcohol and drug intoxication since he crashed a city-issued vehicle. And even as they insist they were left out of the loop by the police department's management which they alleged failed to provide the proper notification, Hudson demurred on a question asked at a recent community forum about whether there had been prior problems involving Leach.

Perhaps some elected officials believe they can keep quiet about now, hoping that it will go away given that four of them will be up for reelection next year. Of the four elected officials up for reelection, only Councilman Mike Gardner’s really said anything at all and has asked any questions.

The other three have hidden behind Hudson’s probe deferring any expression of an opinion until after the whitewash investigation being carried out is completed, apparently forgetting what civic leadership is all about while still in at least for Councilmen Rusty Bailey and Chris MacArthur their first terms of office. Will they suddenly remember next year?

Councilman Steve Adams is running for his third term next year despite winning his last election in a squeaker by about 13 votes. He’s been just as quiet as the other councilmen but then he might have greater reason to be given his own alleged involvement in the police department's operations including its promotional process under Leach. But city residents haven’t been nearly as quiet and there’s been discussions about next year’s election and making governmental accountability a huge part of the election platform whether political candidates, incumbents and otherwise, decide to include it or not in their own strategic plans.

Not to mention that several elected officials who are considering runs as mayoral candidates in the wide-open free for all for that position in 2012 including Councilman Andrew Melendrez who has declared already should keep in mind that this issue could permeate the dialogue in that political contest as well. After all the last time this city lost a police chief, a lot of political futures hung in the balance not to mention that the city council had to replace two out of three of their direct employees.

What is past could very well be prologue.

We already know that is Press Enterprise's Columnist Dan Bernstein's response to City Manager Brad Hudson's "grave concerns" about the police chief getting preferential treatment during his traffic stop.

Four city vehicles torched in Hemet,as threats against the city and that police department continue after the recent raids involving the Vagos motorcycle gangs.

Another corruption case shielded from the public. This one in San Bernardino County.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

CHP: RPD Officers Onscene Knew Police Chief Was Intoxicated

***UPDATE****Former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach is a no show at the arraignment on his DUI case but through his attorney James Teixeira pleads guilty to one count of DUI and is sentenced to three years summary probation, first offender DUI class and 30 days in a electronic monitoring program, plus about $2,000 in fines. Texiera said Leach "very remorseful" but no discussion of cover up or preferential treatment,

Riverside County Supervising District Attorney Stephanie Weissman addresses questions from the media after former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach's guilty plea and sentencing en absentia for DUI accident.]

"I would hope that people in my department would make different choices. For somebody in our position, I think, there's probably a higher expectation."

---Jeff Talbott, Inland Chief, California Highway Patrol, the agency which investigated Leach about the department that didn't.

More information coming out on the investigation conducted by the California Highway Patrol's investigation into the Feb. 8 traffic accident involving former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach. That information includes documents submitted by the CHP who conducted the investigation that the Riverside Police Department had not and recommended that DUI charges be filed against Leach. And on March 22, Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco filed two misdemeanor counts of DUI, nearly two months after Leach's accident. Leach is set to be arraigned in Riverside County Superior Court on March 25.

The Declaration in Support of Arrest Warrant was taken out by CHP Sgt. Lance C. Berns and it related details behind the investigation conducted of Leach and his accident not to mention his subsequent traffic stop in the early morning hours after Super Bowl Sunday.

Evidence examined by the investigators included the following items including several which were made possible by the implementation of several reforms included in the stipulated judgment imposed on Riverside by the State Attorney General's office between 2001-06.

Surveillance video taken from Club 215 in Colton

COBAN video (squad car dash cameras required under stipulated judgment)

Video footage from city's red light camera

Digital audio recordings (equipment required by stipulated judgment) from police officers onscene

Witness Statements

Leach's Potentially Lethal Cocktail

As it turned out, according to the CHP, Leach had apparently consumed a hefty combination of alcoholic beverages and prescription medication before driving to Club 215 as well as while he had been there. These substances rendered him very intoxicated which meant that by the time he left the club just before it closed, he had become potentially a lethal threat to himself and others as soon as he got behind the wheel of his car.

Substances consumed by Leach before his accident (based on his statements and those of others) included the following. Most of the names will sound familiar because these drugs frequently show up in the toxicological screenings performed on celebrities who die of drug overdoses.

At his home between 3:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 7 :

3-4 Miller Light beers

2 Vicodin (like other medications, including warnings not to combine with alcohol)

2 Xanax

1 Flexeril

1 Atarax

Possibly 2 Ambien

According to Leach's fiancee, these substances made Leach "groggy" and unable to safely operate a motor vehicle. But he got behind the wheel of his black Chrysler 300 and drove to Club 215 in Colton. A drive which took at least 30 minutes. About a minute after arriving at the club, Leach ordered his first alcoholic beverage purchased there. More drinks would follow in succession, at least seven more which is at least three more drinks than claimed by both the owner of Club 215 and his attorney not long after the story broke.

Between 9:28 p.m. on Feb. 7 and 1:41 a.m. on Feb. 8 at the Club 21, substances consumed included the following.

7 or more Chivas Regalis (on the rocks)

In total, Leach had consumed at least 11 alcoholic beverages and a variety of medications which prohibit the use of them with alcohol. To violate the warnings endangers the person's life (especially if it decreases the respiration rate) as well as impairs their driving ability. But the evidence of him consuming nearly a dozen beverages makes statements issued by him that he didn't drink and former Councilman Frank Schiavone that he couldn't drink even one beer a bit seem somewhat questionable at best. Schiavone quickly disappeared from where he came after making his brief foray into the press. But given that he's allegedly planning to run for Riverside County supervisor in 2012, it's not likely that the region's seen the last of him in political circles.

Evidence that Leach was impaired that was uncovered by the CHP shows that his driving ability was probably compromised before he even reached Club 215 and indeed surveillance video footage of that club showed Leach as being unsteady on his feet and disoriented according to the CHP. Again this contradicts information provided by the Club 215 owner and his attorney who said there were no visible signs of Leach being impaired on that same surveillance video. One club employee was apparently concerned enough about Leach's impairment to offer to call a cab to take him home, an offer which he declined. Leach then drove out of Club 215 in his own vehicle while intoxicated from alcohol and medications and headed back to Riverside.

Leach then crashed into what the CHP called an "unknown low profile fixed object" and kept on driving clearly impaired to the point where he had no idea what had just happened. He kept driving and ran at least one red light at Arlington and Van Buren, an action which was caught on a red light camera stationed there. He was eventually stopped by two patrol officers from his own department and the dash cams from inside their squad cars showed Leach unsteady on his feet and seemingly unsure of what happened to his car.

RPD Officers Knew Leach was Intoxicated

And then the warrant ends with perhaps the most critical piece of information, which is the observation of the officers who were onscene during the traffic stop.

(excerpt, warrant)

During the enforcement stop, RPD officers detected objective symptoms of alcohol/drug intoxication that included red/watery eyes , unsteady gait, the "strong" odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from his breath, slurred speech, and uncharacteristic repetitive speech. Both officers formed the opinion that Mr. Leach was driving under the influence in violation of Vehicle Code section 23152(a).

From this information which is a terse summary of statements given by Officers Jason Miller and Grant Linhart to CHP investigators, it is clear that officers who responded to 911 calls about the Black Chrysler 300 emitting sparks had done some form of DUI evaluation on Leach while performing the traffic stop. All the signs listed on the warrant as having been noticed by the officers are all those that officers look for while conducting DUI evaluations on motorists they stop. There's even a portion of a police report where there are lists of signs and symptoms of possible alcohol and drug intoxication that can be checked off if noted in a person under evaluation.

So it seems as if the officers suspected that the police chief was under the influence of alcohol and that their checking off the list of objective signs increased that suspicion. So let's see, the two officers suspected Leach was intoxicated and after performing their DUI evaluation, they became even more certain that he was in violation of the DUI laws. So what happened after that? How did the opinions of two patrol officers that Leach was legally intoxicated get watered down to the point where the final disposition for the traffic stop was that no report would even be filed as stated on the CAD incident sheet included in their sergeant's report?

Now there were never any written reports submitted by the primary officers on the scene which were Miller and Linhart. Even though when officers suspect a criminal violation has taken place, they usually write reports about their observations and the actions they take because they know these reports need to be an accurate reflection of what happened in case they're needed to be handed off to prosecutory agencies for evaluation and to refresh the memories of the officers if they ever need to testify on the witness stand in relation to the incident. But everyone in Riverside knows by now that things didn't happen this way. The incident deviated from being treated as a "potential DUI" (as reported to 911) to a "suspected DUI" as noted by two patrol officers and it deviated at some point during that traffic stop into being a "traffic collision" to be "filed" away or perhaps even less than that. Precisely because the two patrol officers didn't submit written reports to be signed by supervisors, but another higher ranking officer who arrived after them did.

The two officers called for a supervisor after they realized that they had the police chief in their custody so to speak and he was in their opinion legally drunk. So their supervisor, Sgt. Frank Orta comes in response with Watch Commander Lt. Leon Phillips on his heels. Orta's a veteran officer who's set to retire by summer and who's been with the department at least 30 years. Actually he was originally going to retire last December but stayed on longer because the department was critically short on front line supervision and he apparently agreed to stay a bit longer. If he had stuck to those original plans, Orta wouldn't have been working that night as the shift supervisor for the Central Neighborhood Policing Center where the traffic stop purportedly took place. But he still was employed by the department and he and Phillips responded to the call for their assistance by the two officers. The officers were caught in a situation where perhaps they were thinking that busting the police chief would be akin to career suicide and they wanted supervisors to decide how to proceed with the delicate situation.

Orta had many years working in the traffic division as a motor officer before his promotion. He was a court recognized DUI expert which means that if the two relatively inexperienced patrol officers recognized signs that Leach was legally drunk, that means Orta almost certainly did as well. Yet if you read his report, there's no references to the signs noted by the two patrol officers or any DUI evaluation being performed by him. There's no sign that Orta ordered or performed a field sobriety test including the use of a Breathalyzer or compelling the production of a blood sample for testing. He certainly didn't write in his report that he conducted any of these tests even though it's more than likely his observations didn't differ much from those provided by the two officers.

It seems more than likely that something transpired that changed Orta's mind, in how his future report would be written. The report that likely he had been ordered to write by Phillips but interestingly enough wasn't signed by Phillips. Someone claimed it had been signed at some point by a member of the police department's management but the copy provided by City Hall didn't include a "reviewer" signature. But at any rate, Philips didn't sign it and even though he was a lieutenant since only about July 2008 (when he was allegedly promoted from the #11 spot on the lieutenant's list), maybe he thought it wasn't wise to put his name on a report that mentioned a motorist having been drinking and suffering memory gaps but who was never given a field sobriety test. And it just doesn't seem likely that he would have made the decision to cover up this incident involving Leach being potentially intoxicated on his own either. But besides Leach, Phillips could be the most likely fall guy in Hudson's probe if it's indeed looking for one.

[One page excerpted from a report written by RPD Sgt. Frank Orta involving Leach's traffic stop. The sergeant might have been directed to write the report by Watch Commander Lt. Leon Phillips but why didn't Phillips sign off on it? As you can see from the bottom of this page, no higher ranking officer did at least not on the copy produced by the city.]

Neither the police department nor City Hall has provided any insight into what's the issue pertaining to Phillips' failure as Orta's supervisor to sign off on his written work product. And if someone else did sign it, somewhat higher on the pecking order than the watch commander, why isn't the city providing that information to the public while it was engaging in the practice of disclosure? But then the city's busy putting its marbles behind City Manager Brad Hudson's "sweeping" probe which is currently killing lots of trees and apparently has gone a bit off-track from focusing on the actual cover up but then what can you expect from an investigation set up by a city employee that perhaps should be scrutinized himself? What's always interesting about self-initiated internal investigations is how often the person who has the most questions to answer is often at their helm. That's just one of the many reasons why few city residents trust this Hudson probe, because if City Hall is investigating the police department then who is investigating City Hall?

It's all well and good for Hudson, the arbiter of the probe, to clear City Hall including himself in such a breathtakingly timely fashion but many people just shook their heads at that revelation which was dropped at several community forums soliciting opinions for hiring Leach's replacement. Fox guarding hen house, that just never works unless you're of course, the fox. But then a serious problem which was created in part due to a lack of accountability isn't going to be fixed by a process that also stems from the same problem. Which the city residents somehow understand even if City Hall is more than one step behind.

City Manager Brad Hudson: He had "grave concerns"

Apparently City Manager Brad Hudson issued some sort of public statement explaining the thought process involving this controversial incident involving one of his department heads. But doesn't Hudson know that many people have "grave concerns" including about his handling of the police department?

So anyway, Hudson explains himself further about how he was concerned that Leach was treated differently than the average person during the traffic stop conducted by his department's officers. That's a very important observation that Hudson has made, given that if he felt passionate enough on the issue of equal treatment for all by law enforcement, he could call up the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and ask why it apparently conducted a rather shallow investigation of a troubling 2007 incident allegedly involving his assistant city manager, Tom DeSantis, a woman and a firearm. Apparently, the Riverside County District Attorney's office never received a report on that case.

But anyway, Hudson's statements did need to be said, though of course it would have been nice to have heard them said before charges were filed when it became clear to most the rest of the city that Leach hadn't been treated the same as mere city residents would have been dealt with in his circumstances. It would also be useful if Hudson was more forthcoming about some of his own actions in connection with Leach and the police department since he arrived in 2005.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"Primary among my concerns in this matter is that the former Chief was provided treatment beyond what other motorists would be afforded in similar circumstances," Hudson said in a statement.

"I expect all city employees to use common sense, and to provide equitable treatment to all."

Well yeah, Hudson that makes some sort of sense. But most city residents knew that before this announcement was made and probably before Hudson and DeSantis created the policy that required their office to be contacted whenever a "high profile" person had a negative contact with the city's police officers. A policy that both Hudson and DeSantis in tandem insisted was violated by the police department's management on Feb. 8. And it might be true that this happened as so far there's no evidence that they knew about it when it was happening.

Hudson claimed he didn't find out about the incident until the early afternoon hours which is a bit different than earlier comments made by him that implied he learned about it not long after the @9:30 a.m. phone call that an anonymous woman made to Mayor Ron Loveridge's office, reaching his secretaries. Loveridge then said he was notified soon after and he solicited answers from Hudson who after all, was Leach's boss. But morning, afternoon whatever, Hudson's point apparently was that he didn't hear about it earlier in the morning when officers had stopped Leach.

Because Orta wrote the report by hand, it's not clear when it was written which might have been the point of eschewing modern day technology and channeling the olden days when reports were handwritten, before even typewriters were invented. If Orta avoided a department issued computer (which requires login information to gain access according to testimony in a recent criminal trial involving former Officer Robert Forman) or was ordered to do so, he would have done so most likely to muck up the ability to add the report in the appropriate spot of the Leach incident time line. Which makes no sense if the report had been written in a timely fashion after the incident if only to be filed away as a nonissue in some dusty file cabinet in some city owned building.

But it might make more sense if the report hadn't been written in such a timely fashion. Some of us are cynical enough at this point to wonder if there was even a report in existence when Loveridge dispatched Hudson to inquire about what had happened when Leach had crashed his car. Did a report even exist at that time or did Orta have to produce one? I mean what would it look like if Hudson had to push some higher ranking command staff members to search the department high and low for a simple "no crime committed" incident report? It appears that the majority of the command staff didn't engage in this cover up and perhaps were feeling more along the lines of it being "but for the grace of God, go I..." meaning they didn't have to deal with it. But it's also clear that adage probably didn't apply to all of them.

Det. Chris Lanzillo who was president of the Riverside Police Officers' Association until voted out and replaced by former sergeant, now Det. Cliff Mason filed a claim for damages asserting that current Acting Chief John DeLaRosa knew about the incident almost as it was unfolding and was "complicit" in an attempt to cover it up. The claim was rejected by the city in record setting fashion within five days of being filed, which unfortunately sent the message to city residents which many heard very well that the Hudson probe was a bad joke. After all, why not stay any claim alleging a cover up within the department and/or City Hall until after the Hudson probe was completed? To at least show that City Attorney Gregory Priamos and his employers, the city council and mayor are serious about uncovering the corruption which led to this incident in this so-called "sweeping" probe complete with its "independent oversight" in the form of Best, Best and Krieger attorney, Grover Trask.

But poor (and not meaning monetary wise) Trask has to sit and watch along with everyone else while Hudson's cleared City Hall before his probe's even done and involves investigators with no authority to perform an administrative investigation and review of employee conduct outside of the police department. Maybe he's just a rubber stamp to the Hudson probe after all, paid for by the city residents' dime.

Public Reactions

In the Press Enterprise article, there were some comments made by individuals interviewed about how they view this whole mess.

"The credibility of the department and city government is null and void. Their failure to do what they should have done obviously has lost the confidence of the community."

---Retired RPD Lt. Alex Tortes to the Press Enterprise

The incident and its handling led to the cancellation of a planned DUI checkpoint by the department on Feb. 17 and many city residents have raised serious questions about how the department treats regular people in contrast to the kid glove treatment it clearly gave its police chief. But while the department experiences issues of credibility, those in the department and possibly elsewhere who were responsible for the cover up which didn't succeed in insuring that Leach dodge a criminal investigation and possible prosecution remain hidden behind their own version of the code of silence. They could do something to repair the damage they have caused but they remain quiet.

"It wasn't handled properly, I don't think, but this is nothing new in government."

---Community leader Dell Roberts

Now if other community or civic leaders can break their silence and comment on this ongoing episode of corruption in Riverside, it might prove to be very helpful. The city's counting on the carrots it's been dangling in front of the leadership including exclusive spots on the interview panel to help in the hiring process involving the next police chief. Now, Hudson hasn't actually said he plans to include either community leaders or other residents even though he said his phone has been ringing off the hook with people soliciting him for this opportunity. But enough community leaders who are often vocal have been so quiet on this issue, you could hear a pin drop even as city residents have been fairly loud in different forums.

Why anyone would want to be picked to represent "community leadership" on a panel to pick the next police department chief who's more likely than not to be a puppet anyway is interesting. After all, you think they would have learned from the hiring of the executive manager of the Community Police Review Commission. The commission hasn't exactly thrived under his watch and it was interesting to notice that while Manager Kevin Rogan was front and center at different meetings to delay the commission's investigations of officer-involved shootings, he's been a complete no show at two separate public meetings to partially restore that charter power. That's micromanagement in a shell.

Incidentally, Roberts along with Damian Castillo served on a top secret ad hoc committee which recommended delaying investigations when it reported back to the city council and Governmental Affairs Committee in early 2009. That's after community members were not only banned from those meetings, they weren't even allowed to know when and where they took place. Apparently, neither had problems with how government operated then. Like Rogan, neither attended recent meetings involving the CPRC's partial return to being able to do timely investigations.

Still, it's good that Roberts has spoken out now after years of serving on the chief's advisory board, another committee of sorts that meets in total secrecy. That's a place to start.

Hopefully more community and civic leaders will do so as well including addressing the issue of whether or not Riverside needs an independent investigation of the Feb. 8 incident involving Leach and its aftermath.

Press Enterprise
columnist Cassie MacDuff writes about her reaction to the filing of DUI charges against Leach.

The Press Enterprise Editorial Board doesn't much like the lawsuits the city of Riverside has filed against the ports in Southern California.

City Employee Layoff Watch

So far, one city employee has been laid off, a communication technician from the Fire Department. Human Resources Director Rhonda Strout still has a few days left to soften up the news before she has to give it at the monthly meeting of the Human Resources Board.

And in the burning question category.....

Who's Left Standing in the Sire's Crowd?

[That other City Hall...]

In Illinois, former police sergeant Drew Peterson prepares to begin his murder trial for allegedly killing his ex-wife Kathleen Savio. His current wife, Stacey is still missing and hasn't been seen for nearly three years.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach Charged with DUI But What of the Cover Up?

[Leach's vehicle after his accident at Central and Hillside in the early morning hours of Feb. 8. the vehicle experienced "major" damage to the front fender, the side, the back and most notably to the two wheels on the left side of the vehicle.]

[The initial police report to be "filed" that was written by Sgt. Frank Orta which has already been pretty much discredited early on the process. The CHP's own investigative findings (including the fact that it conducted one) which led to Leach's DUI charges pretty much put the final nail of the coffin of this report as being a viable work product and representation of what happened. It remains a key character that had a role to play in the department's attempt to cover up the incident but also a role in exposing it.]

I suggest the Riverside Police Department open the books for the State Attorney Generals Office. The decision to cover up the incident came from the LT. watch commander after a Sgt. ordered the two officers to book Leach.

The LT. called the Dep. Chief who suggested Leach be taken home from the seen without an FST or blood test.

Anyone in the same circumstance would of had to submit to a blood or urine sample and if refused the police would of taken your CDL away.

Thw Police Department in Riverside and some of the city council members who party with Leach are corrupt and feel they are empowered with special treatment. The entire City and its reps should be recalled.

This city has been subjected to a power circle who control and mold our city for many years.

The last three top ranking officers "Chief's" have been problematic. Under the direction of the city manager all have caused previous outside investigations.
When are we as citizens going to have input in who provides us with a uncorrupt law enforcement protection. Riverside is not without blemish under this chief, Officer Foreman a rapist on duty and Reeve's an armed bank robber. Other officers have received special treatment by Leach instead of displinary action or termination in exchange for their loyality.

How can you trust the PD after its assocation RPOA voted to back the Chief after committing a crime.


The California Highway Patrol announced that former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach has been charged with two misdemeanor counts of DUI nearly two months after he crashed his city issued car and then was stopped by two patrol officers in his own department. And so with that decision to charge him, it marks the progression of an incident that was initially viewed as a "traffic collision" report to be "filed" by the Riverside Police Department to a case where criminal charges have been filed against the former chief.

And of course now that Leach faces criminal charges stemming from the CHP's investigation of his accident, it serves as an indictment against the city and police department's handling of the Feb. 8 incident which was originally slated to be covered up by either or both entities beginning not long after it took place.

This is what the CHP did reveal in its report. Leach had at least 11 alcoholic beverages before his accident including at least seven at Club 215 which conflicts with the owner (and his attorney's) assertion that Leach only had four drinks. He also had taken pain medication allegedly after having four earlier alcoholic beverages at his home. Then he got behind the wheel to go to Club 215 near Colton despite knowing that mixing alcohol and certain prescription drugs (including most painkillers) magnifies the effects of both of them including impairing one's driving skills.

Then the owner of Club 215 apparently sells him seven more drinks which one would think would be enough to take down an elephant and Leach leaves the club to once again, get behind the wheel of his car and start driving again. By the time that two patrol officers caught up with Leach inside his damaged vehicle missing two tires, Leach apparently had no memory of what had happened to his car. He talked about driving in fields and on dirt roads instead of the city's asphalt streets and needing to change a flat tire. The two officers who were both fairly new and probably freaked out to have stopped the top cop of the department which employed them called for a supervisor and Sgt. Frank Orta, a court recognized DUI expert came to the scene along with Watch Commander Lt. Leon Phillips and took control of it as primary officer, according to the partial CAD incident report. At 4:44 a.m. he issued a deposition of "NR" or no report taken according to that same CAD sheet.

At some point, a report was written albeit by hand but it's not really known (thanks to Orta's avoidance of a workplace computer) whether that was before or after the anonymous woman of mystery called Mayor Ron Loveridge to give him some 411 on what had happened with Leach. Loveridge allegedly asked around including City Manager Brad Hudson who along with his assistant city manager quickly plead ignorance on the matter in a Press Enterprise article. Both said that the police department's management had violated a city policy which mandated that the department contact Hudson's office when its officers had professional contact with a "high profile" individual. Was this the truth or Hudson's attempt to distance himself from the affair given that he had instituted his own "sweeping" probe into the incident?

At any rate, the police department's management also failed to properly investigate the incident involving its police chief as the incident was quickly getting away from it. At about the same time, media outlets began burning up the phone lines at City Hall and inside the police department, Asst. Police Chief John DeLaRosa announced that the department's own noninvestigation had been turned over to the CHP. Nearly two days after it had first happened which put the CHP at a pretty big disadvantage from the get go but it still had an investigation to conduct.

Enter the CHP

So what was the CHP to do given that its investigators were behind the startling line after the gun had gone off in terms of a viable time line for obtaining some of the evidence it might need as part of constructing a DUI investigation? It's not like the Riverside Police Department had done anything but commissioned a handwritten traffic collision report to be quickly and quietly filed away in some cabinet somewhere never to see the light of day. CHP Chief of Inland Empire Operations, Jeff Talbott commented on the task which lay ahead for his agency, in a press release issued by Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco's office.

“The CHP is often conducted by other law enforcement agencies to conduct independent complex investigations of the actions of their personnel. Since the CHP was contacted nearly a day and a half after Russ Leach was stopped by RPD officers, a very comprehensive investigation into Leach’s activities during the hours leading up to this contact was conducted.”

So that's what investigators did, hence with the announcement that Leach had been consuming all that liquor before he crashed his car and not long after he taped a public service announcement not to drink and drive on Super Bowl Sunday. He drank his four beverages at home and at least seven more at Club 215 where a waitress allegedly became so concerned about his physical state that she offered to call him a taxi to take him home. But as everyone knows now, Leach didn't leave the club in the back seat of a taxi but behind the wheel of one of his city-issued black Chrysler 300 cars and essentially becoming exactly what he had warned the city residents not to be, an intoxicated driver on the roads driving what really is the equivalent of a loaded gun.

As someone who survived a DUI involved accident when I was younger, it's pretty clear that Leach was putting the public that he was supposed to protect and serve at risk by getting behind the wheel of his car and driving away, not to mention his own life. It also makes you wonder how many times he has engaged in such activity, to drink nearly a dozen alcoholic beverages, take pain medications (despite warnings not to combine with alcohol on the packages) and then drive around in his car. It reminds me of a young man I once knew who went out one night, drank alcohol at a college fraternity party, went to a restaurant and despite being under-aged was able to buy more alcohol there and get into his car with a friend and drive home a couple of miles away by drunk. I had been running the next morning and saw a trail of scorched vehicle parts including a gas cap in the street and then when I reached a main thoroughfare saw a burned out fire hydrant and mailbox.

As it turned out, that's where the young man crashed his car after running a red light and broadsiding another vehicle and since he was too drunk to save his own life, he burned to death where he sat still wearing his seat belt. His parents were awakened by an early morning phone call from the last person you'd want to receive one from, the county coroner's office. Leach being a longtime police officer and having just taped the "fans don't let fans drive drunk" PSA spot clearly is aware of how dangerous it is to mix drinking and driving, how it can result in tragedies like the one above, but did it anyway.

So Leach gets behind the wheel of his vehicle and sets off for Riverside, about to give a lesson plan in "do as I say, not as I do". The Club 215 has served him at least seven drinks which is three more than claimed by both the owner of the bar and his lawyer and the waitress had allegedly had been concerned about his driving skills. He crashes his car when he's driving and somehow drifts into the side of the street designated for opposing traffic and then collides into an "unknown low profile" object which somehow manages to do a lot of damage to his car. The earlier report by Orta had mentioned that Leach had hit a fire hydrant and a light pole but the CHP said it's not clear exactly what Leach hit. Talbott stated that Leach was probably too intoxicated to know he had even hit anything at all and so he kept driving and not long before his traffic stop, had ran a red light at one of the intersections that had cameras there to document traffic violations.

He continues driving while his wheel-less rims generate flying sparks and probably a lot of noise which then elicits numerous phone calls by concerned motorists to the 911 dispatch center about a "potential DUI". The two police officers pull him over including an officer who performed a DUI investigation on a motorist two weeks later who was pulled over while driving on three flattened tires and wound up arresting that person and taking them to be booked in county jail. Orta, who incidentally wrote the summary brief on that later DUI case as part of a shift summary, wrote a report that stated that even though Leach had been drinking, no sobriety test had been done.

In fact the subject of that test or any type of DUI evaluation never even came up in his handwritten report. Never mind that Leach clearly had memory or perception problems if he believed he was driving through a field and dirt road and had no idea how badly his car had been damaged. It was also clear that his car had been damaged at some other location, meaning that there were enough grounds to also investigate for hit and run. But the concept of a hit and run accident wasn't written about in the report either. Orta just essentially wrote that Leach had made a risky right turn (when Orta's own diagram of how he saw the accident doesn't really show that) and had hit a couple of objects (both of which were apparently repaired very quickly after the incident) and that the report should just be filed away. Meaning that no investigation was to be conducted or even initiated by the department that employed Leach. That decision apparently at the very least backed by Phillips who is believed to have been the highest ranking officer at the scene besides Leach.

But then again, it seems very unlikely that any real decision making was done at the scene by only the officers who were there. Common sense would dictate that if the police chief of any law enforcement agency got pulled over after an accident and was acting confused or drawing a blank on his memory then that cell phones would be whipped out at that point and calls would be made up or down the hierarchical structure of the department including up to its top. Was that how it should have been handled? No, because he should have been treated like anyone else and there's no cell phone frenzy in those cases but it's not likely that the scenario of treating him like a mere mortal would have ever taken place. A reality which brings some of the department's problems to light.

The patrol officers had already deferred to that hierarchical structure by calling for a supervisor which would seem reasonable in that situation especially since neither of them were veterans but it also tells you that they probably believed treating Leach like a mere mortal would have been career suicide. Since they did that, it indicates that the officers had some reason to suspect that Leach was DUI and they were asking for assistance which again sheds light on the police department's unequal handling of suspected criminal conduct involving its boss.

Orta being the DUI expert and having had many years of experience working as a traffic motorcycle officer, should have been suspicious that Leach was DUI. In fact, it's more than likely that this is the case but what's not quite as clear is his thought process. Because something led him down the road to engage in creative report writing. Did he raise the issue of Leach being a possible DUI and ask to do an evaluation? And if that's the case, what was the response back and who provided that response? Given that the city has not released the phone records involving cell phones that were issued by the city to key personnel within the department including its command staff as well as key management personnel at City Hall, it might never be known to the city residents who called whom.

Though it's believed that Leach made some phone calls and that Phillips was on his phone as well during the traffic stop. The other name that has frequently arisen is that of current acting chief, John DeLaRosa who was second in command only to Leach while Leach was chief. Was that the case that he had been notified by officers at the scene and if so, was Phillips then ordered to order Orta to treat the incident as a traffic collision involving damage to city property and not a DUI crash and potential hit and run involving the police chief? The CHP didn't probe into that side of the incident and the only investigation that's been launched so far to address that issue is Hudson's so-called probe which is being cloaked from public review.

Det. Chris Lanzillo who presided over the Riverside Police Officers' Association between 2007-09 filed a claim for damages earlier this month alleging that he was being harassed and retaliated for his actions taken while union president including his reassignment out of the Vice/Intelligence unit where he had worked for nearly five years. He also alleged that DeLaRosa had learned of the incident very quickly and was involved in covering it up and that DeLaRosa hadn't been happy when Lanzillo criticized him for taking so long to hand off the investigation to the CHP. The city rejected his claim and thus his allegations before even completing its ongoing "tree killing" internal investigation and not long after Hudson cleared City Hall including himself of any participation in any cover up involving Leach in a move which really didn't surprise anyone.

It was fairly easy to predict that Hudson's insistence that City Hall wasn't involved would only increase when news came down that as rumored, Leach would be charged with DUI.

Hudson: Police Chief Given Special Treatment

Within hours of the filing of criminal charges involving Leach, Hudson comes out and claims that Leach was given special treatment. His statements afforded some unannounced comic relief to these very serious chain of events. Is he speaking the truth or is he trying to cover his own tracks given that a department head under his watch has been charged with a crime? It's the right thing to say but did Hudson wait way too long to say it? And given his own tangled relationship with Leach and the police department, it's actually a curious statement on his part at this point and time. And after all, now that the charges had been filed, what else is Leach's boss supposed to say? That he doesn't think that Leach received special treatment, given that the RPD did no investigation of Leach's accident and the CHP did and found enough to justify recommending that DUI charges be filed? How well would that fly with the public as well as other people on the dais including those who employ them?

The collective answer to Hudson's latest assertion would be well, duh. But the question that Hudson's already refused to answer about preferential treatment received by Leach is for how long, meaning anytime before Feb. 8. But then while Hudson's quick to point fingers for policy violations by the RPD, he's less quick to answer whether or not he adhered to another city policy which requires that he mandate that Leach be tested for drugs and alcohol intoxication because he crashed a city owned vehicle.

It shouldn't be that hard for Hudson to handle a current or former employee of his facing criminal charges given that Leach isn't the first employee he managed who's been charged with criminal offenses. If you recall, a former redevelopment official Gregory Griffin faced felony charges and left town unannounced for a while before law enforcement officers caught up to him in Chicago.

Griffin had been charged with grand theft and misappropriation of funds charges when he tried to get a contractor to do a ton of landscaping at his house (and allegedly the houses of other city-connected people as well) and send the city the bill. Where was the money to pay for his landscaping going to come from? The capital fund which paid for the renovation of a building which would later become one of the police department's two field operations headquarters.

(excerpt, Los Angeles Times)

Investigators say Griffin asked the landscaping estimator, Gary Thomas, to accompany him to his house, where he ordered landscaping work for his front and back yards.

Griffin told Thomas to bill his home landscaping fee to the general contractor on the Magnolia Street Project because the contractor "owed him some favors," according to court documents.

The general contractor, James "Pete" O'Hara, alerted city and police officials. Less than a week later, Riverside police investigators surreptitiously recorded a phone conversation in which Griffin told O'Hara directly that he wanted the home landscaping work written into the budget for the new police station, authorities say.

Griffin told police he "was trying to get the city a better overall price by purchasing in volume" and planned to "intercept" the bill and pay for the work on his home, according to court papers.

Inside Riverside writes more about the Griffin incident including whether or not he might have been tipped off about his impending arrest by someone in City Hall.

But anyway, Hudson had his comments to make to the press to talk about these ahem, grave concerns of his regarding Leach.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Hudson stated he has "grave concerns" about the fact that "the former chief was provided treatment beyond what other motorists would be afforded in similar circumstances." It is the first definitive public statement from City Hall that Leach's traffic stop was mishandled.

And it only took nearly two months for a representative for City Hall to say the obvious! That yes, this traffic stop involving Leach was handled much differently than similar ones involving mere mortals. It may be news to the 'Hall but the city's residents have known that for months. Why? Because many city residents either have, know of or are familiar with other similar cases where they were intoxicated and carted off to jail in handcuffs. So city residents can easily seen the difference between the way their population is treated and how Leach's accident and traffic stop was handled.

Hudson's statement is one that should have been made much soon but except for clearing City Hall in his probe, Hudson and most of the rest of City Hall and the police management have been fairly quiet on this incident for nearly two months now. And while Hudson might have "grave concerns" about how Leach was treated, many people have had "grave concerns" with his ongoing micromanagement of the police department including his involvement in the department's promotion process especially at its highest levels. Actions which Hudson has used language in the charter which gives him the "final say" involving promotions, even as he's been allegedly more involved in that process than prior city managers employed by the city. But has Hudson's somewhat complex involvement in the police department along with that of his cohort DeSantis had a positive influence on the department, or a detrimental one? In the light of recent events surrounding the department, it's getting more and more clear what the answer to that question may be.

More to come...

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