Five before Midnight

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


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Thursday, March 03, 2011

A Heat Wave in Riverside?


Retired RPD detective files claim against police chief, city manager?

It's Beginning to Look A lot Like 2011.

[After a long dormancy period, work has diligently been done on the downtown library in Riverside, the butt of jokes by City Hall not long ago]

[The Riverside Museum before its new face lift, not bad to look at but would you want to be next to it in a major quake?]

[The Riverside Metropolitan Museum undergoes a face lift]

Press Enterprise Columnist and musician Dan Bernstein wrote several columns about the neglect of City Hall towards its downtown library facility which had degraded to the extent that it had become the butt of humor at city council meetings. But it's no joke to the employees who work there (and had already been given a gag order on talking by a former library director) and to the people who patronage who are from all age groups and walks of life. They have really good programs there from those who kids to the AARP helping people with their income tax returns.

Women were told by library employees when the bathroom was out of order to walk to the Mission Inn or City Hall to use their bathrooms. Men were using the women's bathroom (and surprising women) when theirs was out of order. A library director and the system director did finally open the staff's bathroom to women until the bathroom was fixed and said that men weren't allowed to use the women's bathroom. The roofs leaked and huge portions of the second floor had been vacated and cordoned off.

But Bernstein's columns did make a difference, not to mention it's an election cycle which always helps, and the library has seen renovations done including painting on the second floor. Issues with backup (from a sewer system venting gases back past a toilet's trap) backing up and making the place smell like a sewer are hopefully being addressed.

The downtown library serves an important function and Bernstein's right when he said that any person coming to Riverside if they saw the library might say "beam me up Scotty".

But what a difference one year makes

Speaking of libraries, it seems that Marcy is going to be a restaurant. One wonders how much renovation of this historic building will be required given it wasn't designed to house one. If it's to be "preserved" as part of the deal, how much of it will be left after the required renovations?

I guess we'll all find out down the always winding road that leads back to River City. But at least in recent weeks, it's clear someone changed the course of the S.S. Hudson and got some basic renovations done to the library which sorely needs much more than that to do it justice.

Oh What Tangled Webs We Weave...

Did Riverside Police Department Brass Muscle a Deputy Chief onto the Sidelines?

[Was he ordered to retire to put him out of running for the chief's spot?]

[Deputy Chief Mike Blakely (l) with Chief Sergio Diaz at a RUSD meeting]

[The top candidate for chief lauded by City Hall...until the release of his cell phone records]

[Oh, the irony if it's true that former Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis ordered Esquivel to retire...only in River City]

This blog wrote last year about dual claims filed against the police department and city by Former Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel and Officer Neely Nakamura involving allegations of extortion and retaliation against them by members of both the police department's management team and city management employees.

The claims were denied by the city which is pretty much routine and Nakamura filed a lawsuit in Riverside County Superior Court through lawyer Michael McGill from Lackie & Dammeier and McGill, a police firm that's been through some interesting upheaval itself in the past few year.

The lawsuit outlines a chain of events detailed below that allegedly took place that were similar to the versions in the earlier claims that stemmed from the Feb. 8, 2010 traffic stop involving former Chief Russ Leach and its aftermath. To call it disturbing in its content would be a tremendous understatement, the allegations are pretty horrific and if as alleged, paint a truly disturbing portrait of what was going on in the upper echelons of power both inside the Riverside Police Department and City Hall's Seventh Floor as well.

An RPD that wasn't built overnight.

As you know, Leach was pulled over in his black Chrysler 300 by two officers who were heard on the COBAN video recording as talking about what a political train wreck it was, even waving another officer away from the scene. They were right in their assessment because even though these were relatively new patrol officers, they knew where they were working and about unwritten rules about preferential treatment even as City Manager Brad Hudson and a choir of his followers claimed otherwise. The fact that City Hall already apparently had a loosey goosey policy in place to have all police interactions with "high profile" folks reported to the city management tells you that.

But for Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel, he apparently didn't learn about the traffic stop involving Leach and how it wasn't handled until the next morning despite being in charge of field operations (including patrol) and investigations. Sgt. Frank Orta (now medically retired) told CHP investigators that he was fearful of Esquivel's request to talk with him after he had been instructed to write his infamous "traffic collision" report on the Leach incident. But he had been asked to sign it because Lt. Leon Phillips hadn't done that, not only hadn't he signed Orta's report as his supervisor but he had informed Esquivel that he wanted his name removed from the captain's candidate list.

That should have rang more than a few bells but alas, apparently not.

Deputy Chief Esquivel allegedly expressed concern about being ordered to sign a police report and the manner in which the Leach incident was handled. He was concerned that laws were broken in the process, that DeLaRosa had failed to take action and that he was being purposely left out of the loop.

DeLaRosa was named acting chief by Hudson and Asst. Chief Tom DeSantis after Leach went on medical leave. DeLaRosa also became favored for chief position because City Hall considered him a team player. He was seen as being easily influenced and was uniformly praised by city officials as being the best fit for the city. This was of course before records from his city issued cell phone tied him to the scene of the Leach traffic stop.

It's a bit odd that those in City Hall who are paid six figured salaries including Hudson who was the highest paid city manager in the state behind that guy from Bell wouldn't even consider that DeLaRosa as second in command behind Leach might have ties to what happened that early morning at Arlington and Rutland. One would think that since the city management was doing this "independent" and "sweeping" investigation of the incident that they would get DeLaRosa checked out before putting him in the interim spot.

But you could hurt your head trying to figure out why Hudson and DeSantis did or didn't do the most basic and sensible actions.

Esquivel alleged that he was a viable police candidate in opposition to DeLaRosa and that he had to be discredited by City Hall. So that they would dig up dirt and muddy up his name to get Delarosa promoted to chief and retaliate against Esquivel, according to the lawsuit.

In early March, Esquivel called in for interview lasting about 90 minutes purportedly as a witness but he felt he was a target. It was about Leach’s vehicle’s status and location which was an evidence bay at the Magnolia Police Station behind shielding almost as if there was an attempt made to hide it. He said before he got involved, the car had been placed in the evidence bay “for repair” rather than being locked down as evidence in connection with any investigation. Esquivel ordered the car be locked down and not touched.

At some point, allegedly Deputy Chief Mike Blakely (then the Personnel Captain and in charge of Internal Affairs) had illegally obtained transcripts or phone numbers from Esquivel’s phone and Esquivel during that interview was asked about a number he had called frequently despite it having nothing to do with the investigation. Under orders, he said it was Officer Neely Nakamura’s number and they had an intimate relationship private and unknown to the rest of the department. It was a lawful relationship, consensual and both of them did their jobs. That it didn't violate department policies and procedures.

Esquivel was apparently called back in for an Internal Affairs interview as a subject officer by a lawyer, Lt. Mike Cook (who heads Internal Affairs), Sgt. Frank Assumma, Sgt. John Capen and Delarosa who has a subject of the Leach investigation probably shouldn't have been there. While it's true that a police employee can't be compelled to answer questions by someone lower in rank than them, having DeLaRosa who was ultimately also investigated as well present during the interrogation appears to be an inappropriate and highly questionable practice by the department.

Esquivel said he gave the same answers as in his CHP interview on the Leach incident. He said he pressed DeLaRosa to do the investigation and not cover up the investigation. Esquivel showed investigators the text message he got from Delarosa ordering him to sign the traffic report written by Orta.

On April 9, 2010, Esquivel was speaking with plaintiff Nakamura on the phone as she was on her way to work where they were both assigned at the Riverside Police Department's Magnolia Station. He saw Assumma and Capen in the parking lot, unusual since they worked in another building. Esquivel was contacted by Delarosa and told that Internal Affairs needed to meet with him this afternoon and to make himself available to them. Again the assignment of one subject officer on an investigation into a cover up being assigned the chief's position and thus given the job of telling another alleged subject officer to be available for an Internal Affair investigation is just unbelievable.

Riverside Police Department's Administration Headquarters
Orange Street, Downtown Riverside where some intrigue involving management took place in early 2010

Assumma and Capen illegally accosted and detained Nakamura as she left work vehicle in parking lot, according to her lawsuit.

Capen was observed in the parking lot acting in a nervous manner looking around and making furtive movements between the parked cars. As Nakamura arrived at work, he walked between her as she exited her vehicle and said “you have to come with us” Nakamura knew that the two sergeants worked for Internal Affairs and was fearful of their "henchmen reputation for harassment and threatening behavior". Nakamura nervously smiled and tried to ignore Capen. He then stepped in front of her and demanded, “you have to get in the car” Nakamura replied with an uneasy “are you kidding,” Capen said he wasn’t kidding and she had to get in the car now. Assuma held open the back door and indicated for her to enter the vehicle. Capen directed for her to sit in the front seat and Assumma to sit behind as if she were a suspect who would try to escape.

[The downtown police substation which houses the department's Internal Affairs Division

Nakamura was taken to Internal Affairs for several hours of interrogation by Cook, Capen and Blakely. She was repeatedly told she couldn’t leave and had no option but to speak with investigators. She was also told she couldn’t leave until they spoke with Esquivel and had chance to compare notes, presumptively to determine if she were lying. She couldn’t go to bathroom with her personal phone and she was escorted by Assumma who stood outside door. The investigators told her she was a witness and the investigation had been related to whether Esquivel was properly notified about Leach incident.

Nakamura was shown phone records from Esquivel's phone She was asked why she spoke to him so often. She was forced to reveal when her private relationship began, forced to reveal private and confidential information that occurred off-duty and had no connection to her employment. She was forced to admit she had sexual intercourse with Esquivel while off duty. She was also asked about whether her spouse knew about it. She alleged that illegally forwarded copies of intimate messages and photographed copies were made from her phone. Contents of her interview were allegedly circulating around the department within several days.

While she was detained, they took 30 minutes and 15 miles to reach Esquivel and said they needed to talk to him immediately. Blakely said in his office he had a “distasteful matter to discuss” Esquivel said the relationship was private, didn’t interfere with departmental policy and he wasn’t going to discuss it further. Blakely added to Esquivel that it wouldn’t be smart to let this get out and that the interrogation was painful with Nakamura crying. Blakely indicated that it would be incredibly damaging and humiliating if this would get out. Blakely also indicated that unless a deal could be arranged it was the department's intention to immediately relieve him of duty, put him on administrative leave and take away his gun and badge thus relieving him of his police powers.

Blakely told Esquivel there is another way to handle this situation saying that he had a resignation form and if Esquivel signed it nothing would be done and all this information would not get out. Blakely said it would be very embarrassing for him and his family if these details got out and indicated he wasn't bluffing. Esquivel then asked who was behind this and Blakely indicated that they were reporting directly to DeSantis. Esquivel then used his mobile phone to contact DeSantis and indicated that the two needed to talk immediately. DeSantis responds that he should come over and talk with him. As Esquivel gets up to leave, Blakely indicates that he can’t leave the office alone and that they are going to escort him to DeSantis.

Esquivel met with deSantis who says that they no longer need his services and Esquivel asks if they are going through this effort to get rid of him because of the Leach incident or are they trying to muddy up so he can’t be a contender for chief. DeSantis indicated that the city was inundated with calls for support for Esquivel from the community. Esquivel asked if he had any chance for the job and DeSantis said no and to not bother putting in for it.

DeSantis convinced Esquivel to retire and he did and was given 30 days and his letter was typed up and his name spelled wrong. He was acting chief for a while (in contrast to being pressured to surrender his gun and police powers earlier) and given a expensive retirement party on his way out.

Desantis himself would be out of his job and placed on administrative leave in a situation which was about as ironic as could ever be leaving those in the city who knew about it commenting that he wasn't exactly in the best position to make any decisions here.

But the allegations that were alleged in this lawsuit are very disturbing and should see their day in court when those involved are called upon in a public forum called a trial to testify to what happened. Because the city's residents need to know what's been going on behind closed doors at the police department's Orange Street Station and the Seventh Floor at City Hall including the handling of the department and its management by Hudson and others at City Hall.

Nakamura's experience as she relates it is beyond disturbing. Not that they questioned her about the relationship in order to determine that it was consensual and not coercion or sexual harassment but the questioning from the excerpt of the transcript included in the lawsuit seems to push the envelope quite a bit on its scope. Cook and the others in the room had already established that an intimate relationship had taken place yet when they go further to ask graphic questions about sexual acts, it appears gratuitous and frankly done with the purpose of humiliation. Women in the police department who have been interrogated on relationships with male officers in the department apparently face more difficult interrogations than their male counterparts.

Are there moral issues with this type of relationship? Certainly and there are professional complications that might exist as well but there's something called professional interrogation tactics which in a situation like this for a "witness" officer include tact and sensitivity and despite new Chief Sergio Diaz' contention that he felt Blakely and the others went out of their way to be sensitive, if the allegations raised here are true, neither of these elements was practiced at all. It's very telling that the excerpt cited in the claims filed by both officers was taken from Nakamura's interview transcript because that gives some indication there that despite the fact that there were two people in this relationship, that Nakamura received the blunt of the humiliating interrogation tactics and that she was most impacted by them, even though she's the subordinate ranking officer in this situation and she's also the woman.

Did they accost Esquivel in the parking lot, order him in a car and then escort him to the bathroom under guard? No allegations have been raised by him relating a similar experience. In fact he was told by DeLaRosa (again another subject officer) to make himself available to Internal Affairs for interview at about the same time as the alleged incident with Nakamura in the parking lot. If this is what happened, then you have a female subordinate officer being accosted like a suspect in a parking lot by two sergeants (who receive direction from others) and driven to a facility where she spends hours being interrogated to tears, being compelled to answer intimate questions and has to have someone take her to the bathroom without her personal phone. You have a male superior ranking officer who at least during the internal affairs was told to make himself available, refused to discuss his relationship further and there's no mention of intimate questions asked of him about the same relationship as a superior officer involved with a subordinate. If this is what happened, then why was the treatment so disparate with the burden being on Nakamura when it should have been on Esquivel because he's in management?

Just that makes one wonder about what other double standards exist not just between male and females but also lower ranking officers and management personnel in general. If these are the facts presented, then these are more than fair questions to ask.

But then there's the interactions that were related afterward, according to the lawsuit, that detail exchanges between Esquivel and Blakely and then Esquivel (who was told he needed an escort this time) and DeSantis probably the last person who should have been placed in any decision making capacity involving Esquivel given his own rocky time during 2010.

The allegations against Blakely are that he threatened to go public with Esquivel's relationship with Nakamura unless he submitted his resignation, essentially that he blackmailed or extorted Esquivel to take an action he didn't want to take by using content of an internal investigation to do it. Those are extremely serious allegations which are criminal in nature and they definitely need their day in court so that it can be determined by a jury whether it finds enough evidence when the case is presented in court that this behavior took place or didn't take place. And that needs to be done to give some accounting either way in a public forum as the allegations were made public. The residents of the city should know exactly kind of police department it had then and what was going on at the highest levels but will the city allow for that kind of process to take place to address the issues that were raised?

But if that's what did take place, then it's really hard to put into words what that would say about a police department that had already seen more than its share of turbulence in the past 10 years. It's the kind of thing you almost pray won't be true and hope it's not going on inside a law enforcement agency but how would you ever know, if the matters that have been raised her are kept behind closed doors?

A lawsuit is about as public as you can get and it provides a forum in public to deal with issues that perhaps some wish would be handled in private but if the department used those interrogation tactics involving an officer, it needs to explain them on the witness stand at a trial so that city residents can evaluate them. As to why if this took place was there such great differences in the treatment of a female subordinate officer and a male management employee involved in the same situation. It's clear that if the allegations of the lawsuit are true, then Nakamura was simply the means to an end of what took place after her interrogation which was a power play between different management team members of different teams. They made her cry during an interrogation and if they mentioned that to Esquivel, then it would appear to be used as leverage against him as its purpose.

The city has painted Esquivel as basically a corrupt officer with a thick jacket and due to confidentiality laws, the city's not required to explain what it means by that. Those laws which officers fought hard to gain in the 1970s ironically allow individuals to say that so-and-so did very bad things without further elaboration as well. Sometimes you have to ask yourself, who are they really protecting and if laws set up to protect rank and file officers from management have come full circle.

But what the city will have to do if this case goes to jury trial is come up with some explanation through documentation and testimony as to why if Esquivel's the latest evil incarnate, the department and city (as Hudson has final say on all promotions) elevated him several times in the previous five years including to deputy chief. It's going to be very interesting indeed to hear the city explain that to a jury which makes the city's use of that defense (right or wrong) very questionable at best....and at worst, most expensive.

This lawsuit raises many issues and questions about what was going on in the mad, mad world that the Orange Station appeared to be in 2010 in the face of a new changing of the guard with three outside police employees including the new chief in the mix. A lot in the department depends on the examples they set and the practices they implement and that their actions speak at least as loudly as their lips. It's a huge responsibility for anyone and for this blogger, the jury's still out, not just on the department and its leadership (and there's some hopeful areas and areas of very necessary improvement both) but that at City Hall including the City Attorney and City Manager's office who just seem to love micromanaging the police agency. Everyone's seen the outcome of that and it hasn't been pretty.

Speaking of court proceedings, the criminal trial of former Riverside Police Department is scheduled to start soon as March 17 is the final date that his trial on three misdemeanor charges including assault to commit major bodily injury and unauthorized use of a database can take place.

Although Impola was fired by then Chief Russ Leach in early 2010, he was ultimately given a medical retirement by the city.

The Thirst for Redevelopment Agencies

Two city department heads, Paul Sundeen (also an assistant city manager) and Deanna Lorson stump for redevelopment agencies in the Press Enterprise, an action usually reserved for Mayor Ron Loveridge and other politicians. What's interesting is that both Sundeen and Lorson admit that there's been abuses of it but don't say one word really about accountability beyond saying that the city conducts "independent" audits and turns over information for the state. However, Riverside has not offered itself up for the recent audits of 19 agencies being conducted by State Controller John Chiang. Riverside County's own redevelopment agency is being included in that audit but if problems lurk there to be discovered, then due to connective ties between the county and the city, that might incur a closer look at the city as well.

Even as it's been admitted by a city official that there might be some abuses in Riverside's own Redevelopment Agency practices, instead of focusing any attention on how to address those problems and ensure greater accountability and transparency so that abuses don't happen, the city government's primary focus is on rushing projects through. And continuing to act like redevelopment and redevelopment agencies are synonymous. Lest anyone think that this blog is the only place where these concerns are being raised and the questions are being asked, the Press Enterprise wrote this editorial stating that the city's actions to rush projects through do little to inspire confidence by city residents on the accountability of redevelopment agency use.


Local governments responded to Brown's plan by approving billions of dollars worth of redevelopment projects before the state could act; San Diego alone authorized $4.1 billion in new projects this week. So Brown has proposed legislation that would give the state three years to review and potentially kill local redevelopment plans pushed through since Jan. 1.

The governor -- not to mention the public -- has legitimate reasons to be suspicious of the sudden spike in redevelopment activity. Local agencies did not somehow discover previously unknown areas of blight and decay. Nor do these proposals all reflect the best possible use of redevelopment money over coming decades.

Local officials wanted to keep their hands on the money, and so rushed to commit the funds now regardless of what other needs might arise in the future. Or officials put the money toward vague, ill-defined proposals that exist mainly to ward off state intervention. The motive was turf protection, with civic improvement at best a secondary consideration.

The state should question the validity of those decisions -- and Brown's proposal is too modest, if anything. The state's legislative analyst has long recommended that the state review local redevelopment plans to ensure compliance with state law. Redevelopment history is rife with abuses of the process.

But it's a bit disconcerting to listen to city officials beg, plead and then rush to push bond issuance through. Some officials in particular almost sound as redevelopment agency reliance is a drug and they need their next fix.

More to come...surely.

Riverside City Hall Delays Third Street Grade Separation

Poor Eastside Gets Sold a False Bill of Goods Again

You read it here last week but Riverside City Hall has decided to delay the Third Street grade separation. This actually was decided in the fine print of the vote taken on the Perris Valley Metrolink line issue several weeks ago. Purportedly because the project fell $40 million behind in fund raising even though at one time it was fourth on the list behind Jurupa, Columbia and Magnolia for the construction.

It's just amazing that when it comes to raising money for projects, the city always runs out of money before it gets to the Eastside which allegedly received no redevelopment funding according to Councilman Andrew Melendrez.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"It was never clear that there would be sufficient money to fund the project," Councilman Mike Gardner said. "Some monies had been allocated for the project, but it clearly was nowhere near enough to fund it."

Rather than commit more of the $15.7 million local officials would need to contribute, Third Street will be pulled from the list, pending local transportation commission approval and the agreement of the California Transportation Commission.

Complexities with the construction of the crossing -- near Highway 91 and the Riverside Canal -- contributed to the decision to delay it.

"It's a tight fit," said John Standiford, deputy director of the county transportation commission.

[Councilman Andrew Melendrez hasn't yet commented on the cancellation of the Third Street Grade Separation crossing within his ward,.]

Then there's discussion of focusing on the so-called "quiet zones" but according to the maps on that project vote, none of the quiet zones actually fall within the Eastside, the closest that it comes is somewhere on Cridge Street. Quiet zones were requested for the Eastside, according to one resident including by Longfellow Elementary School and Transportation Committee Chair Councilman Steve Adams was advised of this but the response was apparently well, Highland has one. No map I've seen of the "quiet zones" includes any such zones anywhere in the Eastside including the Third/seventh street railroad crossing areas. That's why residents are asking questions about these so-called zones because if the closest one to you is on Cridge Street then how does that impact you?

This intersection was heavily impacted by train shutdowns which often took out either Seventh or Spruce as well for up to 40 minutes or longer. People complained about the traffic jams, the noise, the pollution and what if emergency vehicles had to use that intersection. It's unfathomable that the Third Street grade separation is short funding (as opposed to at least one belatedly added to the list after that which would lead to eminent domain of dozens of commercial and residential properties). Not to mention the Iowa grade separation which came after it on the priority list.

It's truly unfortunate that when it comes to the improvements in Riverside's poorer communities which already house the homeless shelters the downtown and Wood Street areas refused to house for example, that's when the tap runs dry and costs have to be cut.

But it's nothing really new either.


Did a Palm Springs police lieutenant kidnap his girlfriend?

Dawn Foster, missing since around Feb. 24, 2011

UPDATE: Girlfriend found in Lake Havasu. Lieutenant held on $500,000 bail.

Riverside Won't Sink...Experts Say

[Soil liquification in a Christchurch suburb after the 6.3 quake on Feb. 22]

Experts have reassured those in Riverside that what happened in Christchurch New Zealand won't happen here. Maps show that most of the liquification potential for Riverside is along the Santa Ana River but most of downtown is still a red zone mostly due to the concentration of older buildings with unreinforced masonry.

To offer appropriate comparison, imagine a 6.3 earthquake with an epicenter in Orangecrest that's two miles deep with a ground acceleration force of 2 Gs. It's certainly possible as Riverside's close proximity to the San Andreas Fault (which runs through San Bernardino and Grand Terrace) and even closer proximity to the San Jacinto faults means that there's probably a whole network of undiscovered fault lines beneath the city.

Just something to think about.

Public Meetings

Monday, March 7 at 4pm the Human Resource Board will meet to hold its elections and cover its business.

Tuesday, March 8 at 2 pm and 6:30pm, the Riverside City Council meets to discuss this agenda.

Wednesday, March 9 at 3pm on the seventh floor of City Hall the Finance Committee will meet to discuss this agenda.

Wednesday March 9 at 4pm the Community Police Review Commission will hold a special meeting on this business including elections for chair and vice chair. Commissioner Art Santore put his name in for both positions and there might be some surprise nominees on the actual election day. Three new commissioners who all sat in the last meeting will be making their debuts.

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