Richmond city manager declares City Hall violence debacle resolved
By Karl Fischer and Hannah Dreier
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 10/27/2011 08:30:44 PM PDT
Updated: 10/27/2011 08:47:02 PM PDT
It was a failure to work together that led to last week's embarrassing row between city workers and police investigating a gang fight at Richmond City Hall, an apologetic city manager said this week.
But after meeting with department heads and employees, Bill Lindsay said he considers the conflict resolved and the case closed.
"A direct, voice-to-voice communication link was not established" between police and the Office of Neighborhood Services Director DeVone Boggan, Lindsay said Wednesday.
That weakness led to 911 calls from City Hall flooding into the police department at lunchtime Oct. 14. Officers who quickly arrived to break up a huge fist fight found broken dishes in a break room, blood everywhere, and evidence that a badly wounded person left before they arrived.
They also heard a lot of "I ain't seen nothin'" from all still present, including city employees, according to the officers' reports.
That refusal to cooperate -- even to allow police to verify the well-being of an obviously wounded person -- sparked a political dust-up.
"Our policy allows us to problem-solve while at the same time preserving our relationship with the street," Boggan explained Thursday, in his first response to a week of calls from this newspaper.
Supporters of the Neighborhood Safety programs saw criticism as an outright attack on the office's existence, or at least a fund that pays stipends to young men who work to lift themselves out of crime-prone lives. These clients were at City Hall to pick up their grant-funded checks when the fight began.
Neighborhood safety employees ordinarily communicate with the police through a liaison, who does not press for details that might violate the trust between case workers and the young criminals with whom they work.
While having a liaison works well for delivering warnings about impending neighborhood violence, Lindsay said, the workers apparently expanded the idea to when they personally witness violent crime.
"At this point, I think we all agree that nobody has the right to obstruct justice," Lindsay said. "This issue is resolved to the extent that we all agree we that, in order to move forward, we need to be working together."
Boggan said he may change the rules so employees communicate directly with police. He added that his department's rules do not permit obstruction of justice, but he declined to discuss specifics.
Neighborhood safety outreach workers "don't have bulletproof vests, they don't have badges, and they do the toughest work in the city," Boggan said.
"They engage scary, tough environments where most folks won’t even go. It's real out there for them, and their lives are important to me."
Police Chief Chris Magnus broke his own media silence Wednesday evening, sending a four-page apology letter to City Council members, community leaders and the media.
"I believe a series of mistakes and miscommunications, directly and peripherally related to this incident, took place involving Police Department personnel," Magnus wrote. "I would like to extend my apologies and accept full responsibility for these mistakes."
Magnus apologized for his department leaking to this newspaper police reports about the assault, which he also acknowledged are public documents. He wrote that the officer who wrote the report should not have reported what he heard -- "I ain't seen nothin" -- because it was "unnecessarily provocative and unprofessional."
Magnus also regretted that the department publicly characterized the Office of Neighborhood Safety as uncooperative last week, since Boggan apparently resolved the issue at some point with a liaison officer, who in turn failed to inform police administrators that the investigation was finished.
Lindsay said the city plans to revisit both the Office of Neighborhood Safety's policies and security at City Hall.
Boggan said he is open to moving his offices away from City Hall, and that the city will consider safety improvements there.
Reach Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Reach Hannah Dreier at 510-262-2787 or email@example.com.
October 26, 2011
Dear City Manager Lindsay, Richmond City Council Members, Director Boggan, and Members of the Ceasefire Working Group:
Recent events involving the Richmond Police Department (RPD) and the Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS) have raised a number of important questions and undermined the confidence some community residents have in our ability to work together effectively within the City to reduce violence. I am deeply frustrated by this because I believe both RPD and ONS have made significant strides over the past several years to engage the community in successful violence-reduction efforts. Both the Police Department and ONS have highly committed, active, and hard-working employees, who have been doing their best to diminish gun violence in our city, albeit through different methods and sometimes with different resources. The common resource we both rely on, however, is the confidence and trust of the community. When this trust is compromised, our shared mission becomes more difficult to achieve and we lose the public’s support.
On Friday, October 14th, a fight between individuals from two rival neighborhood groups took place at City Hall in the Office of Neighborhood Safety when some of these individuals inadvertently came in contact with one another. When officers responded to the scene, they discovered broken items, overturned furniture, and a large amount of blood suggesting a more serious assault might have taken place. In addition, it was clear that multiple individuals involved in the incident had left the scene prior to the officers’ arrival. The responding officers, including a supervisor, began questioning the staff and others from ONS who were still present.
A little history may be helpful at this point. Several years ago when the position of “Neighborhood Change Agent” (NCA) was created within the ONS, RPD played a key role in establishing a set of protocols to address how NCAs and the Police Department could interact when necessary and avoid situations where the safety of the NCAs would be compromised. This involved establishing one or more liaisons from the PD who could be contacted as needed by the ONS Director or other ONS personnel should situations arise when it was necessary or appropriate to exchange information. Typically, this communication involved general concerns about when the streets were “heating up,” rumors about things going on at the neighborhood level, or specific concerns about safety. NCAs are justifiably concerned about being perceived as agents of the police (and for the record, once again, they have no connection with the PD)—so the hope was that this “liaison” process could address these concerns.
For the most part, the liaison process and the existing protocols between RPD and ONS have worked well, however the incident on Friday the 14th was somewhat different than what these protocols had previously been used to deal with. First, the responding patrol officers were not well versed in the protocol process, since the primary liaison with ONS in the past was a lieutenant assigned to the Police Department’s Special Investigations Section (SIS). Most of the interactions between ONS and the liaison were confidential, so it would be unusual for patrol personnel to be aware of them. Secondly, the Police Department hadn’t envisioned the protocols would apply to situations involving a crime that had just occurred in the City Hall offices of the ONS, where there was the possibility of serious injuries and there was one or more perpetrators outstanding. The responding officers expected full access to all ONS personnel and others present at the scene for immediate interviews, so they were surprised and unhappy when the individuals present were unwilling to speak with them--instead referring them to the ONS Director (who was not present or immediately available). Their reports clearly reflect these frustrations.
I believe a series of mistakes and miscommunications, directly and peripherally related to this incident, took place involving Police Department personnel. I would like to extend my apologies and accept full responsibility for these mistakes, which include the following:
- In response to media inquires, spokespersons for the Police Department incorrectly stated that the Department was not receiving any cooperation from the ONS. In fact, the protocols as they currently exist were largely followed. This misstatement of information was not intentional or malicious, but rather was the result of a breakdown in communication within the Police Department. To the degree that this has harmed the credibility or reputation of the ONS Director, I am deeply sorry. I believe this communication breakdown highlights the importance of reevaluating if the existing protocols best meet the needs of all parties involved for situations of this kind.
- A reporter obtained a copy of the police report associated with this incident before the Department should have officially allowed it to be released. Regrettably, leaks concerning salacious or high profile events/crimes are not uncommon within police agencies, but the timing of the press gaining access to this report made a difficult situation worse. (It should be noted, however, that this report would have become a public record once the police investigation was closed.)
- The initial police report indicated that there was “a chorus of ‘I ain’t seen nothin’” from ONS personnel who were present at the scene. While this may have been the gist of what the officers heard from one or more persons, phrasing it in this way was unnecessarily provocative and unprofessional.
- Administrative personnel within the Department, including me, should have done a better job reaching out to Director Boggan earlier during the period following this incident. Deputy Chief Brown left a message with Director Boggan on Friday, but when the two of them were unsuccessful in reaching each other, I should have made follow-up calls to Director Boggan early that following week. I believe if Director Boggan and I had spoken with each other sooner, we could have helped resolve some of the confusion and fallout that stemmed from this incident.
- The process of rotating police personnel through different assignments in the Police Department is both contractually addressed and administratively mandated for a wide range of reasons. Regrettably, two personnel (including one who had been assigned as a liaison to ONS for several years) were both rotated into new assignments at approximately the same time—and shortly before this incident took place. The detective assigned to work with the Ceasefire program had also made a specific request to return to a Patrol assignment, which the Department accommodated. In retrospect, I can appreciate why some of our community partners in the Ceasefire program might be alarmed about the Department’s commitment to this endeavor based on this detective’s reassignment. For this reason, I will maintain his assignment to the Ceasefire program for one additional year. I will also take steps to ensure we do a better job communicating with the ONS about RPD personnel transfers that impact that ONS activities.
The relationship between a police department and city entity such as the Office of Neighborhood Safety is a complicated one. Both are focused and heavily committed to reducing crime and violence, yet both need to approach this goal somewhat differently. In many ways, the incident at City Hall highlighted issues we needed to deal with eventually because of the inevitable challenges associated with the populations we serve, the work we do, and the legal constraints we have. I have very strong confidence that moving forward, the Police Department will take all necessary steps to fortify its relationship with ONS, work more effectively with our community partners to implement the Ceasefire project, and address the ONS-RPD protocol concerns that need to be resolved.
Having said all of that, I want to acknowledge once again that real harm has been done, and I believe it is the community that has suffered the most as a result of the miscommunications, poor decision-making, and unnecessary tensions associated with this incident. For this, I am very sorry. It is my job to effectively address interdepartmental issues of this kind before they reflect unfavorably on the City. I sincerely regret that in this case, I failed to meet this expectation. In addition, I believe important relationships based on trust between members of the Ceasefire Working Group and the Police Department have suffered. I am committed to repairing these relationships and helping us achieve our mutual goals. I look forward to meeting with the Working Group to discuss all these and other issues in the near future.
Chief of Police
Cc: West County Times
RPD Facebook Page
October 26, 2011 News
A Thin Line in Richmond
After a bloody fight at City Hall, City Manager Bill Lindsay must decide the fate of a controversial anti-gang-violence program.
By John Geluardi
A fistfight in Richmond hardly rates notice in a city with perennially high homicide and assault rates. But on October 14, an old-school punch-out between rival gang members left a City Hall office splattered in blood and prompted a public feud between the police department and a city anti-violence agency. The fight and the feud also have put Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay in a tough spot as he tries to mediate a solution amid the harsh glare of the news media.
The dilemma for Lindsay is whether to support the Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS), which uses innovative methods to reach hard-bitten young men who are most at risk of being involved with violence, or police officers who claim the ONS has lost sight of its mission and that staffers have become too cozy with gang members.
The fistfight occurred around lunchtime on October 14 in the ONS' City Hall office when seven members of two rival street gangs showed up at the same time to pick up stipend checks for participating in a skills program called Operation Peacekeeper Fellowship. Several City Hall employees called 911 to report a woman screaming and multiple people fighting. Because of the location, police took the call very seriously and within two minutes six officers arrived to find the ONS' third-floor office in disarray. Furniture was knocked over and shards of broken dishes were scattered in the ONS break room. But most alarming was the amount of blood.
The lobby elevator and a discarded shirt were so bloodied that one veteran officer thought the source was a serious head wound. On the third floor, a bloody trail led from the elevator to the ONS office where officers found more splattered in the break room and on the clothing of several ONS staffers. The source was a single broken nose, according to ONS staffers, but there was enough of it that Crime Scene Cleaners, a company that typically cleans up homicide scenes, was called in to clean up the mess.
When ONS Director DeVone Boggan, who was not present during the fight, directed his staff to not reveal the names of the people involved in the fight, police officers, who wanted a full understanding of what had occurred, accused office staffers of hindering efforts to assure the safety of City Hall employees and the public. After the incident, an unknown police officer leaked a report to the press that detailed Boggan's refusal to cooperate, which started a minor media frenzy. Boggan refused to talk to the press immediately afterward, but staffers explained that they withheld the names of those involved in the fight in order to preserve the fragile trust that ONS had built up with the young men.
But just as the media interest began to die down, another report was leaked to the media. Three days before the fistfight, a sheriff's deputy investigating a report of a suspicious vehicle in unincorporated North Richmond observed what appeared to be two people engaged in a sex act in a City of Richmond car. It turned out to be a 43-year-old female who identified herself as an ONS "neighborhood change agent" and a 32-year-old gang member who is currently on federal probation. The woman told the deputy she was "checking her calendar" and her companion simply smiled and said, "Whatever she said is fine with me," according to the deputy's report. The incident is under administrative review and not the subject of a police investigation, according to Lindsay.
City officials also have been peppered with questions as to why the ONS was cutting checks for as much as $1,000 a month to gang members (the stipend money comes from foundations and corporate contributions, not taxpayers) and why staffers were being paid to fraternize with gang members. There also were questions about Boggan's judgment, considering the lackadaisical process for allowing feuding gang members, deemed to have a high potential for violence, to pick up their checks at the same time at City Hall. And why wasn't Boggan talking to the police or the press? Did he think his office had no accountability to anyone?
Boggan's self-imposed press blackout left Lindsay, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, and several city councilmembers to handle damage control. McLaughlin and the majority of the council expressed support for the ONS, which, in the four years since it was initiated, has become a centerpiece of the city's community violence prevention programs. The ONS has partnered with numerous nonprofits and city agencies, including the police department, in a variety of programs that include substance abuse counseling, adult education, and re-entry assistance for men and women newly released from prison. "This program is using unconventional warfare to help people who live lives most of us can't begin to understand," Councilman Tom Butt said. "Do you wipe out a whole program just because it's not functioning perfectly?"
But when asked about Boggan's judgment, many elected officials said that's a matter for Lindsay to assess. However, Councilman Corky Booze, a Boggan critic, took a harder stance and called for the director's immediate dismissal. "Once you have taken a job with the city, your responsibility is to report any incidents of any kind," Booze said. "What kind of message does it send if you don't?"
Lindsay said Boggan has his support for now, but the ONS is scheduled to undergo a full audit and that Boggan and the program are not married. "No program should be built around one person," Lindsay said.
Boggan ended his press blackout last Friday. He said the fact that it wasn't a gunfight that erupted in City Hall was an accomplishment. He also said he was surprised to see press reports that he wasn't communicating with police and that he had obstructed the investigation. "I got up at 6 a.m. on Tuesday and I was blown away because 10 minutes after the incident, I was talking to [a police] commander and [a police] liaison," he said. However, he acknowledged that he had still not released the gang members' names. "I will say this: I don't condone my staff obstructing justice."
Boggan admitted that the process for issuing stipends to fellowship participants could be modified, though the ONS is involved in numerous programs and many people regularly visit the office. He said one solution would be to move the ONS out of City Hall.
Boggan also defended the practice of issuing monthly stipends of $350 to $1,000 to the gang members. The stipends are conditional on participants spending between 15 and 20 hours a week developing life skills such as job training, identifying education goals, developing parenting skills, and participating in conflict resolution and anger management courses. All participants vow to avoid gun-related activities, a vow that is overseen by police who are in regular communication with ONS staff.
Communication between the ONS and police department also has continued uninterrupted since the fistfight. Police Captain Mark Gagan said the department was investigating the press leaks and that the officer or officers responsible would be subject to disciplinary action. Several officers also said privately that there is still tension related to the incident.
Boggan, who often slips into street vernacular despite his middle-class upbringing and education, said he is still passionate about helping reduce violence in Richmond. "People will say I'm on crack," he said, "but I believe we can end this violence all together."