10:00 PM PDT on Monday, March 15, 2010

Cassie MacDuff

Five weeks have gone by since the hit-and-run accident of then-Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach.

Still not a word out of City Hall as to who made the decision to drive him home and tuck him into bed rather than make him take a sobriety test like any other suspected drunken driver.

How long does it take to ask the handful of officers and commanders involved who ordered whom to do what? I could conduct those interviews in one day.

An internal investigation into the incident’s handling has been going on since soon after the Feb. 8 crash.

But now a retaliation claim filed by a former president of the police union has provided the first glimpse into who may have been responsible for the decision not to test Leach’s breath or blood for alcohol or drugs.

Former Riverside Police Officers Association president Chris Lanzillo alleged that then-Assistant Chief (now Acting Chief) John De La Rosa was notified “almost immediately” about Leach’s crash and was complicit in covering it up.

City officials have receded behind a wall of silence.

I wanted to ask City Manager Brad Hudson, City Attorney Greg Priamos and De La Rosa what kind of confidence the public will have in the results of the Internal Affairs investigation, since it means the department is investigating itself.

I wanted to ask whether it would have been better to ask the state attorney general to do the probe.

I wanted to ask whether the police department has an official policy on preferential treatment for community leaders suspected of drunken driving or other crimes.

I wanted to ask how many other officials have gotten the kind of preferential treatment Leach got.

None of them returned my calls on Monday. Hudson had his executive assistant tell me he wouldn’t comment because of Lanzillo’s claim.

If what Lanzillo says is true, if De La Rosa either ordered that no evidence be collected from Leach or approved others’ decisions not to collect it, he shouldn’t be leading the department.

City officials have had enough time to determine his role. They need to tell the public clearly whether the allegations are true or not.

I asked two defense lawyers whether the preferential treatment Leach got gives other suspected drunken drivers an opening to demand that they be driven home and not submit to breath or blood tests.

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