10:00 PM PDT on Monday, August 30, 2010
By ALICIA ROBINSON and PAUL LAROCCO
Riverside Councilman Steve Adams held up the promotion of a police officer for not supporting him politically, according to an ethics complaint filed Monday and court depositions from a lawsuit by two other officers.
The city charter forbids council members from interfering in personnel matters.
The complaint, written by the heads of two police watchdog groups, says Adams should be censured for his involvement in the 2008 promotion of then-Lt. John Carpenter and other alleged inappropriate behavior.
In a sworn statement taken in January, Adams denied interfering in Carpenter’s promotion. On Monday, he repeated that denial and called the ethics complaint politically motivated by supporters of his opponent in the 2011 council election.
“This is a political ploy by an amoral group of people that are using this for political reasons,” Adams said. “I have not had any influence or any attempted influence on any promotion, period.”
The depositions regarding Adams and the Police Department were taken in late 2009 and early 2010 in connection with a suit filed by Riverside police lieutenants Darryl Hurt and Tim Bacon, who claimed they were passed over for promotions as retaliation for their union activities.
In April, the city settled with the officers, agreeing to pay them a combined $550,000 in damages and give them top captain’s pay on retirement.
Monday’s ethics complaint was filed by leaders of the Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability and the Eastside Think Tank, grassroots groups that focus on community and police relations.
Deborah Wong of the police accountability coalition said she believes Adams should be removed from office, but the ethics code’s strongest penalty is public censure, which likely would involve a statement from the council.
Riverside’s Police Department has struggled hard to improve its operations since a 1998 racially charged shooting that led to five years of state oversight, Wong said.
“To see that the RPD promotional process is possibly being interfered with in a very direct way by public officials is very, very troubling,” Wong said Monday.
According to the depositions cited in the complaint, former police Chief Russ Leach made sure Adams and Carpenter met to iron out their differences before Carpenter was promoted.
Leach said in his deposition that City Manager Brad Hudson told him Adams had concerns about promoting Carpenter. By charter, the city manager can approve or deny police promotions.
Leach testified that he later learned that Adams had a “beef” with Carpenter because he believed the lieutenant had not supported his 2007 re-election. Adams, who was a Riverside police officer from 1971 to 1985, said in court documents that he and Carpenter had previously been friends for decades.
Carpenter said under oath that he met twice with Adams about promotions. The first time, in fall 2007, he believed Adams was backing an officer with less experience and, “I didn’t want to see the process get highjacked,” the deposition said.
A second meeting was held a few months later at Leach’s request.
He testified that he suggested it because “there was some hesitation that came forward to my bosses (Hudson and Assistant City Manager Tom De Santis) from Steve Adams. And I think, satisfactorily, I got that resolved by having them, Carpenter and Adams, meet.”
The meeting was at a Corona restaurant with Adams, Carpenter and Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel, who arranged it, in attendance, according to depositions. Adams was upset because he thought Carpenter had campaigned against him, a charge Carpenter denied, several of those involved testified.
The meeting went well, and afterward Esquivel called Leach.
“I said, ‘Mission accomplished,’ ” Esquivel said in testimony. “Told him, ‘They left, shook hands. They’re happy. Kumbaya.’ ”
The next day, Carpenter became a captain.
‘Not a condition’
Esquivel testified that he told Carpenter at the meeting that making up with Adams wasn’t a condition of promotion, and Adams’ statement said he previously told Carpenter it would be illegal for him as a councilman to endorse someone for a promotion.
Hudson said in a July interview the decision to promote Carpenter had already been made when the Adams meeting took place. Whether the men patched things up was immaterial, though Leach “(didn’t) really want to have a captain that has some sort of big dispute with a council member,” Hudson said.
“I’d already approved it, so it didn’t matter.”
Carpenter, reached Monday, said he stood behind his statements in the deposition but declined further comment.
“The bottom line is right now I have a good working relationship with our city leadership,” he said. “I don’t see any use in rehashing things from 2-½-years ago. That was then, this is now.”
The depositions and the complaint mention another incident involving Adams, when his car was towed in Newport Beach. Leach told attorneys he heard that Adams had identified himself as an undercover Riverside police officer.
Adams testified that he said he was a councilman and a retired officer.
No Endorsements made
Adams said Monday the complaint is “an attempted abuse of the system by a small special interest group of people to try to influence elections and run the city.”
He said the people who filed the complaint are supporting John Brandriff, who is running against him, and that Brandriff is a member of Wong’s group.
Brandriff said he does not belong to Wong’s group but attended several meetings as a member of the city’s Community Police Review Commission. Wong said the Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability is not endorsing candidates for the 2011 election.
Under the city charter, ethics complaints are reviewed by the mayor’s nominating and screening committee, of which Adams is a member.
Mayor Ron Loveridge said Adams, as the subject of the complaint, would not participate in any hearing and either would be replaced, or the issue would be heard by the remaining members — Loveridge and Councilmen William “Rusty” Bailey and Andy Melendrez.
The groups that filed the complaint asked that an independent panel be named to hear it. While the allegations against Adams “have been neither proven nor disproven,” the complaint reads, even the appearance of impropriety is a serious concern.
The complaint also asks that a 30-day limit to file be waived because the issues only came to light this year after the depositions became available.
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