10:33 PM PST on Friday, March 12, 2010

By ALICIA ROBINSON and PAUL LAROCCO
The Press-Enterprise

A Riverside police officer is accusing the department’s acting leader of helping cover up Chief Russ Leach’s Feb. 8 crash in his city-issued car.

Chris Lanzillo, a former president of the Riverside Police Officers Association, filed a claim March 4 seeking an undetermined amount of damages.

In the document, amid broad charges of retaliation and discrimination because of his union activities, Lanzillo alleges that on Feb. 8, then-Assistant Chief John De La Rosa was “complicit in ensuring that potential criminal conduct was ignored” when Leach was pulled over.

De La Rosa referred a call Friday to the city attorney’s office, which declined to comment, citing two ongoing investigations into the chief’s crash.

City Attorney Greg Priamos said the claim was rejected Tuesday.

Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach’s car crash is among the issues mentioned in a police officer’s claim against Riverside alleging retaliation and discrimination.

Lanzillo’s attorney could not be reached for comment Friday.

Leach, 62, has said he doesn’t believe any officers acted inappropriately.

The chief announced he was seeking medical retirement days after the 3 a.m. wreck of his Chrysler 300. Though he had been drinking at an area topless bar, he said he wasn’t drunk when he crashed, just disoriented on prescription medication.

Patrol officers stopped Leach after he struck a light pole and a hydrant and then drove more than three miles on his car’s rims. The officers noted his drinking, but did not call for a field sobriety test and recommended no further action.

Handling of the crash raised questions about who was notified and when, and who directed that the chief be driven home without a sobriety test. Lanzillo alleges De La Rosa “was notified of the circumstances almost immediately” and ensured Leach was taken home

As news of the crash became public, city leaders handed the probe to the California Highway Patrol. That agency said Friday that it had completed a nearly 500-page report on the incident, but would withhold findings until a review next week by prosecutors.

The city hired an outside attorney to oversee police’s internal investigation. City Manager Brad Hudson has said only some details will be disclosed.

In an e-mail sent the day after the crash — obtained by The Press-Enterprise through a public records act request — De La Rosa responded to the suggestion of a department cover up of the case by writing, “I’m working on it, no cover up!!”

Lanzillo also claims De La Rosa later urged officers not to post Internet comments about the crash, and became upset when Lanzillo asked what took him so long to bring in the CHP.

“He then called the complainant a ‘lone wolf out there by himself,” the claim reads, “obviously referencing perceived disloyalty on the part of complainant for failure to support De La Rosa’s actions.”

Several council members said Friday that they would defer judgment on De La Rosa until the two investigations are complete. Hudson could not be reached for comment.

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