Thursday, December 18, 2008

County grand jury investigating claim of bribe demands by city leaders

By Alfred Lee, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 12/17/2008 06:05:38 PM PST

TEMPLE CITY - The county grand jury is investigating a developer's claim that city leaders demanded bribes in return for approving a long-delayed development project, sources said.

All five City Council members and the city manager testified before the grand jury on Monday, according to a City Hall source who requested anonymity.

Multiple sources said the grand jury is investigating allegations made by Randy Wang, the developer of the long-delayed Piazza mall project. Wang has accused Mayor Cathe Wilson and council members Judy Wong and David Capra of demanding cash payments and a condominium in return for cooperation on the project.

Wilson, Wong and Capra all have denied Wang's claims.

Along with Martin, Wilson, Wong and Capra, councilmen Fernando Vizcarra and Kenneth Gillanders also were questioned by the grand jury, sources said.

Gillanders said Wednesday that council members were prohibited from talking about their testimony.

"I can't discuss it. We're not allowed even to discuss it among ourselves," he said.

David Demerjian, head of the Public Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, has repeatedly declined to comment on whether there is an ongoing investigation into Wang's allegations.

Council members have expressed frustration that Wang continues to seek the city's cooperation on the Piazza project while at the same time accusing council members of soliciting bribes.

Wang raised the allegations as part of his counter-suit against the city, which sued the developer in April, claiming he failed to meet agreed-upon construction deadlines. The city's suit asks that the 4-acre property, at Las Tunas Drive and Rosemead Boulevard, should be returned to the city because of the delays.

In 2005, Wang and city officials agreed the Piazza at Temple City project would be completed by August 2009.

The project included 124,000 square feet of retail space, 52 new one-bedroom condominiums, food courts, restaurants and a banquet facility. But Wang recently scaled back the plans, scrapping the condo portion. The site remains empty, despite breaking ground twice since 2006.

Wang filed his cross-complaint against the city in September. In it, he alleges council members solicited bribes and deliberately impeded progress on his project.

In pre-trial documents, Wang said he was pressured to give $13,000 in unreported cash contributions to the campaigns of Wong and Capra and a third council candidate who lost in the March 2007 election.

He also charged that council members demanded a condominium and cash payments of $50,000 and $48,000 at various stages in the project's planning.

(626) 578-6300, Ext. 4496

Grand Jury service well worth the time commitment

Dec 17, 2008
- La Jolla Light

By Walter Hofmann

Thanks to the Grand Jury system in California, democracy is alive and well in San Diego County.

To be on the Grand Jury is quite a commitment. I did it for a year from 2004 through 2005 - every day, at least six hours each day. Yep! For a whole year! A valuable, eye-opening experience.

By state law we were required to visit every jail in the county and to report on conditions we found there and make suggestions of any changes or improvements we felt were advisable and appropriate.

Any citizen can file a "complaint" with the Grand Jury on something they believe should be investigated. "Whistle-Blowing" at its best! Each of these requests is carefully evaluated for merit, value, and handled in a careful and serious way.

Now to talk of "democracy." This is individual rights at its best. Each of the 19 jurors has an equal voice and vote. No "boss" to look over your shoulder or "veto" your hard work. Long, thorough, intensive investigation is done through the work of various committees to look at all possible areas of concern.

Then deliberation is undertaken. Sometimes heated. But always with the intent of reaching a fair, reasonable, equitable recommendation that will benefit the community.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Movement made on grand jury recommendations

Friday, December 12, 2008

By Colin McConville

New facility, more law enforcement but some suggestions go unheeded

Local residents can expect to see more police officers patrolling the streets and a new neighborhood watch program, as a result of the 2008 San Benito County grand jury report. Other issues brought up in the report, however, such as animal shelter hours are likely to remain unchanged due to budget cuts.

Grand jury foreman Roxy Montana said that outside input on the findings of the report are important. The report was released in July. City and county agencies investigated had until October to respond to the recommendations.

"The issues that are brought up are community issues," Montana said. "The city is just one cog in the wheel. There are outside people that are filled with passion for what they do."

Many of the city's responses to the grand jury's findings were simply "The City of Hollister and the Hollister Police Department agree with the finding" without an explanation of what the agencies planned to do with the recommendations.

"I think that generally, the grand jury puts a lot of energy into every inspection and issue," Montana said. "It's really important that the different agencies look at it from the point of the grand jury. Each year, some of the responses come back and it's like they are in denial."

Animal shelter hours remain issue
An ongoing concern for the grand jury has been the animal shelter hours of operation. The city staff's response to findings of unavailability to the "majority of the community" and being contrary to the state's Hayden Law was simply that they "disagree."

Though the new animal shelter facility, opened Nov. 8, fulfilled some of the recommendations of the grand jury, such as providing more space for animals and staff members, the operation hours remain the same.

"We've got this beautiful new shelter and things haven't changed a bit," said Vivian Kennedy, the ACGSR, Inc. president and founder.

The Hayden Law requires that animal shelters hold stray or abandoned animals for at least six days and that "shelters should be open during hours that permit working pet owners to redeem pets during nonworking hours," according to the state senate Web site. According to city staff, the shelter "holds animals a minimum of seven days before administering euthanasia, one day more than required by law."

Groups such as ACGSR, Inc. - formerly All Creatures Great and Small - disagree with the interpretation of the law.

"It's totally unavailable to the public," Kennedy said, since the hours are inconvenient even for people working in the city.

"I have to give credence to the shelter," Kennedy said. "Our shelter does try its best to hold animals longer than others."

Kennedy suggested a staggered lunch period that would allow the shelter to stay open between noon and 1 p.m.

"The city needs to look at other cities with animal shelters because when people fail, animals pay for it with their lives," Kennedy said.

Animal shelter supervisor Julie Carreiro said "that would be great if we could staff it," in regards to staying open over lunch. However, with a staff of four full-time employees, being open during the lunch period would be impossible.

"We can't operate with just one person," Carreiro said. "We're trying to do the best we can, but until the city can get us more people, we're stuck between a rock and a hard place."

The Hollister Police Department, which is in charge of operating the animal shelter, is in the process of hiring a clerical position for the animal shelter which will help with the availability of animal control officers, according to Chief Jeff Miller. With the set-up as it is, two officers are manning the shelter and one has to stay at the front desk at all times, but with a clerical assistant, there would be two officers to handle incoming animals or make field calls.

Crime prevention programs planned
The grand jury also found that Hollister lacks community programs to curb crime and has a lack of gang enforcement in city areas. In regard to community programs, city staff responded back by saying that the juvenile impact program has been reinstated. The juvenile impact program is a 10-week course that is focused on steering "at-risk" youths away from gangs, which is part of the police's prevention and intervention strategy. Done on weekends, the program emphasizes instruction, leadership and also has a physical component.

Other programs, such as a neighborhood watch, are also scheduled to be rolled out by June 30, 2010.

While the city is currently lacking such programs, Miller said that citizens are more than welcome to form a neighborhood watch of their own.

"Just because we don't have a neighborhood watch program, doesn't mean neighborhoods can't meet, be alert," Miller said.

He added that "if any neighborhood wants to form a neighborhood watch, someone from the police department will go to one of their meetings in an effort to encourage this."

To date, four neighborhoods have had meetings and Miller has attended them to guide them in their planning.

The county does offer neighborhood watch programs and does so with a limited staff, according to Undersheriff Pat Turturicci. He said, "the solution that we use is that we do have neighborhood watch programs." The program uses sergeants to set up in various communities in the county and supplements the programs with booklets, signs and forums to involve residents in reporting crimes.

Recently, a program was established at the Ridgemark development that helped in the apprehension of 10 juveniles who were burglarizing and vandalizing that community, according to Turturicci.

Other programs the sheriff's staff offer are a resident vacation program where deputies will check a residence twice in a 24-hour period when the house is unoccupied due to vacation; a gang suppression unit on the weekends; and two school resource officers that talk to students about the dangers of gangs. The officers also give and receive information from students.

Police staffing goes up
One of the findings of the grand jury is that the police department has fewer officers patrolling the community than they should. The city staff agreed with the finding and responded that they plan to hire more officers with Measure T funds. The measure, which increased sales tax to 8.25 percent to fund police and fire protection as well as balance the city's budget, will allow the city to hire eight more officers throughout the fiscal year 2009/10.

The grand jury used a formula that is used by the Justice Department to estimate how many officers the city should have that suggests that the "full-time officers per 1,000 residents is 1.8 full-time officers." According to the formula, Hollister should have 55 full-time officers.

While the department is not likely to reach that target, they will hire four officers for the remainder of this financial year and four in the next, Miller said. Of the officers hired, two will go straight to patrol duty, while the two others will become school beat officers. This is a new position with the city and was made possible through an agreement with the Hollister School District in which they paid $100,000 to go towards half of the salaries of the two officers, Miller said. Their main focus will be the schools and the surrounding areas, including crime, traffic and parking.

For fiscal year 2009/10, four more officers will be hired including another patrol officer and a detective. Another will be a unit officer that will head up the drug task force. The final position will be a personnel and community services sergeant that will help to reinstate the neighborhood watch program. Miller said he is big on prevention and "doing things that directly impact crime and crime prevention."

Friday, December 12, 2008

DA will ask grand jury to decide if San Jose cops broke law

By Sean Webby
Mercury News
Posted: 12/12/2008 06:32:06 AM PST

Passing on making the decision herself, Santa Clara County District Attorney Dolores Carr is expected to ask a secret grand jury next week to determine whether a pair of San Jose cops criminally tried to cover up a former officer's dangerous drunken driving.

Carr's tactic appears to be an effort to remove the taint of bias from a decision about prosecuting fellow law enforcement officials. But critics said Carr may not be going far enough, because she has chosen not to follow the lead of her predecessor in opening such grand jury proceedings to public view.

Beginning Monday, sources said, prosecutors will lay out the controversial case of what supervising patrol Sgt. Will Manion and officer Patrick D'Arrigo did — and did not do — on the night of March 25 after Sandra Woodall crashed her Cadillac Escalade into two other cars, sending a teenager to the hospital.

Woodall is a former San Jose police officer who now works as an investigator with the district attorney's office.

Multiple sources told the Mercury News that officers and witnesses have been called to testify in the case. Prosecutors declined to comment this week about whether they might use a grand jury, on the grounds that such proceedings are secret (unless opened to the public by the district attorney).

There are a number of reasons Carr's office may have decided to go this relatively uncommon route. For example, the office as a policy brings all
officer-involved fatal shootings to grand juries to avoid the perception of bias. This case involves local cops allegedly trying to protect one of Carr's own employees.

But some suspect Carr's motivation was simply to avoid making a politically tough decision.

"It is a way of deflecting criticism regardless of the outcome," said Gerald F. Uelmen, a law professor at Santa Clara University. Uelmen said indicting an officer can damage the normally cooperative relationship between prosecutors and police. And not indicting officers can generate public criticism of a double standard.

Uelmen and other critics said the secrecy of the proceeding would not allow the public to get a clear view of the evidence or its presentation by prosecutors. George Kennedy, Carr's predecessor as DA, opened up grand juries in at least two major cases: the fatal police shooting of a Vietnamese woman in 2003 and the shooting of a suspect by a state narcotics agent in 2005.

"It's important that as much transparency as possible be afforded to the process," San Jose Independent Police Auditor Barbara Attard said.

One key figure in the case is gratified that it's moving forward.

"It is passing the buck, but at least it's something,'' said the mother of the teenage girl injured in the accident. She asked not be identified for fear of retribution.

Craig Brown, a lawyer who represents both officers, declined to confirm or deny if the case was being brought before a grand jury.

He did say: "If there is anything that ought to be a subject of inquiry, it ought to be on an administrative basis — not a criminal basis. I don't think either of my clients did anything inappropriate''

The jury that will decide that question is generally made up of 19 empaneled county residents, a dozen of whom must vote to indict. They will wrestle with the legal question of whether there is enough evidence to suspect that Manion — a highly respected homicide investigator who had just returned to the patrol rotation — and veteran cop D'Arrigo tried to shield Woodall from facing drunken driving charges.

Witnesses said a belligerent and disoriented Woodall was openly admitting soon after the accident that she had been drinking. But both Manion and D'Arrigo said they saw no signs of intoxication. This despite the fact that medical personnel on the scene believed she was drunk and later told San Jose police investigators they felt Manion had tried to disrupt their attempts to determine her level of sobriety.

Later, at the hospital, D'Arrigo reportedly told the flabbergasted mother of the accident victim that it was too late to test Woodall for alcohol.

After questions arose about the initial accident investigation, the district attorney's office brought in the California attorney general's office to review the case. The attorney general's office eventually charged Woodall with felony drunken driving; she has pleaded not guilty.

A preliminary hearing for Woodall is set for early next year.

Ex-prosecutor sues DA, county

Published: December 10, 2008

By Nicholas Grube

Triplicate staff writer

In December 2005, Karen Olson testified against her boss during a local grand jury investigation.

At the time she was the second-highest-ranking prosecutor in Del Norte County and her superior was District Attorney Mike Riese.

She told the grand jury what she knew about Riese's handling of a financial elder abuse case in which he dismissed felony charges against the defendants in exchange for more than $400,000 in restitution, $100,000 of which went toward his office's budget.

The grand jury later admonished Riese for that, but he was not charged with a crime.

Olson also testified about her knowledge of Riese's billing practices when it came to seeking reimbursement from the state for managing Pelican Bay State Prison cases.

It is this testimony that Olson points to in a recently filed wrongful termination lawsuit as a significant turning point in her working relationship with Riese and as the beginning of the end of her employment in the District Attorney's Office.

She claims in her lawsuit filed in Del Norte County Superior Court that when Riese found out about her testimony, he told her that "her disloyalty would not go unanswered" and he then "set into motion a shocking and deplorable sequence of events aimed to maliciously discredit" Olson and "cause irreparable injury to her reputation."

Riese calls Olson's legal action nothing more than a series of personal attacks against him, some of which might cause the district attorney to go on the offensive.

"Anybody can make any allegation," Riese said. "She'll have to prove her allegations in court. And because her allegations are slanderous and libelous in nature with no merit, and she knows that, I plan on filing a suit against her."

Riese denied all the allegations in the lawsuit, but declined to address them in detail.

"Ms. Olson just wants to attack me because she was fired," he said.

In Olson's 46-page complaint, accompanied by more than 50 pages of exhibits, she alleges everything from wrongful termination to civil conspiracy. She contends Riese plotted to have her fired and to defame her. Among other things, she claims he confiscated her computer and planted incriminating documents on it, and urged the California Highway Patrol to investigate her as the person who leaked information to a suspect in an unsolved two-year-old fatal hit-and-run case.

"This is a fellow who has decided he is going to make his own law and make the rules up as he goes," said Olson's attorney, Michael Rains of Pleasant Hill. "Rather than being the district attorney, I think he's proclaimed himself the king."

While the lawsuit against Riese and the county seeks an indeterminate amount of monetary damages, Rains — whose list of clients also includes former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds — said it's more important to inform the public about Riese's alleged improprieties and hold him accountable.

"What we hope to achieve," Rains said, "is an airing of these events in a forum where we have a fair opportunity to tell the county what kind of man this is."

He added that this is what his client attempted to do while she was the chief deputy district attorney, but when she tried to blow the whistle she was systematically retaliated against.

The lawsuit states that while Olson was on maternity leave in 2006 and again less than a year later when she was placed on administrative leave, Riese told one of his investigators to take her computer to the Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force in Humboldt County to do a forensic examination of the hard drive "for the purpose of finding evidence of criminal activity."

Olson claims that before these incidents, the hard drive of her work computer was swapped with another one that contained many documents that were "hidden," meaning the files were not visible to her.

Rains said that both times Riese ordered these technological audits he was on a "fishing expedition" searching for a reason to fire Olson. He added that the only way Riese could have the authority to have the Computer Crimes Task Force do this was by claiming Olson was performing criminal activities using her computer.

"That was the only way Mike Riese could get the forensic analysis done," Rains said. "He had to allege some violations of the law or they (the Computer Crimes Task Force) weren't going to do it."

Another instance of alleged reprisal came when Riese linked Olson's name to a leak in a hit-and-run fatality investigation.

In August 2007, California Highway Patrol officials revealed a person involved in law enforcement notified the only suspect in the Josh Lacy case that he was the focus of the investigation.

Lacy was a 15-year-old Del Norte High School student who struck and killed by a vehicle while he was crossing U.S. Highway 101 in January 2007. The person who was behind the wheel is still a mystery.

According to Olson's complaint, Riese, with the help of the Del Norte County Sheriff's Office, told California Highway Patrol investigators that she informed a suspect about "case sensitive information" that could have hindered the investigation.

In the lawsuit, Olson claims that this suspect's testimony during a termination appeal hearing contradicted what was in the report forwarded to the California Highway Patrol, and that she "did not give him any case sensitive information."

Riese placed Olson on administrative leave in May 2007 shortly after The Triplicate published stories regarding her attempt to dismiss a colleague's speeding ticket. Shortly after that, he informed her of his notice to terminate her employment.

Olson fought her firing, and the county held an informal hearing regarding her termination over the summer. Her termination was upheld Sept. 4, 2007.

A subsequent county administrative hearing regarding Olson's termination is now under way, and a decision in this matter is pending.

Reach Nicholas Grube at

Evidence keepers scrutinized by Grand Jury

Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2008 12:35 am


A San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury is probing allegations of sloppy evidence protection by law enforcement and reviewing procedures currently being used by the Sheriff’s Department to protect evidentiary integrity.

Sources with detailed knowledge of the Grand Jury’s investigation said the panel is examining specific systems of storage to determine if evidence slated for use in court proceedings is properly protected, and that the “chain of custody” -- a demonstrable sequence of possession -- is constantly maintained.

State law requires that the evidence "room must be secure from unauthorized entry," with materials consisting ideally of concrete block "with both the cealing and the floors being impervious to entry," according to The California Commission on POST Property Evidence Management Guide. Because evidence can be used in court, the chain of custody is required to be scrupulously handled with very few individuals in the law enforcement system permitted access.

Prosecution of criminal cases already adjudicated or in progress could be adversely impacted if a pattern of breaks in the custodial chain could be demonstrated.

Practices at the sheriff’s Coast Station in Los Osos have raised special concerns. Materials gathered as evidence at crime scenes and placed in that satellite office are stored adjacent to the weapons locker, and both areas are easily accessible to numerous individuals with keys, said sources. Deputies stationed at Coast patrol from Avila Beach to San Simeon, and from Los Padres mountain range to the ocean.

Sheriff Pat Hedges declined comment, noting that “it would be inappropriate for me to discuss any Grand Jury investigation or report.”

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Rob Bryn said the Grand Jury was interested in staffing issues pertaining to the security of evidence locker systems.

SLO County’s Grand Jury examines and reports on administrative and government matters, and does not deal with criminal issues. Topics and details of the panel’s investigations are generally a closely-held secret until public dissemination of the annual report occurs in the spring.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Grand Jury Critical of Sonoma Election Decision


Published: Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 1:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 3:45 p.m.

The Sonoma City Council was criticized Tuesday by the Sonoma County grand jury for creating a conflict of interest when it canceled the Nov. 4 municipal election.

While not illegal, the grand jury said the council’s decision was “cavalier” and only contributes to growing fear and concern in America today regarding the “efficacy and validity of the political process.”

The City Council in August voted 3-2 to cancel the election after only two people met the deadline to run for two open seats on the council.

One of those running was incumbent Mayor Joanne Sanders, who cast the deciding vote, despite the council being informed at least one person had communicated the intent to run as a write-in candidate.

Although write-in candidates are rarely victorious, they have a traditional opportunity to participate in elections and the rules allowed for them to file to run until Oct. 21.

“The point is not whether a write-in candidate would have been successful in the election. The point is that a decision to eliminate such an important right should not have been made by the vote of a person who directly benefits from it,” the grand jury said in its report released Tuesday.

Sanders said Tuesday she was pleased that the grand jury investigation found that she and the council “were fully compliant” with the law.

But she questioned the timing of the release of the report, on the eve of her swearing-in tomorrow, when she could potentially be re-named to the one-year post of mayor.

And Sanders said she never was interviewed by the grand jury.

“There really wasn’t any opportunity for me to put my perspective in,” she said.

In August, just before the council voted to cancel the municipal election, they heard from a number of speakers, some of whom said the election should proceed, and others who urged a cancellation to save the estimated $7,000 to $8,000 election cost.

“I knew nothing about the write-in process prior to the issue,” Sanders said. In retrospect, she said she might have voted differently and allowed the election to go forward.

“In the end, I had to make my decision and I take my lumps,” she said.