Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fullerton (CA) Police Officer breaks the "Blue Code of Silence"

2012-12-04 "Ben Lira Interview: Ben Lira speaks to the Fullertonian about his experience at the Fullerton Police Department" by Mark Stouffer
 Open the MP3 file. [http://soundcloud.com/markstouffer/012a-121204-1107-ben-lira]
This is the raw audio from our interview with officer Ben Lira from the Fullerton Police Department. We are presenting it unedited because we think the citizens should have access to this information.
Ben Lira -

 Lira alleged to KFI on Thursday, November 29th, that Officer Dan Hughes played a key role in keeping officers silent following the beating of Kelly Thomas, in addition, Lira made allegations of racism and nepotism within the department. An email sent to Joe Felz on July 20th described the allegations in detail [http://thefullertonian.com/Article/Details/745].
 The Fullertonian presented the case for transparency from the very begining of the Kelly Thomas issue in our articles [http://thefullertonian.com/Article/Details/430] and [http://thefullertonian.com/Article/Details/436]. Transparency was a buzzword of the recent City Council campaigns. It is in the interest of transparency, and that our local government serves its citizens, and that the citizens should therefor be informed, that we publish this unedited interview. Mr. Lira's statements are his own, and are not confirmed or validated by the Fullertonian or its contributors.
 Lira recently released a letter that he sent to city manager Joe Felz in April in which he complained about Dan Hughes's management of the police dept. He claims that there is a subculture of racism and nepotism among some members of the police department, and that some PD management suppress complaints.
 We spoke to Joe Felz and he told us that the process of administrative action followed the normal course and was not affected by any outside influence.
 We have contacted Dan Hughes but have not heard back from him yet.

2012-11-30 "Officer Benjamin Lira Breaks the Blue Code of Silence; The first allegations regarding corruption within FPD to come from a cop themselves" by Alex Stouffer
 KFI began reporting yesterday, Thursday November 29th, on a letter that had been sent to City Manager Joe Felz by Fullerton officer Benjamin Lira. Within the letter below, Lira alleges misconduct that has been occuring with the higher ups at FPD including Acting Captain Dan Hughes who is at the top of the list to become the new permanent Chief of Fullerton Police Department [http://www.kfiam640.com/pages/billcarroll.html?article=10605753]:

From: Ben Lira
Sent: Friday, July 20, 2012 12:42 PM
To: jfelz@ci.fullerton.ca.us; City Manager
Subject: message/information from Benjamin Lira
 Mr. Felz,
 My name is Benjamin Lira, and although we've never met, I've been a nearly 17 year dedicated employee of the Fullerton Police Department.  Recent events have left the city, the Police department and it's employees in turmoil.  I'm saddened to think I've had anything to do with that.
 I apologize for reaching out to you via email but myself and my colleagues have stood quiet long enough.  I ask that you PLEASE take the time to read this email and reflect on it's contents.
 If my name doesn't ring a bell, then let me introduce myself and tell you I am the person who drafted the email to solicit bail funds for Manuel Ramos.  I'm not writing you to debate the KT events; they speak for themselves.  I've said all along that I didn't condone the actions of the Officers, but Manuel Ramos is my friend and I did it to help a friend.  Not only did I try to help a friend I checked with then Acting Chief Hamilton who told me, "I can do whatever I want as long as I do it on my own time."  Employees at the PD were confused because having not seen the video were told by Captain Crum, "that's what happens when you fight with the Police."  On my own time I drafted an email and distributed via PORAC.  I didn't have any intentions other then to solicit donations through union members.  Unfortunately, someone from LAPD put the email on his facebook page, Big City Cops.   I do not have any affiliation with BCP nor do I agree with their views.
 Since drafting this email I've been demoted.  After my demotion I was placed on paid leave for a text message I did not send and was distributed by members of the FPD.  It's unfortunate that I and on my own time am held to higher standards then some of the members of the FPD while on duty.  Many in the public refer to the "culture of corruption" in the FPD and I'm here to tell you it exists.  I've resisted long and hard the "culture of corruption" and I can no longer sit back and allow this to ruin the reputation I spent long and hard building with the community, my co-workers and my colleagues in the LE profession.  Which was once a childhood dream to become a Police Officer has now become a nightmare.
 Up until now I've decided to remain silent, mostly at the advice of my attorney's.  I can no longer remain silent and my passion to clean up the Police department and restore its reputation remains stronger then ever.  I feel it's ironic the person now in charge of the Police department, Dan Hughes, has led the way in the culture of corruption and now makes the decisions for the Department.  I implore you to please continue reading and know that against my attorney's wishes I'm reaching out to you to give you information you may find useful.
 When I first began my career in 1995 I was eager to make a difference and that difference started in my assignment at the FPD jail.  While working in the jail I watched then Senior Officer Dan Hughes slap an inmate 6-8 times in the face.  I thought to myself this person doesn't need to be a Police Officer and never did I ever imagine this person would one day be in charge.  The assault was investigated and as a probationary employee and only 19years old I feel as though I was told what to say and not asked what I saw.
 During my career I worked up the ranks from Cadet, Sr Cadet, Jailer, Reserve Officer, Police Officer and Corporal.  I attended CSUF and obtained my Bachelors degree in hopes of one day promoting.  Sadly I was wrong because I soon realized there was a culture at FPD where a group of White Officers would promote and then promote their friends leaving the rest of us on the outside looking in. If you look at the make up of the PD it's made up of Supervisors, their family members and friends.   I know it's hard to believe but as you continue to read on I hope you see the evidence I show to support my claim.
 In my nearly 17 years as an employee of the Fullerton Police Department I have received one citizen complaint and it was at the beginning of my career.  I personally think this is impressive because all of my career but 2 years has been spent in patrol because I've never been given a chance to prove myself in details, assignment, training, etc.  This frustration grew into depression and in 2005 I took a leave of absence.  Embarrassed as to how I was feeling I didn't tell anyone.  I did what I had always told people and that's if your not feeling well then seek counseling, and that's exactly what I did.  Unfortunately, this didn't meet the mold of the culture at FPD because when I returned to work I had 46 metal hangers intertwined on my locker preventing me from opening it.  I reported this, but of course nothing ever happened.
 Throughout my career I watched as this Culture of Corruption grew and they became increasingly racist.  Mexicans would be referred to as "wetbacks" and African Americans would be referred to as the "N" word.  I voiced my displeasure but to no avail.  On July 22, 2008 a departmental photo was scheduled and during individual photos a group of Mexican Officers were called, "wetbacks," "where's your oranges,""Where's your Chiclets."  For the first time in my career, while in uniform and not on the scene of a tragic crime, I wanted to cry.  I filed a complaint and my frustration grew when the FPD brass deemed my complaint "spirited bantering."  I was mortified and couldn't understand why this could be.  From then on I suffered even more ridicule by colleagues teasing me for making a complaint.
 Since this time I've continued to suffer discrimination.  I've reported this and ultimately then Chief Sellers scheduled an independent investigation.  RCS investigating and consulting ultimately met with me and the results of this investigation have never been given to me.  During this investigation I reported how supervisors would leave early and go drinking downtown.  I reported how the supervisors would then have Officers take them home in Police/City vehicles.  Ironically these same officers who would give them rides home would begin to get promoted and preferred details in the Department.  I reported how then Captain Petropolous would teach at FJC and allow FPD members enroll in his class and never show up and get A's in the class.  Doesn't sound like much until you consider Officers would use these credits which led to certificates and increase pay.
 This investigation went on and I reported a laundry list of incidents which largely alleged supervisors were derelict in their duty.  I reported how supervisors would go and teach at FJC academy when they should be working at the PD.  I didn't feel it was fair to the citizens that the watch commander was getting paid to teach at FJC instead of being at the PD, but this was the norm and til this day hasn't changed.
 10 days after this interview I was called in on a Sunday to the Watch Commanders office.  I was met by an angry Dan Hughes.  Hughes told me I was ordered not to talk about the above mentioned investigation and that someone had filed a complaint against me.  I was never given a copy of the complaint, I was never told what the complaint was and a follow up investigation took place.  I later learned from the Association that it was Dan Hughes attempt to cover up the interview which in turn led to his promotion to Captain.
 The more I look around I can't help but feel Dan Hughes is the common theme amongst corruption that has occurred.  For instance, the city is being sued by Clarke, a citizen who said he was assaulted on St Patrick's day 2010.  All those involved know it was Dan Hughes who initiated this contact and took Clarke down to the ground causing him injuries yet no record of this ever exist.  In fact, this arrest was followed by Officer Cary Tong purposely slamming on the brakes and while recorded on DAR you can hear Officer Tong allowing the inmates face to slam on the "cage" three times in the Police car.  I think it's sad and ironic how now the city is being sued but up until now Hughes' involvement is not known.  To me this shows what kind of person he really is.  In addition to that during this investigation he had Sgt Chocek secretly/privately go up to each officer involved and promise them lenient discipline in return for not reporting Dan Hughes' involvement.
 These are just my stories and quiet frankly I have several more and so do other members of this department.  There's employees that are afraid to come forward in fear of risking their career like I have. There's a lot of good employees at the FPD, one being Captain Lorraine Jones.  Sir, whether you agree with me or not I ask that you please consider the common goal we have and that's to clean up the Police Department.  It breaks my heart to have to listen to the advice of my attorney's and prepare for lawsuits because that's not what I'm about.  If you question my intentions please ask my friend, Captain Lorraine Jones.  She speaks highly of you and it's for that reason I've chosen to reach out to you.
 On May 17 I met with the FBI and reported what I've said along with other things.  The FBI, like yourself, have the opportunity to make a difference for this city, it's citizens and it's employees and I urge you to please consider that.  I think at the very minimum I've given you some evidence of the misdeeds perpetrated by Dan Hughes and I'm hoping it's enough to launch an investigation and place him on administrative leave.  I hope that if at any point you want to meet with me and or use me to help, that you know I'm committed to you and this city and it's citizens.
 I'm sorry for any inconvenience any of my actions have caused.
 Benjamin Lira

2011-08-24 "Common Ground: Ethics and Politics" by Mark Stouffer
Politics in our town is changing. It is going through a quite painful process of introspection in our Police Department and our City Hall. The sequence of events that followed the tragic beating of Kelly Thomas have revealed a uncomfortable lack of accountability and an almost total lack of transparency.
Reports of confiscation of witness video, initial misinformation, total lack of disciplinary action until publicity required it, legal moves against local publications that reported the incident, a “hush fund” offer to the victims father, and a stern refusal to release high-quality video of the incident or any other evidence, all flies in the face of campaign promises of “transparency”.
These events have lead two city council members to demand the release of the video tapes and also the resignation of Police Chief Michael Sellers.
Video of bystander accounts during and immediately after the incident, along with the gruesome picture of Kelly Thomas after the beating, have sparked outrage in national and international press.
The DA is refusing to release the city’s high-quality video of the incident, but when asked on CNN about the contents of the tape DA Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder chocked up and said, “Your heart…, your heart is … sad, watching what was on the tapes.” She claimed that releasing the video could cause witnesses or jurors to be swayed by “what they saw in the media” instead of the truth.
It is because of the painful nature of this process that it is important that we keep a civil tone. What needs to be said must be said but a direct identification of the nature of the problem is more important than veiled threats or offensive language. In civil discourse the best defense is not “a good offense”.
We present these notes to you because we should be prepared as the world turns their eyes towards Fullerton. A wise man once said, “When you are going through tough times, keep going!” That sounds like good advice. Now it is time to shine a light on our guiding institutions and look directly at them. If we make the effort to fix these problems the right way we can see a newer, brighter future for all Fullertonians.

2011-08-10 "Common Ground: Transparency in Government" by Mark Stouffer
One word that was mentioned regularly during the most recent City Council campaign season was “transparency”. Interestingly, it has returned to the front of the newspapers because of a lack of transparency in the Kelly Thomas beating case. But what is transparency? And why is it good?
Transparency can easily be understood by contrasting it with what is called a black box. A black box is a term used to refer to a system that is opaque. You can see what goes into a black box and you can see what comes out of it, but you can’t see what it does to the inputs to produce the outputs. An ATM machine is one example. You can log in to an ATM (inputs) and get money and a receipt out (outputs) but you can’t look inside.
It’s not important to look inside the ATM because you don’t need to trust it. The trust required for the transaction lies with your bank. You can instantly check the amount that was withdrawn from your account by inquiring with your bank and getting a full report. And you can trust that your bank authenticates the devices that are allowed to submit transactions. This is why you can use a debit card scanner at a small liquor store without worrying about how the scanner works.
Sometimes you need to trust the system that provides you a  service, such as the bank. This is why banks spend a lot of time telling you how they work. They need to establish a trust relationship with you. Banks produce reports, publish policies and staff names, and the staff is often eager to answer questions. Banks establish trust through a process of transparency.
For decades organizations have been touting the curative properties of transparency. Gorbachev used “glasnost” (openness) to promote freedom in the former Soviet Union (it worked beyond his wildest dreams). But transparency does not just benefit outside observers. CEO’s of large companies read press reports of the workings of their subsidiaries. The US administration has used CNN for years to see instant news of it’s remote operations. Even smaller organizations find that transparencies reveal insights. This is not possible with a black box where there is only one route for information to get to the top.
Opaqueness blinds the leaders as well as the observers.
E.D.Kain, writing about the Kelly Thomas beating on Forbes.com said, “Who [benefits] the most from increased police transparency? The answer is simple: honest cops. Honest cops who have nothing to hide benefit the most from police transparency and an end to police abuse. Honest police work is hard – much harder than the overt displays of power and aggression.”

Bad Cop: Norman Wielsch of Contra Costa County

2012-12-03 "East Bay cop to plead guilty in drug case" by Justin Berton from "San Francisco Chronicle"[http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/East-Bay-cop-to-plead-guilty-in-drug-case-4088040.php]:
The former commander of an elite Contra Costa County police squad will plead guilty this week to charges that he stole narcotics from evidence lockers and tried to sell them back on the street with the help of a private investigator, court records show.
Under a plea deal filed Monday in federal court, Norman Wielsch, 51, will admit to five charges in a 2011 federal indictment in exchange for a lighter sentence.
The charges allege that he stole marijuana and methamphetamines, falsely arrested a suspected drug dealer, and stole cash and cell phones from prostitutes, his attorney said.
The terms of the deal require Wielsch to agree not to argue for fewer than 10 years in prison when he is sentenced by a judge in February, his attorney, Michael Cardoza, said. Wielsch was facing more than 25 years behind bars. Federal guidelines recommend that he serve 14 to 17 years, but the judge has wide discretion on the length.
 "After a full evaluation of all the evidence," Cardoza said, "he decided that it would be in his and his family's best interest to plead guilty."
Before his arrest, Wielsch was an agent with the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement for 12 years, and most recently served as commander of the Central Costa County Narcotics Enforcement Team, an elite multi-agency team that conducted drug raids and shut down prostitution rings.
The change of plea ends one story line in a saga that began in February 2011, when authorities arrested Wielsch and his friend, Concord private investigator Christopher Butler, 51.
Those arrests came after one of Butler's most trusted employees wore a concealed wire and video-recorded the two men making a drug deal. The video appeared to show Wielsch counting money and voicing concerns about selling confiscated drugs.
Butler, who pleaded guilty in September and is serving an eight-year prison term, earlier told authorities about a raft of dirty deeds that allegedly involved four other local lawmen.
The ensuing investigation led to the imprisonment of Wielsch's second-in-command, San Ramon officer Louis Lombardi, 40, for stealing cash and drugs from crime scenes and lifting two stolen guns. Two Richmond police officers with ties to Butler were sentenced in August on charges that they illegally purchased guns for minors and tried to obstruct a federal investigation.
And former Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriff Stephen Tanabe, 48, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he participated in Butler's "dirty DUI" stings, where prosecutors say the officer arrested men who were targeted and set up for drunken driving arrests. His trial is pending.
In addition, Butler told authorities that Wielsch assisted him when he opened a Pleasant Hill massage parlor to front for a brothel. The private eye said Wielsch shared in the profits and used his law enforcement position to protect the operation, while ordering raids on competing brothels.
Cardoza said his client's alleged connection to the parlor was not among the charges he'll admit to Wednesday, when he is scheduled to appear in an Oakland courtroom before he is taken into custody.
"He spent the weekend with his church group," Cardoza said. "He understands from that day on he will be serving a lengthy amount of time for the crimes he committed."
In interviews after his arrest, Wielsch said he was deeply stressed from his job when he decided to steal the drugs and regretted the dishonor he brought to law enforcement.
"Norm certainly hopes other police officers are paying attention to what went on in this situation," Cardoza said, "and if they are ever tempted to do anything that they give it a second thought and not do it."

2012-12-04 "Ex-police officer will plead guilty in drug case" from "Associated Press"[http://www.sfgate.com/news/crime/article/Ex-police-officer-will-plead-guilty-in-drug-case-4089494.php]:
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A disgraced former commander of an elite Northern California drug task force will plead guilty to stealing drugs from evidence lockers and trying to sell them on the street with the help of a private investigator.
Under a plea deal filed Monday in federal court, Norman Wielsch, 51, on Wednesday will admit guilt in an Oakland courtroom to five drug and corruption charges stemming from a 2011 indictment, the San Francisco Chronicle reported (http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/East-Bay-cop-to-admit-guilt-in-drug-case-4088040.php).
"After a full evaluation of all the evidence, he decided that it would be in his and his family's best interest to plead guilty," Wielsch's attorney, Michael Cardoza, said Monday.
Wielsch was the commander of the now-defunct Central Costa County Narcotics Enforcement Team, an elite multi-agency task force that conducted drug raids and shut down prostitution rings.
Last year, the FBI arrested Wielsch and private investigator Christopher Butler after a grand jury indicted them for stealing drugs, operating a brothel and conducting phony sting operations to rob prostitutes.
Those arrests came after one of Butler's most trusted employees wore a concealed wire and recorded the two men making a drug deal. A video appeared to show Wielsch counting money and airing his concerns about selling confiscated drugs.
As a private investigator, Butler also acknowledged setting up so-called "dirty DUIs" for wives in divorce cases. The scheme involved hiring attractive women to lure the husbands into cheating and drunken driving. Butler orchestrated the arrests after he was hired by ex-wives, prosecutors said.
At the time, Butler also was trying to land a cable reality show, "P.I. Moms of San Francisco," that featured a crew of female detectives tracking down and videotaping cheating husbands.
Butler pleaded guilty in September to similar criminal charges and is serving an eight-year prison sentence. He said his crimes involved several other officers, including Wielsch.
Butler told authorities that Wielsch aided him when he opened a massage parlor in Pleasant Hill to front for a brothel. Butler added Wielsch shared in the profits and used his status as a law enforcement official to protect the operation, while ordering raids on competing brothels.
Cardoza said Wielsch's alleged connection to the parlor was not among the charges he will be pleading to on Wednesday.
"He understands from that day on he will be serving a lengthy amount of time for the crimes he committed," Cardoza said about Wielsch. "Norm certainly hopes other police officers are paying attention to what went on in this situation, and if they are ever tempted to do anything that they give it a second thought and not do it."
Under terms of the deal, Wielsch, who was facing more than 25 years in prison, could spend up to 17 years behind bars when he's sentenced in February.