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Riverside police chief got preferential treatment, city says

The department mishandled the incident in which Russ Leach crashed his city car after a night of drinking, city manager says. Leach is no longer the chief.

April 14, 2010|By David Kelly

Former Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach received preferential treatment when he was stopped in February after crashing his city-owned car following a night of drinking, according to an internal review of the incident.

Normally, Riverside police would have conducted a field sobriety test, collected physical evidence and made an arrest, the report said. Instead, they drove the chief home.

"It is clear that the former chief was given preferential treatment," said City Manager Bradley Hudson in a statement released late Tuesday.

He said the decision not to take "reasonable action" against Leach was made exclusively by police management after being notified by the responding officers.

Leach crashed his car after having at least 11 drinks and taking prescription medication on Feb. 8. Officers on the scene noted that he had been drinking but did not administer field sobriety tests. The next day the investigation was turned over to the California Highway Patrol.

Leach, 62, eventually stepped down. He pleaded guilty to DUI and was sentenced to 30 days' house arrest, three years' probation, $1,700 in fines and alcohol education programs.

Hudson launched the internal investigation of the Police Department to see if Leach received preferential treatment. It is being led by former Riverside County Dist. Atty. Grover Trask and won't be completed until May.

But Hudson said most of the investigation was largely done. It is unknown whether anyone involved will actually be punished.

In his statement, Hudson said it was clear early on that Leach was driving while impaired. And though officers are given a degree of discretion in such cases, he said, that discretion was used in an unreasonable way.

Without giving specifics, Hudson promised to take "corrective action" at those levels of the police force where the mistakes were made. He said new policies would end even the appearance of preferential treatment for any city or public safety official. In the future, he said, police would notify top city administrators should something similar happen.

"In our society every individual is equal before the law," he said. "The Riverside Police Department remains committed to this fundamental premise, and I believe that the specifics of this situation do not reflect well upon the department as a whole."

david.kelly@latimes.com

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