• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Report on ex-chief's DUI crash completed

June 2, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
He has since resigned, and pleaded guilty. But questions remain over the DUI incident involving the former Riverside police chief. Inland Empire Bureau Chief Rob McMillan received the results of the investigation along with new video of the incident. The officers who made the traffic stop that night said they knew it would become a political nightmare and according to a report released Wednesday, they had good reason to believe that. The report said it should have been quite clear to everyone at the scene that night that the former chief was under the influence and they should have arrested him on the spot rather than let one of his lieutenants drive him home.

Newly released video from Riverside Police showed former Police Chief Russ Leach being pulled over just before 3.a. last Feb. 8. Officers approached the car and the driver flashed a police badge. Moments later, they discovered that the man behind the wheel was their own boss.

"How are you doing sir?" asked the officer.

"Fine, I've got a flat tire," said Leach. "Something's wrong with the car."

"Do you need some help getting home?" asked the officer.

Apparently, the chief had been in an accident three miles away. By the time he was stopped, there was heavy damage to the vehicle. Even though officers could smell alcohol, no field sobriety tests were given.

"OK, you can't drive. You've got no tires so do you want to call a friend or someone to get you?" asked the officer.

According to the CHP report, that's when Leach called Riverside Assistant Police Chief John de la Rosa, who then got on the phone with the sergeant on scene, Frank Orta and asked him, "If it wasn't the chief and it was anybody else, what would you do?" Orta replied, "I would arrest him and store the vehicle."

That's not what happened.

"Both tires are gone or just one?" asked Leach, who was still in the car talking to the officer.

"I think it's totaled, sir," said the officer.

Still appearing to believe his car was drivable, Leach got out to look at the damage. A CHP report says he appeared unsteady on his feet, swaying from side to side. Ultimately, the decision was made to tow the car, and drive the chief home. Orta wrote the police report, saying the chief made an unsafe turn and was on the wrong side of the road during the wreck. But nowhere was Leach cited for hit and run, or DUI.

Despite these omissions, Orta appeared to have misgivings about how things would be handled from that point on, saying, "I am going to make a copy of this report because I don't trust what's going to happen here."

Even Deputy Chief Pete Esquivel who eventually signed off on the report said, "I don't want to sign this thing. I'm not comfortable with it."

Chief Leach later retired and pleaded guilty to DUI. His case closed and the spotlight then turned toward the department. Four months later, independent investigator Grover Trask has decided there was, "no evidence of a cover-up, only tragically deficient decisions by police management."

The city manager said in the statement there will be disciplinary action and there will be changes made to the policy manual to give officers a better idea of how to handle situations like the one with the former chief.

Your feedback is important to us! Please complete a brief survey so we may continue to improve abc7.com


Load Comments