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Domestic Violence Probe of Calif. Police Chief Ends Without Charges

Witness Says He Saw Russ Leach Strike His Wife at a San Diego Hotel. But The Couple Say it Was an Argument, Nothing More

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times

San Diego prosecutors on Wednesday announced that Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach would not be charged with spousal battery after a hotel-room argument with his wife in September.

The decision ends an investigation into allegations that Leach struck his wife on the shoulder and stomped on her foot at a San Diego resort during a law-enforcement conference. A hotel security guard told police he witnessed the incident, but Leach and his wife denied violence had occurred, saying they had only a heated argument.

"Our standard for reviewing whether to file charges is whether we … expect to convince all 12 jurors to convict. At this time, based on the evidence we have, we do not believe we can meet that burden," said Tim Campen of the domestic violence unit at the San Diego city attorney's office. The Leaches said they were happy to put the matter behind them.

"This should have never been an issue," Connie Leach said. "It was not only blown out of proportion, it took on a life of its own. It became a political issue, and it has put a lot of stress on my family, so I appreciate the city attorney in San Diego having the professional integrity to dismiss this as it should have been from the beginning."

Russ Leach said he planned to seek criminal charges and file civil lawsuits against San Diego and Riverside officials who he said revealed confidential information about his wife during the investigation. He did not elaborate, saying he would reveal more details soon.

"I'm glad it's over, obviously," he said. "My appreciation goes to the city attorney's office, who did a marvelous job reviewing the case, a high-profile case, and weighed the credibility of a so-called witness and our statements, honesty and integrity, and made the right decision."

Leach was named Riverside's police chief in 2000, less than two years after black motorist Tyisha Miller was shot to death by white Riverside police officers — which angered many in the community and led to state-ordered reforms in the department.

He had been hailed for turning around the department and dissipating some of the mistrust that pervaded the city's minority neighborhoods. Before coming to Riverside, Leach was police chief in El Paso, Texas, and a 22-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Early on Sept. 30, a security guard at the Bahia Resort Hotel on Mission Bay called police after he said he heard a woman's screams.

The guard told officers that, while looking in the hotel room's bathroom window, he saw a man hit a woman on the shoulder and stomp on her foot.

The Leaches told police that they had an argument, but denied that a physical altercation had occurred. Russ Leach was at the hotel attending a Riverside County Law Enforcement Assn. meeting, a group made up of chiefs and high-ranking officials throughout the county.

San Diego Police Department investigators recommended in October that Leach be charged with misdemeanor battery, a crime punishable by up to a year in jail.

The same day, Leach, his wife and his attorney denied the allegations outside the Riverside Police Department.

Pat McCarthy, president of the Riverside Police Officers' Assn., was among the police officers and city officials who stood behind the Leaches. "We're moving forward. It's behind us now," McCarthy said Wednesday.

During the investigation, Russ Leach "remained focused on his responsibilities and his duties to the department, to personnel and to the citizens here, and maintained professionalism even with this accusation over his head," McCarthy said.

City Councilman Frank Schiavone said he knew "from the beginning" that the allegations were without merit.

"If he wasn't the chief of police, there would have never been any articles or stories about anything. Now, I think fortunately, the chief will have the opportunity to respond and I would encourage him to."

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