Roseville Avoiding Liability

Katy Grimes: With the report out today about how the fire at the Roseville Galleria Mall in October so amazingly escalated, rational people are asking why anyone is still talking about a mall fire.

Roseville city officials should be publicly flogged for how this case has been mishandled and covered up — it’s no longer about getting to the truth and has instead clearly become about limiting the liability for the City of Roseville, and police and fire departments. I imagine that the Westfield Mall officials aren’t very happy with the Three Stooges-like handling of this mess.

The report released early Friday morning by the city of Roseville says a Galleria employee shut off the mall’s fire sprinkler system, at the direction of a UPS Driver, in the midst of a fire and a standoff with a man who claimed to have explosives. With hundreds of emergency responders at the scene, we are supposed to believe that a UPS employee and mall maintenance worker are responsible?

The report says that the Westfield maintenance employee was told by a UPS worker inside the mall that police wanted the sprinklers turned off. Quite conveniently, neither the mall maintenance employee nor the UPS employee could recall who it was that instructed them to turn the sprinklers off.

The report comes after lawyers for Roseville tried to seal off crucial details of the case from becoming public. But a judge just this week, denied the Placer County District Attorney’s request to issue a gag order to prevent the release of the report. Most interesting is that typically gag orders are requested by the defense. In this case, the Placer County DA is receiving a great deal of criticism for what some say is a cover-up attempt on behalf of the Roseville Police Chief.

Many have expressed concerns that the delay in releasing the report was a conspiracy by the City to hide information surrounding how the decision-making was handled, and by whom, during the fire. There have also been allegations that the mall’s fire sprinklers were ordered to be turned off after the suspect was taken into custody, which then allowed the fire to flare up and spread to more of the mall, burning more than 100 stores,and ultimately causing $55 million in damage.

This case hardly warrants a gag order, so the question still remains why and who is the city trying to silence? And why are they now trying to pin the debacle on a mall maintenance worker in cahoots with a UPS driver?

Perhaps the recent hiring of big-league public relations firms by the City of Roseville will shed some well-choreographed light on the situation. Worldwide public relations firm Edelman and Sacramento PR firm Runyon, Saltzman & Einhorn are now managing communications surrounding the mall fire. This could get interesting because not many members of the tax-paying public are buying the explanations thus far.

In November The Sacramento Bee reported “the city this week released 320 pages of e-mails about the fire. Withheld were e-mails directly related to the police and fire response – information that could be used to draft the post-fire report. What is left are frantic e-mails between members of the public relations team, e-mails from outside agencies offering help and post-event congratulations.”

“Everyone involved in the emergency response performed exceptionally well and did what they were supposed to do,” wrote City Manager Ray Kerridge. “I am proud of this organization.”

End of story? I don’t think so. Anyone with even half a brain can see through this flimsy fairytale. Lawyers really should be required to take more creative writing courses in school if they are going to obfuscate the truth as a practice.

It’s time to bring in the clowns.

DEC. 17, 2010

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