Differing Interpretations of Police Shooting Video Demonstrate Pitfalls of Transparency

Published : Wednesday, February 6, 2019 | 6:38 AM

Sports fans no longer argue about what they saw during a game, they go to the videotape to see it over and over and parse their version of the justice (or injustice) meted out by the referee’s call. The same as is happening with the Pasadena Police Department’s video of recent “critical incident.”

The video of a Jan. 11 foot pursuit that resulted in officers firing on a fleeing, but armed, man has — like a close call at first base — yielded varying interpretations.

City of Pasadena public information officer Lisa Derderian explained in a Jan. 31 interview said that such “critical incidents” would be handled with similar video releases by the police department going forward.

Derderian said that Chief Police John Perez is “really focused on transparency” and that this new video strategy is part of that emphasis. She said compliance with a new state law that took effect Jan. 1, requiring the release of records in critical incidents, played a role in the new policy’s development.

The footage shows Pasadena police firing approximately 10 shots at Brandon Green. Police said the suspect, 29, is a known gang member with a gun possession arrest, and outstanding drug warrant on his record.

The edited video contains body camera footage and video clips drawn from nearby devices of the police chasing Green and firing shots before he stops running and drops to the ground, submitting to arrest.

The video states Green was subsequently arrested for assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer.

Pasadena police spokesman Lt Jason Clawson emphasized that the video release was meant not as a conclusive presentation on the department’s official position regarding what transpired, but rather as an early presentation of available footage.

Local attorney John Burton is representing Chris Ballew, whose leg was broken in an altercation with Pasadena police some two years ago. Burton lauded the police for “being a little more transparent,” and then moved onto a plethora of criticisms.

The video cites a specific statute, Calfornia Penal Code 835(a) which says, in part, that an officer “may use reasonable force to effect the arrest, to prevent the arrest or to overcome the resistance” of a suspect.

Burton called that law “vague.” The real standard, he asserted, is set by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Tennessee v. Garner.

“It’s a very famous case and says that a person has to pose an imminent threat of death or great bodily injury, and that a warning needs to be given, when feasible. You don’t hear a warning [in the video].”

Dale Gronemeier, a now-retired civil rights attorney, concurred.

“Mr. Green was fleeing,” he said in a Jan. 31 interview. “I assume there is no video that shows him pointing a weapon at the officers, because I can’t imagine that the police department would not include such a video.”

But Clawson asserted that the suspect got his warning.

“If you look at the video again,” he countered, “one of the officers who first contacted Mr. Green jumped out of the car and said, ‘Brandon come here,’ but Mr. Green decided to run away. So there was a verbal warning at the onset by non-firing officers.”

The shooting that ensued, Burton opined, was an overreaction, “and the reflection of a mentality that police have a green light to shoot somebody whenever they are holding a gun.”

Burton observed that 10 rounds are a lot and that the officers are required, before discharging a firearm, to consider the background, which in this case was the quiet, residential area along the 1900 block of Raymond Avenue.

“Emptying a clip in the middle of the day, in that area, is creating an extreme hazard for completely innocent people,” said Burton.

Clawson responded, “That is the video of what occurred. We are not putting reasoning behind why the officers did what they did, or what their tactics were. That’s not until later, until the actual incident gets reviewed.”

Kris Ockerhauser, spokeswoman, Coalition for Increased Oversight of Pasadena Police, said the video demonstrates that the department, “hasn’t learned since Ballew, that all the training they did last year on de-escalation of use of force didn’t make any difference.”

What’s is evident is that even when the police make video of a critical event public, questions still remain, and the clarity the objective camera brings to that event remains dependent on the subjective lens through which one views it.


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