Fallout Over Ballew Case Erupts at Public Safety Meeting

Community comments at Public Safety Committee meeting precede Police Chief’s use of force, discipline presentations

Published : Tuesday, February 6, 2018 | 6:44 AM

Fallout Over Ballew Case Erupts at Public Safety Meeting

[Updated]  When Pasadena’s Public Safety Committee met Monday afternoon at City Hall to hear two annual reports relating to the Police Department, public comments about last November’s highly-publicized violent arrest of Christopher Ballew led to tense moments.

Public comments are heard at the start of meetings.

Ballew was arrested by police after a confrontation during which he was struck repeatedly with a baton, punched, his head forced down into pavement and one of his legs was broken.

“Explain to me why this is okay,” said Councilmember Tyron Hampton to Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez and City Manager Steve Mermell at Wednesday’s Public Safety meeting.

Questioning why Pasadena police officers Lerry Esparza and Zachary Lujan, the officers involved in the controversial November 9 violent arrest of Altadena resident Christopher Ballew, were still on active duty, Hampton continued.

“I need to understand this,” the Councilmember asked. “Why are these officers still on the street? If they are there because there is a shortage of officers, that is not a good enough reason. This is not good police work, and it’s a slap in the face to the community.”

Committee Chair Vice-Mayor John Kennedy also said to the Committee that he had requested in January that the officers be taken off the street.

“I made the request, and City Council could order it,” he said, “but…”

He did not complete the statement.

Police and city officials have said that Esparza and Lujan are being investigated by the Police Department for an “allegation of unreasonable force,” one of five such cases filed against the Department in 2017. Until that investigation is complete, the officers will remain on regular duty, officials said.

Last week, a lawyer for the Ballew family filed a Federal civil rights lawsuit over the incident.

The Councilmembers’ comments came after more than a dozen speakers complained about the Ballew arrest and commented on the overall relationship of the Pasadena Police Department to the community.

“Why have these officers been treated with impunity?” asked Pasadena resident Allan Freeman, adding, “They have more than disgraced their uniforms.”

Echoing Freeman’s comments, resident Ed Washatka told the Committee, “The reaction by the department to this incident sends two signals to the community—that officers are above reproach, and that this type of police behavior is okay. There is no redress. This police department is out of control.”

In response, City Manager Steve Mermell reminded the Committee and the audience that he had recently met with nearly 30 concerned activists to review the arrest and the investigation, as well as to respond to six demands from the Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police (CICOPP).

That group has called for an independent investigation of the Ballew incident, directing Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez to discipline the officers in the Ballew incident, and asking for an independent police auditor with subpoena power, among other demands.

When the Public Safety Committee last met on January 18, it also took scores of comments from residents and activists, said Mermell.

Mermell confirmed that the Ballew incident is being actively investigated, as well.

The comments prefaced a presentation by Chief Sanchez regarding the use of force by the Pasadena Police Department in 2017.

Source, Pasadena Police Dept.

Source, Pasadena Police Dept.

According to the report, Pasadena police were involved in 44 force incidents in 2017, compared to 36 in 2015, and 45 in 2016.

The 2017 incidents involved 60 department employees and 66 applications of force. Breaking the incidents down, Sanchez reported that there were 35 strikes against a suspect, 13 taser uses, one use of OC pepper spray, 11 uses of a baton, 2 uses of a handgun, and one carotid hold.

Between 2010 and 2017, the report noted that uses of force varied between a low of .15% of all arrests in 2015, and a high of .78% of all arrests in 2011.

Chief Sanchez also reported that the department conducted 44 internal investigations in 2017, compared to 48 in 2016, and 54 in 2015. There are currently 25 open investigations from 2017, and one from 2016. Of the 44 2017 complaints, 15 are external, 16 arte traffic collisions and 13 are internal complaints.

Source, Pasadena Police Dept.

Source, Pasadena Police Dept.

The 44 allegations against officers in 2017, varied from “allegation of improper procedure” to “preventable collision,” as well as “allegation of unreasonable force,” and “off duty conduct.”

According to Pasadena Police Policy 1020.1.1, “Personnel complaints consists of any allegation of misconduct or improper job performance against any department employee, that, if true, would constitute a violation of department policy, federal or state law.”

Chief Sanchez did not elaborate on his presentation, beyond answering questions clarifying some numbers.

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