Mayor Tornek Responds to Criticism of Pasadena Police

In the wake of a torrent of demands for the transfer or removal of officers involved in Ballew arrest, Mayor defends the department

Published : Wednesday, February 28, 2018 | 6:37 AM

Mayor Terry Tornek, seen in this file photo at a recent City Council meeting.

Mayor Terry Tornek, seen in this file photo at a recent City Council meeting.

Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek read a prepared statement during Monday night’s City Council meeting in which he defended the Pasadena Police Department’s professionalism and integrity.

Tornek faced a Chamber filled with numerous anti-police protestors and just two days earlier had officially responded to an Altadena Town Council letter accusing Pasadena police of lacking proper training, requesting the department revise its policies on use of force and racial profiling, and keep two specific officers “restricted from conducting any police business within Altadena city [sic] limits.”

It was, he said, time for him to address the issues as the City’s Mayor.

“For several weeks now we have been hearing from local residents expressing their heartfelt concerns over the use of force incident that occurred in November in Altadena,” Mayor Tornek began. “We’ve even heard from the Altadena Town Council, expressing their concern over the PPD conduct in their community. We have been given lists of demands, exhortations about inappropriate police conduct and suggestions about suspensions, policies, training and investigation methodologies. Through it all, I have been listening carefully and asking questions of my own.

“As Mayor of Pasadena,” he continued, “I think that it is time for me to speak out on the issue.

“While I share some of the concerns expressed over the conduct of our officers in this incident, unlike some of the critics, I have not lost faith in our Police department as to its ability to properly serve our residents, to conduct thorough and impartial investigations of possible misconduct, or in the Chief’s willingness to deliver discipline to errant officers when it is required.

“Just one year ago, during a seventeen day period, our city suffered the loss of three young lives and saw others changed forever, as a result of gang-related gun violence. Extra patrols on our streets and cooperation with the Sheriff’s Department ended the senseless violence.

“Nationally, the scourge of gun violence threatens everyone’s sense of well-being and police officers are being targeted and even killed at an unprecedented rate. At the same time, we are also seeing videos of police officers beating young black men all too frequently.

“The juxtaposition of these two frightening themes, whipsaws and confounds us.

“If we try to make some sense of what we’re experiencing,” added Tornek, “we may conclude that the Police are being asked to keep us safe without ever making a mistake or demonstrating any of the lingering racism that still pervades our society. Since the Police wield life and death authority, holding them to the highest standard, is entirely appropriate. That is why they wear body cameras and why they know that their actions will often be second guessed.

“However,” stressed Tornek, “if we look at the record, our Police dept. engages in the use of force in less than 1% of arrests made. Said another way, more than 99% of the time, our Police function in an environment that is unpredictable and sometimes life-threatening, without striking a blow.

“Is that good enough? No.

“We cannot readily accept even a single mistake if it means someone is inappropriately injured or even killed. And we cannot tolerate racial profiling. That is why we have an investigative process that can lead to discipline and termination.

“But to conclude from viewing a troubling video that the department cannot be trusted to properly investigate and to punish inappropriate behavior and that the Department’s training and policies are inadequate, is a leap that I am not prepared to make.

“Pasadena is not Ferguson,” continued Mayor Tornek. “I am proud of our Department and I am confident that the investigation into this use of force will be thorough and fair and that if discipline is required that it will be meted out appropriately.

“We will continue to review our hiring, our training, and our policies and make certain that they reflect best practices. But this incident does not warrant reaching the conclusion that our department is not to be trusted,” Tornek concluded.

The remarks were met with disdain from some audience members who earlier had crowded into City Council chambers carrying signs and shouting calls for the removal from active duty of Lerry Esparza and Zachary Lujan, the officers involved in the violent and controversial November 9, 2017 traffic stop of Chris Ballew.

Ballew, an Altadena resident, suffered a broken fibula and head injuries in the incident. A cellphone video of the arrest was widely circulated on social media, garnering more than a million views worldwide. Ballew and his family have filed a lawsuit against the City.

Police Chief Phillip Sanchez and City Manager Steve Mermell have said that the officers’ conduct is under investigation.

The officers remain on active duty.

blog comments powered by Disqus