Protesters Headed to Court as Police Deny Brutality Claims

Published : Saturday, August 3, 2013 | 5:40 AM

This blurry image purportedly shows a Pasadena police officer during the melee that erupted near the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on November 14, 2012 as protestors demonstrated against former Mexican president Vicente Fox. A number of videos were shot that night which attorneys plan to use in both criminal and civil cases which have resulted. [Screenshot used with permission of YouTube User "Checkpoint response"] 

Four protesters accused of assaulting police officers outside the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in November are scheduled to appear in court Monday for a preliminary hearing.

The case has stirred a debate about how Pasadena police respond to protests. The police department has denied any wrongdoing, but 18 protesters have filed claims against the city alleging police brutality.

Alejandro Torres, 22, of San Pedro; Christopher Wohlers, 23, of Long Beach; Ulises Hernandez, 21, of Van Nuys; and Benjamin Torres, 29, of Pasadena, were arrested Nov. 14 while protesting a lecture by former Mexican President Vicente Fox. Their charges include battery with injury on a peace officer and resisting arrest.

Last week, prosecutors dismissed charges against Pasadena residents Brian Connolly, 36, and Dara Glanzer, 22. The pair initially were charged with six misdemeanors but pled guilty to jaywalking.

Attorney Tarek Shawky, who represents Glanzer and Wohlers, said he always believed jaywalking was the appropriate charge. He said the additional charges were “baseless and unfounded.”

The attorneys for the four defendants to be in court Monday say they have met with Pasadena’s supervising prosecutor in recent days, but said it was not possible to reach an agreement on the felony cases.

“One of the reasons this has taken so long is because we thought it might get resolved and negotiated, but the prosecutor is not really interested,” Shawky said.

Police have claimed that during the event a woman broke through a barricade and protesters threw objects that hit officers in the back of their heads. Shawky believes police initiated the confrontation. He said he has videos from police, surveillance cameras and independent witnesses that show the protesters did nothing wrong.

“On those videos, we see a lot of police misconduct and abuse, and we don’t see any of the protesters so much as touch, hit push or act in a way that can be construed as physical with the officers,” Shawky said.

He believes the issues goes beyond this particular case.

“This Foxy 6 case is a symptom of a bigger problem of government suppression of free speech and the right to assemble,” Shawky said. “This is a threat to American freedom, and we can not stand by and watch it happen.”

Attorney James Segall-Gutierrez plans to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city. He represents 18 protesters who claim they were abused by police outside the auditorium. Each protester is seeking at least $25,000 in damages. The attorneys say protestors ended up with bruises, abrasions, scratches and lacerations.

“Police brutality in the City of Pasadena is pretty rampant,” Segall-Gutierrez said. “They sweep it under the rug and allow their officers to do what they want.”

Pasadena Police Department spokesperson Lt. Tracey Ibarra said their investigation has not turned up any indication of wrongdoing by officers. She encouraged the attorneys to send them any videos they have showing brutality.

“From what we have seen and evaluated the incident, there was no police brutality,” Ibarra said.

Segall-Gutierrez said he has been waiting for the city to respond to his claims before filing a lawsuit. The city has 60 days before the claims are presumed to be denied, and since the claims were submitted in early May, the lawsuit may be filed soon.

Pasadena City Attorney Michele Bagneris was not available for comment Friday.