Vice-Mayor Kennedy Delivers Criticism of Police Chief, City Manager

Amidst a wave of negative public comments, Kennedy dresses down an ‘unacceptable” oral presentation; rails against ‘million-dollar’ police settlements

Published : Tuesday, March 6, 2018 | 6:57 AM

Vice-Mayor Kennedy Delivers Criticism of Police Chief, City Manager

There was only one item on Monday’s Public Safety Committee agenda. The Committee’s Chair, Vice-Mayor John Kennedy, took exception to its delivery as an oral report and used the occasion to read wide-ranging, prepared remarks in which he criticized decisions and actions related to the Police Department and recommended the City Manager develop a plan for increased civilian oversight of the Department.

Kennedy’s statement, which he later released to Pasadena Now, began with the topics of trust, respect and fairness before he denounced the “disrespectul” manner in which the report, which addressed a Community-Police Work plan, was delivered.

For Vice-Mayor Kennedy’s remarks in full, please click here

Kennedy said the City has “an appropriate, well-established practice  regarding reports and informed decision-making at the Council as well as at the Committee level.”

“To provide this committee with nothing to review prior to the meeting is, in my view, lazy, disrespectful  and potentially precedent-setting,” said Kennedy, just prior to Sanchez’ presentation at the meeting. “That is unacceptable and does not allow members of this Committee to review completed staff work and arrive here prepared to do the ‘People’s business.’”

Kennedy’s lengthy commentary also called into question the idea of the Police Department “policing” itself.

“Much of our society generally and our legal system specifically rests on a foundation of symbolic and substantive fairness,” he said, then asked rhetorically, “Would any of use feel we would receive a fair trial if the judge was the brother-in-law of our opponent?”

“Yet, despite numerous contrary precedents throughout our society,”  said Kennedy, clearly annoyed, “we are expected to accept that our police department is able to serve as its own referee”

Continued Kennedy, “Despite the precedent and a reasonable, common sense standard, we are now asked to accept a different standard—an oral report—to outline the steps that the city manager and the police chief intend to engage in to restore, improve and advance community/police relations. The unfortunate and totally unacceptable excuse for this new and unprecedented standard is that this is a ‘First step,’” said Kennedy.

Well,” he answered, rhetorically, “that explanation, in my view, does not pass the smell test!”

Kennedy revealed his reaction when he learned that City Manager Steve Mermell had privately reviewed the police department tapes of the November 17, 2017 videotaped violent arrest of Altadena resident Christopher Ballew with Chief Sanchez, who then, Kennedy said, unilaterally concluded that the police officers—Lerry Esparza and Zachary Lujan—had acted within policy.

“I was stunned,” said Kennedy.

“Whose interests are served when decisions as made in a figurative dark, back room, a place lacking transparency? When a resident-generated video surfaced two months later, suddenly and belatedly a need for an investigation emerged,” he said.

Asked Kennedy, “Who is refereeing the referee?”

Kennedy also criticized the city for “paying out millions of dollars to settle cases involving the Pasadena Police Department.”

“These collective million-dollar payouts occur against a backdrop of our city facing a major fiscal crisis as we attempt to balance our budget and plan for ever-increasing pension obligations,” Kennedy said. “In the face of this fiscal crisis, we cannot act as if we are okay with million-dollar payouts to the alleged victims of alleged police brutality. Have we entered  a parallel universe in which we accept million-dollar payouts as a ‘cost of doing business’?

Citing the case of former Pasadena Police Department Lieutenant Vasken Gourdikian, arrested and charged by the U.S. Attorney with illegal gun sales (see related story), Kennedy said, the police chief is now “tasked with an administrative and possibly local criminal investigation of one of its own.”

“By this misguided logic,” said Kennedy, “we could close all jails and prisons, simply give criminals a stern lecture, and naively hope that they will stop violating the law.”

“What is the measure of accountability for a police officer or a police department?” Kennedy added.

Kennedy then recommended a series of steps for the City to take:

  • A written plan by the City Manager on actions (he) plans to take to improve community relations and restore lost trust.

  • That a respected independent agency undertake the administrative  and local criminal review of Lieutenant Gourdikian.

  • All documents and indictment papers of Gourdikian be placed on the City’s website without delay.

  • That the City Manager make recommendations to the Public Safety Committee on how to increase civilian oversight of the Police Department using a model adopted by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 2016.

“Charter reform is necessary,” continued Kennedy, who said that the City may have an opportunity to place a measure on the June ballot to enact changes “that would allow for similar oversight that exists today with our enlightened sister agency, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” Kennedy did not elaborate on the proposed charter reform ballot measure.

Mermell said that the City “needs to strengthen trust in the community in light of the Christopher Ballew case.”

In his oral presentation, Sanchez told the Committee that he would be taking “aggressive steps” to improve relations with the community.

Specifically, all employees of the Pasadena Police Department would be trained in principle-based policing this month. The City would also enlist the use of Pasadena non-profit Western Justice Center staff to facilitate meetings between the police department and neighborhood groups.  Sanchez also stressed the importance of “engaging young people in schools.”

A barrage of criticism from community members then ensued following Sanchez’ presentation.

“The actions of the police department are causing irreparable damages to the reputations of the police and the City,” said NAACP Pasadena Branch President Delano Yarborough, while former Pasadena Police Officer Dave Evans said the Police Department “needs to focus on the entire community” and “should start at the elementary school level.”

Committee member Tyron Hampton took direct aim at Sanchez, saying, “If you had handled things differently, the community would not be reacting like this.”

Hampton pointed to the fact that officers Esparza and Lujan were still on active duty, and that Esparaza, though on probation during the Ballew incident,  was later officially hired by the department.

“It’s outrageous that those two are still on the street,” said Hampton, who also criticized the fact that Lieutenant Gourdikian had earned $191,000 in salary while suspended and under investigation by the US Attorney’s office on Federal gun charges.

Hampton referred to his understanding that officers Lujan and Esparza were assigned to patrol the crowd at the recent Black History Parade. He told City Manager Steve Mermell directly, “That was a horrible decision.”

Mayor Terry Tornek, who was also aware earlier that a second Pasadena officer is now under investigation by federal authorities, remained supportive of the department and Chief Sanchez, however, saying later, “I don’t think the department is out of control. I think everything is really being conflated by the community. The Ballew incident and the Gourdikian case are two different cases.”

“But,” Tornek added, “I’m not suggesting that this is a police department that does not need reform.”

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