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City Releases Video of Elementary School Janitor’s Encounter With Police

Published on Tuesday, August 16, 2022 | 5:57 pm

The City made public several video recordings on Monday showing an encounter between a local elementary school janitor and Pasadena police officers which occurred the previous day.

The videos show police using bolt cutters on Sunday morning to enter the campus at San Rafael Elementary School after a 911 caller claimed he saw a man with a backpack scaling a fence at the school.

“It looked like a tall female, but maybe it was a male,” the caller said. “It’s hard to tell… Carrying backpack and a bag and just, you know, it doesn’t look good.” 

Police arrived and questioned a man who turned out to be a longtime Pasadena Unified School District employee.

“I don’t need to climb the gate, I have the keys,” said the unidentified janitor, who allowed police to search his phone to contact school principal Rudy Ramirez.

The janitor is wearing his PUSD uniform shirt in the video.  He was cooperative and polite throughout the incident. 

“Why would he be here on Sunday?” one of the officers said while speaking to the school principal on the phone.

Officers can be heard on one video saying there is a neighbor that can’t stand the school, and speculated that was the person that made the call.

The incident has riled some parents who have asked for a town hall meeting with the school and local police. 

“While the caller that initiated the call for service is concerned during the call, the caller is not inflammatory, and there are no racial overtones to the call,” City Manager Cynthia Kurtz said on Monday. 

“The police officers responding to the call found the campus gate was locked, but the door to the school was visibly open.”

When police arrived, one person was observed inside the school, dressed in black shorts, a white t-shirt and an open blue outer-shirt, Kurtz said.

According to Kurtz, officers questioned the man, who has not since been identified and, per protocol, handcuffed him for approximately 6-1/2 minutes until they could verify that he was a PUSD employee with permission to be on a closed campus.  

Kurtz said the PUSD employee was not “proned out,” and the handcuffing was carried out by a female police officer quietly and respectfully.  The PUSD employee was likewise polite and cooperative. 

Kurtz also said the weapons carried by police officers were   non-lethal arms that fire foam projectiles, designed to stun and not injure suspects. 

“This was not a SWAT or military type response in any manner.”

According to a report filed by California Metro Patrol obtained by this media outlet, a security officer summoned to the scene said when he arrived and entered school grounds he saw “what appeared to be a janitor detained on the steps. He stated he was on campus on overtime to clean the school. [He] mentioned that he could provide the number to the school’s principal, Mr. Ramirez.”

The security officer said the police “spoke on the phone with Mr. Ramirez and verified the OT that was approved for and he [the janitor] was quickly released from handcuffs.”

“Once I was made aware of the incident by Superintendent Brian McDonald, I immediately initiated an internal review so we could present the facts to the community,” said Pasadena Police Chief Jason Clawson. 

“Our job is to approach a situation based on the information provided to us in the initial call to our dispatch center.  Our officers received that information and conducted themselves in a professional and polite manner as I’d expect from our entire department.  The custodian was detained, cooperated and understood the process the officers had to go through to validate that he was permitted to be on a closed school campus.”

The incident left Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Brian McDonald “deeply concerned” and raised the ire of others in the school district.

“I have concerns about the manner in which the PUSD employee was apprehended and the way he was treated. I also have questions about misstatements possibly made by the individual who called the police,” McDonald said in a statement. “ I am seeking a full explanation of how this situation was handled.”

“While we see the Pasadena Police Department as a partner agency in our city, as with all Pasadena community members, we expect that law enforcement will act respectfully and appropriately when dealing with members of the public, including our PUSD staff. We will continue to gather information before determining any further action.”

School Board Member Scott Phelps pulled no punches when responding to the incident,

“When will the police ever change their training and tactics?   Let me guess, a wealthy neighbor who like too many residents nearby doesn’t want the public school kids there anyway saw a person of color on the campus?  And the police of course responded the way they do to people of color.  Nothing has really changed in Pasadena has it?”

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