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Residents Briefed, Reassured, Following Washington Park Shooting

Police Chief Harris: ‘This was an anomaly; this is a safe park’; City to look at increased security, better lighting and cameras

Published on Wednesday, November 29, 2023 | 6:20 am

[Updared]  The Santa Catalina Branch Library was packed with residents, neighbors, department heads, and local elected officials Tuesday evening as City officials delivered a briefing and answered questions regarding public safety in Washington Park.

Most recently, Mickey Cooper was fatally shot in the park on Nov. 18. 

Cooper was the younger brother of former LA Lakers star Michael Cooper.

The shooting was the second shooting in the park in two months. Last month a man, who has not been identified, was shot in the neck. He was rushed to Huntington Hospital. 

According to police,  Aaron Miguel Conell, 24, committed both crimes. 

“What happened at the park is another reminder why we need to address the issue of substance abuse and mental health in our city,” said Mayor Victor Gordo. “It shouldn’t surprise anyone that that was a part of what was happening in this park, and it happens in every part of our city.”

Gordo was joined by Councilmembers Jessica Rivas, and Justin Jones, as well as Public Works Director Tony Olmos, and Parks Director Koko Panassian.

“But,” Gordo said, “when we talk about these problems, we also need to have solutions.”

“This is a complex and complicated investigation, and it may get even more complex and complicated as we move forward.”

Pressed by a resident as to whether he could “guarantee” increased security, better lighting and cameras and if he could provide a timeline, Gordo outlined the City’s budget procedure and said that residents should attend public budget meetings and offer their input on new security improvements in the park.

Police were notified of both shootings moments after the shots were fired by the automated ShotSpottter alert system.

Conell remains jailed in lieu of $4.25 million bail. Pasadena Police Homicide Detective Keith Gomez, at a press conference last week, described Conell as “diabolically evil.”

Conell is also charged with assault with a deadly weapon for pulling a weapon on a driver in a dispute at a gas station on Nov. 5. 

Police are investigating Conell’s possible connection to two additional shootings. Details on those shootings have not been released. 

Pasadena Police Chief Gene Harris said that a review of crime statistics showed that despite the incidents the park is a safe place. 

“We should be happy to have a park that has that amount of safety and that amount of accessibility. We take pride in being able to utilize that park.”

Harris called the incident an anomaly. 

“If you look at the statistics for 2022, and the end of 2023, this particular heinous crime accounts for almost 55% of any crimes that we have had in the park. That’s a big deal that we are here because of this one crime, and this one person who came out here to create havoc in this area. That person is now in jail, and I believe that he is going to be there for a very long time.”

The historic park, built in the early 1920s, had become a point of concern for locals, even as the surrounding neighborhood flourished. 

Local residents agreed with Harris. 

“Things have been really good, except for this,” one resident said. 

Chief Harris also said that other elements such as mental illness and substance abuse create violent crimes.

“As an executive team,” Harris said, “our goal is to address all of those issues with a comprehensive plan.” He pointed out that other departments such as Public Works, Fire Department, and Public Health Dept., and the Parks Department,  were on hand at the event to add their expertise to the conversation. 

Councilmember Jessica Rivas, who represents the area and lives just over a mile away, said that public safety is paramount. 

 “And it’s important because on a fundamental level, the city has to ensure that we are safe in our neighborhoods and in our parks. This is personal to me,” Rivas said. “It hits home because it is home.”

Rivas added that while the suspect is “off the streets,’’ it is important not to just move on afterward, but to create answers.

“What are we going to do to make sure that Washington Park and all of our parks are as safe as they possibly can be?” she asked.

Councilmember Justin Jones recounted the park’s recent history and reiterated that there were improvements in the neighborhood but that the park remains a problem. Jones said he contacted Police Chief Harris and City Manager Miguel Márquez to request additional funding for park safety specialists, which will be addressed at the next City Council meeting.

In an informal show-of-hands survey, nearly every hand was raised when Jones asked how many residents would be in favor of increased lighting in the park. The response was the same when he asked about increased cameras in the park.

Residents disagreed when Jones asked if the neighborhood was being “over-patrolled.”

“It’s absolutely crucial that we are here,” said Chief Harris, “ to support one another in this community.”

Public Works Director Tony Olmos said that the city is looking into a wide range of physical improvements at the park including better lighting and cameras, while Parks Director Panassian stressed an increase in park programming to create a more active park.

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