Pasadena Unified Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian McDonald said he is “seeking a full explanation” from Pasadena police and the City about the manner in which a school janitor was apprehended and treated during an incident on the campus of San Rafael School on Sunday morning.
McDonald called the incident “deeply concerning.”
Pasadena police said they received a call from a resident near the school at 1090 Nithsdale Road on Sunday at 8:24 a.m.
The caller told police dispatchers he “just saw somebody scaling a fence of the San Rafael school. They were carrying a backpack and a bag.” The caller said the fence was in the back of the school.
Lt. Chris Sharma said officers responded and “made contact” with the subject, a man, and detained him.
“He is an employee, janitor,” Sharma said. The man was released.
Sharma said since officers were responding to a possible felony burglary in progress, they initially drew their weapons. They also handcuffed the man to question him. A police source said both actions are consistent with routine practice when officers respond to felony burglary in progress calls for service.
In a report filed by California Metro Patrol obtained by Pasadena Now, 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.”
McDonald said the detained man, who has not been publicly identified, was the San Rafael Elementary School head custodian who has worked for PUSD for 14 years and was on campus performing additional work requested by the school administration. He was wearing his District uniform and had a set of school keys in his possession.
School Board Member Scott Phelps, in an email sent to numerous city officials after the incident, asked “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?”
McDonald said both Interim Chief of Police Jason Clawson and City Manager Cynthia Kurtz have pledged to investigate the incident.
“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.”