No easy answers
Residents, community leaders struggle to understand latest police shooting
By André Coleman 02/26/2009
On Tuesday morning, city workers began removing dozens of candles, flowers and cards that had been placed against a small tree on Mentone Avenue, just south of Washington Boulevard in Northwest Pasadena, a few feet from where Pasadena police officers shot and killed Leroy Barnes during a violent struggle that took place on the afternoon of Feb. 19 during an otherwise routine traffic stop.
“He didn’t leave us,” said Detrick Bright, 35, Barnes’ ex-girlfriend and mother of his 9-year-old daughter, Anari. “They took him. His mama was just here last night, and now she has no place to remember her son.”
The 38-year-old Barnes was shot and killed after police pulled over a gold Toyota Camry being driven on the wrong side of Mentone Avenue by Amika Edwards, authorities said.
“A struggle ensued in the back seat of that car and Mr. Barnes displayed a handgun and pointed it at one of the officers as they fought,” Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian said Monday. “The officer fired one gunshot. The other officer believed that Mr. Barnes had, in fact, shot his partner.”
The other officer, Melekian said, then opened fire on Barnes. It was not immediately known how many times Barnes was hit, but Melekian told reporters that officers fired 11 shots and that Barnes was not struck in the back.
The Los Angeles County Department of Coroner’s final report will not be finished for several weeks.
Almost immediately after the incident, police officials issued several statements claiming that Barnes jumped out of the driver’s seat and fired at officers who responded by killing him, only to back away from those claims days after the investigation revealed that Barnes was in the back seat of the vehicle, which he never left to confront police officers, and never fired his gun.
Melekian, who echoed the erroneous statements at a press briefing shortly after the shooting, later recanted and admitted that some of the information made public was inaccurate due to confusion at the scene. However, Melekian still pointed out that Barnes was armed with a “functional, loaded” gun and planned to kill two Pasadena police officers. The officers, whose names are not being released due to death threats received by the Pasadena Police Department, have been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.
Had officers arrested Barnes for carrying the weapon, he would have faced his third strike and could have been sentenced to 25 years in prison, authorities said.
Barnes had been convicted of seven felonies, including assault with a deadly weapon causing great bodily injury, sales of narcotics, felony resisting of a police officer, spousal abuse and discharging a firearm in public.
In 1993, he was sentenced to seven years in prison for attempted murder and assault on a Pasadena police officer after he shot at the officer in a park in broad daylight. In April he was released from prison and was on felony parole after serving less than three years of a four-year sentence for an assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to cause great bodily harm.
Despite those convictions, he was still loved by many in the community.
“Leroy was a good dude,” said youth activist Tim Rhambo. “All gang members are not bad. Some may indulge in negative activities that get them put away for a while, but most of them are good people that are taking care of their family. Leroy was a cool dude. I am mad that he is gone.”
Detectives have reviewed a dashboard video recording of the incident that was shot from the police officers’ vehicle, but the footage does not show what happened inside the car, which had heavily tinted windows. Police have not released the footage due to unspecified legal issues.
“I am sorry for the loss and I have great sympathy for the Barnes family,” Melekian said.
Edwards was taken into custody, questioned and released on Friday afternoon. On Monday she attempted to make a statement to the Weekly at the Pasadena office of the NAACP, but became hysterical and left the building after she started screaming, “They’re going to hurt me” after spotting a police car cruising through the parking lot.
However, Edwards told her side of the story to a friend who accompanied her to the NAACP office.
“She told me they opened the door and shot him twice and dragged him out of the car and into the street and shot him some more,” said the person, who did not wish to be named for fear of reprisal.
NAACP President Joe Brown confirmed Melekian’s contention that a police cruiser routinely makes rounds in the area, but said that the NAACP is continuing its own investigation of the incident.
“As this investigation continues forward, the NAACP will continue to monitor every phase of the information gathering process and provide our own analysis as soon as we have had a chance to look at and study the autopsy and forensic findings,” he said.
On Monday, residents and community leaders held protests at the scene of the shooting and at the Pasadena Police Department before speaking at the Pasadena City Council meeting later that night.
“Nothing is going to happen,” said activist Ishmael Trone.
In 2004, LaMont Robinson, 30, was visiting a friend who lived in a triplex on Mentone Avenue, near the 300 block of Washington Boulevard, when a police encounter left him in a coma before he died.
A week later, Maurice Clark, 32, was shot and killed in a carport on Howard Street after firing at police at the conclusion of a foot pursuit.
Investigations by the US Justice Department cleared local police in both cases.
“They have never done this before,” said Gary Moody of the citizens group the Black Males Forum, as he stared at the dried candle wax pooled where Barnes died. There were memorials left in honor of Robinson and 16-year-old Ebony Huell, who was shot and killed on Lincoln Avenue in 2006. Authorities, Moody said, “left both of those memorials around town for months and they usually just leave them alone, but this is a slap in the face.”
Bright concurred as she called friends and tearfully told them that the memorial had been taken down.
“We are trying to do things the right way then they do this to us,” said Bright, who added that family members are still working on funeral arrangements for Barnes, who also had an 18-year-old daughter, Maylesha, with another woman.
“When I passed by yesterday, his mother was standing in the middle of the street crying. Leroy did everything for her. He was her caretaker,” Bright said.
“I was prepared to tell Chief Melekian thank you for telling the truth,” she said. “But for this man to say he is just glad none of his officers got shot, I don’t have anything to say to him. They are totally disrespectful. They want to say Leroy is from a gang, but the Pasadena police are acting like a gang. Leroy is not the first and he won’t be the last. This isn’t going to change. This is not a black thing, it is a people thing. They want us to remain calm, but they are steadily kicking us down when we are trying to get back up.”