A Pasadena police officer has been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation after agents with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) searched his home last Thursday.
Property records obtained by the Pasadena Weekly list Lt. Vasken Gourdikian as the owner of the Sierra Madre home that was searched. A source close to the investigation who asked for anonymity confirmed Gourdikian is the officer in question.
As of Tuesday, Gourdikian had not been arrested and no charges had been filed against him.
Gourdikian could not be reached for comment.
An out-of-office response was on his email as of Friday afternoon. Gourdikian has served as the public information officer (PIO) for the Pasadena Police Department since early 2016. Former PIO Lt. Tracey Ibarra is currently acting in that role on a temporary basis.
City officials said they did not know what role Gourdikian may play in an ATF investigation when contacted by the Weekly.
“At this time, the officer has not been arrested, nor are there any charges that have been filed to initiate an arrest,” said Pasadena Public Information Officer William Boyer, who declined to name the officer involved.
“The officer, like all people subject to an investigation, is presumed innocent until otherwise proven guilty. At this time, I cannot confirm the officer’s identity or other details about the officer,” Boyer said. “The ATF continues to investigate. Please direct your inquiries for any information about the investigation and search warrant to ATF. This is an ATF case, not Pasadena PD.”
According to an online resume, Gourdikian joined the department in 1994.
According to Boyer, the ATF investigation does not stem from work on any cases or his conduct at the Pasadena Police Department. The officer — he added — fully cooperated with ATF agents during the search.
Armed with a federal search warrant, ATF agents raided the home early on the morning of Feb. 16, according to Boyer.
The Weekly has filed a request for the search warrant with the ATF under the US Freedom of Information Act, which governs the release of federal documents.
The federal warrant, which contains information regarding the search, including items that authorities were seeking, is currently sealed. Federal warrants are typically unsealed 10 days after they expire or are executed. However, the department seeking the warrant may refuse to release the document if it determines it is pertinent to an ongoing investigation.
The ATF was closed on Monday in observance of Presidents’ Day and agents working there could not be contacted for comment regarding this story. A representative for the agency did not return calls Tuesday.
According to Pasadena Patch, a KNX-AM (1070) reporter tweeted that a source indicated the officer was being investigated for alleged illegal gun sales.
According to CBS Channel 2 News, the officer’s Sierra Madre home was raided as part of a criminal investigation. Reporters said they saw numerous gun cases in the garage which was opened when ATF agents arrived. The door was closed almost instantly and dozens of the cases were loaded into an SUV and a van.
“There were so many it took two vehicles to haul them away,” stated CBS reporter Jeff Nguyen.
CBS videos of the event on Thursday show federal vehicles parked at a property owned by Gourdikian during the raid, according to online records.
Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez said he was made aware of the federal investigation on Wednesday night, just hours before the raid. Officers with the Pasadena Police Department did not take part in the operation.
The department will now conduct an internal investigation.
“I was notified right before the warrant was served,” Sanchez told the Weekly on Monday morning. “Following the warrant and their preliminary investigation the employee was placed on administrative leave. At the same time, I have initiated an internal affairs investigation, which is independent of the ATF review.”
California law prohibits the department from releasing an officer’s disciplinary record and the results of the internal investigations.
Councilman John Kennedy told the Weekly that he hoped that Sanchez, along with City Manager Steve Mermell, would keep the council updated on the situation.
“It is my hope that the Pasadena police chief and the city manager will provide a full report in closed session,” said Kennedy, chair of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee which provides oversight of the Police and Fire departments. “It is important for … Mermell to release as much information to the public as legally permissible under the circumstances. It is important to remember that the presumption of innocence is a bedrock of our criminal justice system.”
However, laws barring the release of an officer’s personnel records could hamper any closed session discussion of the incident.
“Typically, we don’t discuss personnel matters with the council,” said Mermell, who said he has not spoken to ATF agents.
“Unless there is a basis for a closed session meeting, there won’t be one. It’s their investigation, and our guy is on admin leave. It’s being handled by another agency,” Mermell said.
Part of the ATF’s mission is to investigate illegal sales of firearms.
According to the ATF website, federal law requires that persons who are engaged in the business of dealing in firearms be licensed by the agency.
The penalty for dealing in firearms without a license could lead to both state and federal convictions. A state conviction could result in one year in prison per illegal sale, along with a $10,000 fine on each count. A federal conviction calls for five years behind bars, a $250,000 fine, or both.
In California, all gun sales must be completed through a licensed dealer. However, even a licensed dealer cannot sell high-powered assault rifles due to a law banning such weapons signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, which went into effect in January.
Fifty-caliber weapons and high–capacity magazines that contain 10 rounds or more of ammunition are also banned.
Penalties for possessing an assault rifle can lead to a three-year jail sentence and a $10,000 fine.
According to Boyer, officials in Pasadena are fully cooperating with the investigation.
“The city, the police chief and the city manager wish to emphasize that they take the matter with the utmost seriousness,” Boyer said. “The city and its representatives will continue to cooperate fully with the ATF investigators on this case.”