by André Coleman and Kevin Uhrich
Civil rights advocates, police reform proponents and city leaders expressed shock and concern over a video that recently surfaced on Facebook showing a man trying to take away an officer’s baton before being punched, thrown to the ground and then beaten with that same baton.
At an emergency meeting of the NAACP Pasadena Branch Monday afternoon, members demanded to see video footage of the incident captured on body-worn cameras recorded by the two officers involved, the names of those officers, a copy of the police report on the incident, and an explanation of the department’s use-of-force policy.
The organization’s demands were turned over to the City Council during its regular Monday night meeting.
NAACP President Delano Yarbrough said he and other members found the officers’ actions to be “reprehensible” and “inhumane.”
“We are concerned that such treatment continues against people of color, especially black males,” said Yarbrough.
Christopher Ballew, 21, was scheduled for arraignment Tuesday morning in Pasadena Superior Court on a charge of assaulting an officer in relation to the Nov. 9 incident. But a clerk at the court said the charge had not been filed by the 10:30 a.m. Tuesday deadline.
Ballew was not immediately available for comment on this story.
City Prosecutor Michele Beal Bagneris, who also serves as city attorney, did not immediately return calls seeking comment on this story.
“The chief and I are asking for time so that we can review this situation,” City Manager Steve Mermell said at Monday’s City Council meeting.
Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez said the department is still investigating the incident.
“Following its policy, the Police Department immediately initiated an administrative review, which is still underway,” Sanchez wrote in an email sent to the Weekly late Wednesday morning. The chief did not respond to a request for the names of the two officers.
“As with this incident, the city of Pasadena and the Pasadena Police Department takes all incidents of force seriously,” Sanchez wrote.
Many of the officials contacted by the Weekly for comment on the story said they had not seen the video until provided with a copy by this newspaper.
The Pasadena Weekly has filed a state Public Records Act (PRA) request with the city and department for the report on the incident and any images captured by the body cameras worn by both officers that night.
The newspaper also asked for surveillance footage from the place where the incident occurred, the Mobil station on the southwest corner of North Fair Oaks Avenue and Woodbury Road. However, an employee there said the surveillance tape is erased each week and was not available.
It was unknown who shot the 47-second portion of the incident with a cell phone camera. The video picks up where Ballew is struggling with the two officers outside of the vehicle over the nightstick.
After being punched once on the side of the head, the Altadena resident finally releases the baton as the two officers throw him to the ground, with one smashing his face into the asphalt.
While lying face down, Ballew stiffens his arms and does not allow the officers to place him in handcuffs. The officer with the baton then strikes Ballew once in the back and twice on the back of the legs as the other officer continues punching Ballew in the head. It was unknown if the baton caused the injury, but at some point in the altercation Ballew suffered a broken leg.
While Ballew is screaming in pain, the officers then each take an arm and lift him up from behind in order to place him in cuffs, but Ballew continues to brace his arms until he is finally hooked up.
The officers later drove Ballew to Huntington Hospital for treatment of his leg.
“I am extremely disturbed by what I see in this video,” local attorney Elbie “Skip” Hickambottom, a member of the Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police (CICOPP), told the Pasadena Weekly. “Clearly, it is an excessive use of force. I urge those members of the City Council who continue to believe an independent police auditor is not necessary to explain to us: if not now, when?”
“The ACLU wrote that the Pasadena policy lacks any provisions for the release of body-worn camera footage or criteria to guide them when the video should be released. It qualifies all the footage as investigative materials,” said Kris Ockerhauser, a member of the local ACLU and CICOPP, speaking during the public comment section of the council’s Monday meeting.
“The city and its Police Department are aware of the incident and the video which apparently captures some, but not all of the sequence of events,” said Pasadena Public Information Officer William Boyer. “The city and the Police Department take very seriously any allegations of misconduct by its officers.”
Councilman John Kennedy, chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said he wants to see the department’s body-camera footage of the incident.
“I do not have all of the facts on the matter,” Kennedy, a former NAACP president, told the Weekly. “Additionally, I do not know when the city will release body-worn camera footage of the incident. I hope the city is in a position to release whatever video it may have to advance the policy objective of providing as much transparency as legally possible.”
The city’s 275 police officers have been wearing body cameras since November 2016. The cameras are designed to record police interactions with people during traffic stops and other encounters. According to departmental policy, officers are prohibited from tampering with or dismantling any hardware or software component of the body-worn devices. They are not required to activate the cameras if it compromises their safety to do so.
According to an article in Pasadena Now, the incident began after police stopped Ballew at 7:49 p.m. on Nov. 9 for a traffic violation. Ballew pulled his car into the Mobil gas station parking lot.
In the article, Pasadena police Lt. William Grisafe said Ballew refused to comply with orders and during a scuffle with police “he was able to get the baton of one of the officers. A fight ensued, and he ran. They were able to get him into custody and he was arrested.” Grisafe said.
Grisafe said Ballew was stopped for a number of traffic violations. A well-placed source with the department who asked for anonymity said Ballew was really pulled over for having tinted windows.
Less than 1 percent of the arrests in Pasadena in the first six months of this year involved the use of force, according to a report released by the Police Department in August.
Between January and June there were 22 use-of-force incidents involving 35 officers from a total of 2,767 arrests made during that period.
According to that report, the current statistics are tracking at about the same pace as last year, when there were 20 use-of-force incidents over the first six months of the year. In that same period in 2015, there were 19 use-of-force incidents.
It does not appear as though recently issued body cameras played a role in deterring such incidents, as they have in other communities around the country.
The Pasadena incidents in 2017 included 25 body strikes to an undisclosed number of unnamed suspects and six incidents involving the use of Taser guns. In one of those use-of-force incidents, an officer applied force to the carotid arteries of a suspect.
Writer Lance Wyndon contributed to this story.
To view the video, visit https://vimeo.com/245741350