The mother of a young man who suffered a broken leg at the hands of two Pasadena police officers said at Monday’s City Council meeting that no one from the city or the Police Department has reached out to her or her family.
“To hear my son crying out in pain and to see the officer beating him as he lay on the ground helpless, I am appalled. I am outraged. I am hurt,” said Sonya Ballew.
Officers stopped Christopher Ballew, 21, just before 8 p.m. on Nov. 9 at the Mobil gas station on Woodbury Road and north Fair Oaks Avenue, on the Altadena and Pasadena border.
Police maintain Ballew was pulled over that night for multiple traffic violations. A high-level unnamed source, however, told the Pasadena Weekly that he was really pulled for tinted windows.
According to state law, a narrow band at the top of the windshield can be tinted, as can windows behind the driver’s head. If the rear window is tinted, a vehicle is required to have a mirror on the passenger side. It was not immediately known where the tint was on the car that Ballew was driving.
Sometime after the police stop, an altercation between Ballew and the two unidentified officers broke out. The Altadena resident attempted to grab the baton of one of the officers and was punched several times in the head, then struck several times with that baton after he released it. He suffered a broken leg in the scuffle. Christopher Ballew posted the final 47 seconds of the incident on Facebook last week. It is not known who filmed it, or if they filmed the entire encounter. The owner of the gas station told the Weekly last week that his security tapes are wiped clean every week.
The NAACP and the Pasadena Weekly have requested the release of footage taped by police officers on their body-worn cameras. The Weekly has also requested the names of the police officers, the report prepared on the encounter and any footage taken from inside the police car under provisions of the state’s Public Records Act. So far, the city has not complied with either request.
The incident has renewed concerns expressed by police reform and civil rights advocates about excessive force used by police.
City Manager Steve Mermell announced at Monday’s City Council meeting that the city would release that footage, but noted the city did not have to do so.
“Since the release of the third-party video, there has been interest in this incident as well as requests for any video from the officers’ vehicle as well as from their body cameras,” said Mermell. “While the city is not obligated or required to release such recordings, it is my intention to do so in coming days, as I believe doing so is in the best interest of the city and that of the public.”
The video will most likely be posted on the city’s website for downloading, according to Public Information Officer William Boyer.
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.
The mayor and council members refrained from speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting, relying on Mermell to make any statements. Only Councilman Tyron Hampton spoke after Sonya Ballew’s statement to ask if she could be updated on the investigation, which led to Mermell’s comments.
Sonya Ballew said the three minutes usually afforded to speakers was not enough time to explain the damage the officer’s action had caused her family.
“Three minutes will not allow me to tell you how this has impacted me as a mother, how it has impacted my son, how it has impacted his father, how this has impacted his sister, how this has impacted his brothers, how this has impacted our community,” she told the council.
In the video, the scene picks up with Ballew struggling with the two officers outside of a vehicle over a police baton.
After being punched once on the side of the head, Ballew releases the baton as the two officers throw him to the ground, with one smashing his face into the asphalt.
One of the officers briefly brandishes his service revolver as his partner continues to punch Ballew in the head, but holstered his weapon without firing.
The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office decided not to file charges against Christopher Ballew, said District Attorney Spokesman Greg Risling.
“The case was declined for insufficient evidence,” Risling said.
The incident remains under investigation by the Pasadena Police Department.
Several people questioned the actions of the officers at Monday night.
“I have some very serious concerns about the level of force that was used against Christopher Ballew,” said former City Council Candidate Bryan Witt. “I am a former police officer. I have been in several violent encounters myself, but I have never punched a suspect. I would never continue striking a suspect under control. The last time I checked our courts are the ones that administer punishment, not our cops and this looks like punishment to me. It looks like a straight up butt whipping.”
Melissa Michelson called the incident horrible.
“It feels like this is racial profiling at its absolute worse. This gentleman’s only crime is being black,” said Michelson. “This kind of violence from the Pasadena Police Department is reprehensible. Admittedly I would expect this from the LAPD, but not from the Pasadena police.”
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.
Todd Jones, who lives near Ballew and his family, said the former John Muir High School student suffered a broken tibia, or shinbone, in the incident.
Jones called Ballew a “good kid from a good family.”
“These officers picked the wrong target for their hatred,” Jones told the Pasadena Weekly. “He is not out there with the gangs and I have not seen any type of bad activity. They are ideal neighbors in every way.”