A man who had his leg broken by police during a traffic stop told the Pasadena Weekly that he has been frequently pulled over by officers since he started driving about five years ago.
“It seems like every few weeks I get stopped,” said Christopher Ballew, 21. “Sometimes its minor stuff and sometimes it seems like harassment.”
Pasadena civil rights attorney John Burton has filed a claim for damages on behalf of Ballew against the city of Pasadena. The claim alleges that in the course of one such traffic encounter on Nov. 9 Pasadena police “battered, defamed, falsely arrested, falsely imprisoned” his client, as well as “intentionally inflicted emotional distress” on the Altadena resident
A claim for damages is usually the first step in filing a lawsuit against a public entity.
In the November incident, police patrolling near the city border with Altadena apparently noticed Ballew driving south on Fair Oaks Avenue in a Mercedes-Benz with tinted windows and no front license plate. Ballew pulled into a nearby gas station, got out of his car and started walking toward the Mobil station’s snack shop.
It was while on his way toward the shop that Ballew was confronted by officers who had pulled in behind his car. The officers started talking to Ballew. He stopped briefly and was then directed back toward the car. Within seconds, one officer was in front of him, and a scuffle turned into a takedown.
“When he was holding me down at the back of my neck, I was wondering if I was going to die,” Ballew said of one of the officers, Zachary Lujan. “I kept thinking about the worst thing they could do next and they kept doing it. I could have died. He [Lujan] pulled out the gun, but he didn’t pull the trigger.”
During the two-minute and six-second confrontation, recorded on a camera phone by both an unidentified person and later posted to Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, as well as body-camera footage taken by the officers that has recently been released by the city, the former John Muir basketball standout requested the presence of a commanding officer six times.
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Also during that time he was struck five times by Officer Lerry Esparza with a metal baton, punched four times in the head by Lujan, told to “shut the f–k up” twice, had a gun pointed at him, had his head rammed into the asphalt by Lujan, and suffered a broken bone, the fibula, in his left leg following three strikes of the baton to the back of his legs by Esparza.
“He will get his day in court,” Burton said of Ballew. “He’s going to get all the answers he wants.”
City officials have declined to talk about the case, with many of them only learning about it and the 47-second video shot by the unidentified witness through this newspaper.
The last formal statement made about the case came from City Manager Steve Mermell, who addressed Ballew’s angry mother and police reform advocates at the City Council’s Dec. 11 meeting saying body-cam footage recorded by Lujan and Esparza would be made public, which it was on Dec. 15. A total of six such videos, a mixture of body-cam and dashboard-cam footage, were released at that time.
At the gas station, the officers put their hands on Ballew and tried to place him in handcuffs. Ballew resisted as Lujan repeatedly hurled profanities at the Altadena resident demanding Ballew to give him his “f–king hands.”
Ballew was struck twice by Lujan after he pulled away from Esparza. He says he grabbed the baton to protect himself.
As a scuffle ensued, Lujan drew his service revolver, but holstered it because Esparza was too close to Ballew.
By then, Ballew had been knocked to the ground by Esparza and dropped the baton.
Esparza picked up the retractable metal baton and struck Ballew three times in the legs and ankles while his partner slammed Ballew’s head into the asphalt.
Although Ballew suffered a fractured fibula at some point during the encounter, he still stiffened up as police cuffed him.
“My leg hurts every day,” Ballew said. “I was in a lot of pain the first couple of days. I am still undergoing medical tests.”
Ballew said he has seen police on his street in Altadena several time since the incident occurred.
“Each time it makes me cringe,” Ballew said.