The mother of a man who suffered a broken leg at the hands of Pasadena police officers during an altercation at a gas station will speak at 6:30 p.m. tonight, Jan. 4, at the NAACP Pasadena Branch office, 595 Lincoln Ave., Pasadena.
Sonya Ballew will be joined at the meeting by members of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police (CICOPP) and Pasadenans and Altadenans Against Police Violence.
This is the second time the Altadena resident has spoken out since her 21-year-old son Christopher was punched four times by Pasadena police Officer Zachary Lujan and struck five times with a metal baton by his partner, Officer Lerry Esparza, during a Nov. 9 incident in the parking lot of a gas station located on the Pasadena and Altadena border.
Video of the incident, which surfaced on Christopher Ballew’s Facebook page on Dec. 4, has since been seen in other countries, including Australia and England.
“To hear my son crying out in pain and to see the officer beating him as he lay on the ground helpless, I’m completely appalled,” Sonya Ballew said during the public comment portion of the Pasadena City Council’s Dec. 11 meeting.
“I’m [not] sure what the reason for the violence was, but I can make a lot of assumptions about what I saw based on
the video,” she said.
Participants in the meeting at the NAACP headquarters are being encouraged to make their concerns known at the Jan. 8 City Council meeting.
“The residents of Altadena and Pasadena have had enough of Pasadena Police Department’s extreme force and violence,” Pasadenans and Altadenans Against Police Violence, a recently formed group consisting of several dozen people and headed by residents Joyce Perry and Melissa Michelson, stated on its Facebook page. “We will attend the City Council meeting and let them know during public comment period.”
At that meeting, members of all three groups are expected to demand Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell take several steps, including directing Police Chief Phillip Sanchez to impose maximum discipline on all officers involved in the physical altercation with Ballew, including termination.
The groups also want Sanchez to seek independent investigations of use-of-force incidents and review and revise Police Department policies on the use of force, racial profiling and investigatory stops.
The three groups are also expected to call for a permanent independent police auditor with subpoena power.
On Nov. 9, police, heading north on Fair Oaks Avenue into Altadena, made a U-turn in the middle of the street after seeing Ballew drive south toward Pasadena in a white Mercedes-Benz sedan with tinted windows and no front license plate.
The former John Muir High School basketball standout pulled into the Mobil gas station at the corner of Fair Oaks Avenue and Woodbury Road, got out of his car and started walking toward the station’s snack shop when Esparza and Lujan, who pulled into the gas station behind him, confronted him.
After Ballew was directed back toward his car, a scuffle ensued and Ballew was taken down to the ground, with Lujan holding him face down on the asphalt.
“When he was holding me down at the back of my neck, I was wondering if I was going to die,” Ballew told the Pasadena Weekly. “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.”
After continuously requesting a commanding officer, Ballew was twice told to “shut the f–k up.” After officers lifted him off the ground with one handcuff on his wrist, Ballew pulled away and was struck twice by Esparza with a metal baton. Ballew grabbed the weapon in what he described as an effort to prevent Esparza from hitting him further.
Lujan punched Ballew in the side of the head and the baton fell to the ground. At that moment, Esparza drew his weapon and pointed it at Ballew before holstering it, while Lujan rammed Ballew’s head into the asphalt and then continued to punch Ballew on the side of his head.
After holstering his weapon, Esparza picked up the baton and began striking Ballew’s legs and ankles. Ballew suffered a broken fibula in his left leg following three strikes.
Body-worn camera footage filmed by Lujan, as well as footage from the dashboard cameras of those and other officers who showed up at the scene have been uploaded to Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. All police footage of the incident was made public upon the order of Mermell. It is not known who shot the 47-second cell phone camera footage that first appeared on Facebook on Dec. 4.
Perry told the Pasadena Weekly she can’t watch the video because it is so horrifying. Perry has been talking to local residents in Northwest Pasadena and gathering stories about encounters between police and local residents.
“I have heard so many stories of problems between people and the Pasadena Police Department,” she said.
According to her, stories include those of harassment, abuse of power, use of racial slurs including the n-word, use of force, and accusing women of selling their bodies.
“Sadly, there are no videos of these incidents,” she said.
The Ballew video has been viewed nearly 6,000 times on Ballew’s Facebook page.
“We believe the release of the tapes shows that Chris Ballew was only acting in self-defense and not resisting arrest and the whole line of the city has been that he was resisting is a phony explanation,” said local civil rights attorney and CICOPP member Dale Gronemeier. “These are rogue police officers and their conduct deserves the strongest condemnation. If there was not a citizen video, I am not sure we would have ever seen these videos.”
The citizen video only contains the final 47 seconds of the physical encounter.
The body-worn camera footage appears to show the entire physical encounter.
One clip of several police officers talking after Ballew was taken into custody contains no audio in the opening minute.
There is also no audio during the dashboard camera video shot from inside the police cruiser that shows Ballew’s car heading south on Fair Oaks Avenue.
Esparza and Lujan are lateral transfers from other police departments. Esparza came to Pasadena 11 months ago from Bakersfield, and Lujan joined the department in 2015. A lateral transfer keeps them at their current rank after entering the department from another agency.
It is not known if either officer underwent additional training to prepare them for their jobs in Pasadena.
The city has made no official statement about the case since Mermell addressed Ballew’s angry mother and police reform advocates at the City Council’s Dec. 11 meeting, saying available body-cam footage would be made public.
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 Pasadena police “battered, defamed, falsely arrested, falsely imprisoned” his client, as well as “intentionally inflicted emotional distress” on the Altadena resident. .