Local attorney and former Mayor Bill Paparian is calling on the US Department of Justice to investigate the Pasadena Police Department.
Paparian’s request comes on the heels of outrage expressed by activists and community members regarding the Nov. 9 videotaped police beating of motorist Christopher Ballew.
“Unfortunately, there are unbridled rogue elements within the department that have been allowed to run amok in our community because of a ‘we are the police and we can do whatever we want’ philosophy,” Paparian wrote.
Last year, Paparian represented Michelle Rodgers, who won a $300,000 settlement from the city after her brother Sgt. Michael Bugh allegedly abused his power and had her falsely arrested, according to a lawsuit filed by Paparian and fellow attorney John Burton of Pasadena. The siblings were feuding over the estate of their mother, who suffered from dementia.
Police are also looking into Lt. Vasken Gourdikian who is under investigation by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for allegedly selling “off roster” weapons, or those that the public cannot possess.
In the Ballew case, police patrolling near the city border with Altadena apparently noticed Ballew driving in a Mercedes-Benz sedan with tinted windows and no front license plate. Officers followed Ballew to a nearby gas station and soon afterward a scuffle broke out between him and the officers. Ballew was struck repeatedly with a metal baton by Officer Lerry Esparza and punched several times by Esparza’s partner Zachary Lujan. The final 47 seconds of that encounter were recorded on cell phone by someone nearby. City Manager Steve Mermell later released six videos, including one of the officer’s body worn camera footage and dashcam video of the incident.
But that footage only added to community beliefs that Ballew’s civil rights were violated.
“Rather than stifle the outcry, the release fed the growing and righteous outrage. In large part that’s because the officers involved should have been suspended for their brutal and uncalled-for conduct,” Paparian wrote.
“Not only is it becoming clear that won’t happen, but it seems that any subsequent internal affairs investigation will be a mere charade. We’ve seen it before,” the former mayor stated.
“At this point, only an investigation by Department of Justice will help begin the healing process.”