In a lawsuit filed on Friday, the lawyer of an Altadena motorist who suffered a broken leg during a traffic stop by two Pasadena police officers claims that race played a part in the incient.
Pasadena Attorney John Burton claims that the night police pulled over Christopher Ballew, 21, they were not stopping African Americans for traffic violations, but to “catalogue and detain them as potential gang members.”
Ballew was struck several times with a police baton and punched during a traffic incident for excessive window tint and not having a front license plate. He suffered a broken leg in the encounter which was captured on video by a passerby. The city later released six videos of the incident captured by dash cams of other police vehicles at the scene.
“Zachary Lujan and Lerry Esparza were directed to use various pretexts, including trivial and common vehicle equipment violations such as tinted windows and missing front license plates, for traffic stops,” Burton wrote in the complaint.
The suit also names Mayor Terry Tornek, Police Chief Phillip Sanchez and City Manager Steve Mermell.
According to the complaint, city officials were “deliberately indifferent” when they allowed Lujan and Esparza to laterally transfer into the department from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Bakersfield Police Department.
Lujan worked in the county’s jail system that came under fire several years ago for beating prisoners. Esparza worked in Bakersfield
From 2003 to 2008 the BPD was under investigation by the US Department of Justice, although ultimately no prosecutions resulted.
Lujan and Esparza were patrolling near the city border with Altadena when they 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, and was confronted by the officers who had pulled in behind his car.
During the two-minute and six-second confrontation, the former John Muir basketball standout requested the presence of a commanding officer six times.
Also during that time he was struck five times by 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..
“While the causes of police brutality are complex,” Burton wrote. “There is no doubt that in this particular incident anti-black animus played a major role in the reasons for the initial contact and in the officers’ extreme reactions to Mr. Ballew’s reasonable, forseeable, and fully understandable responses to the unwarranted police aggression.”