Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez has reassigned two controversial officers recently involved in a violent incident with an Altadena man that was caught on camera, the Pasadena Weekly learned just before going to press Wednesday.
When asked if he had taken the two officers involved off the street, Sanchez, who had previously determined the officers acted within policy, replied simply, “Yes, sir.”
When asked if they were put on desk duty or sent home, Sanchez did not respond.
Local activists are demanding that Officers Lerry Esparza and Zachary Lujan be fired based on videos showing the two officers punching 21-year old Christopher Ballew and striking him with a metal police baton numerous times following a traffic stop in November.
The beating has prompted a public uproar and the filing of a lawsuit against the city. In addition, the Altadena Town Council has formally asked Pasadena officials to not allow either officer to patrol that unincorporated area.
In a letter read into the record at Monday’s City Council meeting, Councilman John Kennedy, chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee, demanded more oversight of the Police Department.
“This is not someone else’s problem,” Kennedy said about current issues facing the department. “Community trust or lack thereof impacts everyone in Pasadena. When communities or populations do not trust the police, they become much less likely to report criminal conduct. That leaves our streets, our neighborhoods and our entire city less safe.”
In an unrelated case, On Friday, Lt. Vasken Gourdikian was suspended without pay after he was arraigned for allegedly selling weapons without a federal firearms license, owning an unregistered weapon and lying on federal firearms forms. Gourdikian, who is free on $100,000 bail, has pleaded not guilty to the three charges. Another officer has been placed on paid leave in connection with the federal gun-selling investigation. (Please see a related story on page 9)
Regarding Ballew, Kennedy revealed in his letter that City Manager Steve Mermell and Chief Sanchez reviewed the Ballew videos before the controversy began. “When I found out that the city manager had privately reviewed the Police Department-generated tapes of the Christopher Ballew altercation and the police chief had initially unilaterally concluded that the police officers acted within policy, I was stunned,” Kennedy said.
— André Coleman