Former Mayor Bill Paparian called on the city to stop doing business with an agency investigating a violent officer-involved incident because its contract was not reviewed by the City Council.

The Washington, DC-based National Police Foundation (NPF) is investigating the actions of Pasadena Police Officers Zacharay Lujan and Lerry Esparza in relation to the Nov. 9 arrest of African-American resident Christopher Ballew, who lives in nearby Altadena.

Ballew suffered a broken leg and a gash across his forehead at the hands of the police officers after he was followed into a gas station for excessive tint on his windows and not having a license plate on his vehicle.

The $74,999 contract with NPF is $1 beneath the threshold that would have forced the City Council to vote on the contract. By keeping it below that price, the contract did not come up for review or a vote by council members. 

Former Pasadena Police Chief and City Manager Bernard Melekian is chairman of the board of NPF. Melekian told the Pasadena Weekly last week that he will not be involved with the investigation, despite assertions by Paparian. (Please see related column on page 6.)

“As you are well aware, contracts that exceed $75,000 require City Council approval. Setting this one at $1 under that limit was a not so subtle attempt to evade legality,” Paparian wrote in an email to Mayor Terry Tornek, Vice-Mayor John Kennedy, City Manager Steve Mermell, City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris and the Pasadena Weekly.

The contract was signed by Interim Police Chief John Perez. Mermell was not a party to the contract. However, Perez told the Pasadena Weekly that he and Mermell discussed the contract after he signed it and that the city manager approved of the decision to hire the firm.

Mermell called NPF a “top-notch organization.”

“When I first became familiar with the Police Foundation I did not know our former police chief was on the board, but I have been told he has nothing to do with the day-to-day operations,” Mermell said.