One of the great things about this country is that everyone has the right to say and write what they want no matter how wrong they might be. Such is the case with the May 3 Opinion article by Bill Paparian. His willingness to cherry pick facts and tell half-truths in an effort to vilify the Pasadena Police Department, its personnel and a chief of police who retired almost 10 years ago speaks volumes to his character.
He wrote of “well-publicized acts of police brutality, criminality and other questionable behaviors that occurred during a gruesome beating that resulted in the death of Reginald Thomas, Jr.” The only accurate information in his statement is that it was well-publicized.
The facts of the Thomas case are well established and the police personnel were found to have acted appropriately and within policy by multiple investigations, both internal and external. The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner/Coroner determined Thomas’ use of methamphetamine and PCP, combined with police use of restraints and Tasers were contributing factors in his death.The Thomas family hired their own board-certified pathologist for a second opinion. He opined that Thomas died as a result of police restraints and Taser use.“Whether the meth and PCP found in Thomas’ system contributed to his death is speculative …,” he wrote. There is no mention of blunt force trauma or anything that could be remotely associated with a “gruesome beating.”
Regarding the incident with Christopher Ballew, Paparian stated the officers “administered a beating to Christopher Ballew.” There is no doubt there was a violent confrontation between Mr. Ballew and the police, but unlike Paparian I will wait for the investigation to be completed before I pass judgment on potential inappropriate behavior by the police officers.
But what I do know, and what everyone else including Mr. Paparian knows, is that the officers conducted a legal traffic stop on Mr. Ballew for legitimate violations of the Vehicle Code; that Mr. Ballew exited the car and walked away from the officers all the while ignoring their requests to stop; and that when the officers did catch up to him and contact him he resisted every step ofthe way.A struggle ensued which resulted with Mr. Ballew wrestling a baton away from one of the officers and the resulting use of force.Just like with the Thomas case, had Mr. Ballew complied with the officers’ requests there would have been no struggle, no fight and no use of force.
Mr. Paparian mentions other cases of note and spins the facts to fit his own narrative, which is that the Police Department is out of control and long retired Police Chief Bernard Melekian is to blame.He alleges, among other things, that Chief Melekian was “the man who set the tone for the PPD to become an occupying and oppressive force in some of Pasadena’s poorer communities.” Occupying and oppressive force! Is he serious? And yet he derided the decision by Interim Chief John Perez to have an independent review of police practices conducted by the nationally recognized National Police Foundation (NPF), implying that because Bernard Melekian is a highly placed member of the NPF it couldn’t possibly conduct a fair and unbiased review.
Herein is what I believe to be the crux of the matter. Mr. Paparian used the PW Opinion page for the express purpose of conducting a character attack on Melekian, and laid his foundation by using current and ancient incidents involving the Police Department. However, to do so he had to cherry pick facts, omit pertinent information that would have disproven his arguments, and use inflammatory language to foster divisiveness.And, in my opinion, he did this because of a personal animosity he harbors for Chief Melekian that dates back many years to when Mr. Paparian was a Pasadena City Council member.
The Pasadena Police Department is a fine organization, and the men and women who work there are skilled professionals dedicated to the safety and wellbeing of all who reside, work and visit.Do they make mistakes?Occasionally, yes. They are human, after all. But I have never met an officer who took joy in the fact that he or she was involved in a shooting, much less had to take a life.I have never met an officer who started his shift hoping to be involved in a use-of-force incident.And, I have never met an officer who relished the idea of being involved in an incident where their every action will be painstakingly examined and scrutinized for months, if not years to come.
But I have met officers who have risked their lives for the sake of others.I have met officers who cried at the sight of a dead child or at the scene of a depression induced suicide at the Colorado Street Bridge.And, I have met officers who, although they are facing excruciating levels of internal and external examination, go to work each and every day with the sole desire to be the best police officer they can be.If it is true that you’re judged by the company you keep, then I am very comfortable with those who judge me.
Keith Jones is a retired lieutenant with the Pasadena Police Department.