In its 2018 report, the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury (CGJ) expressed dismay over the lack of civilian oversight boards in local police departments.
“The absence of civilian oversight in 44 of the 46 law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County is a problem and should be an issue of great concern,” states the report, which was released June 30.
Currently, only the Long Beach and Los Angeles police departments, along with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, have civilian oversight.
Each year, the grand jury decides which topics to investigate. They invite experts and government officials to speak and visit local government agencies. The grand jury has investigative powers over operations, accounts and records of local government, including county, cities and school districts.
The report also takes several departments to task, among them Pasadena, for forcing people to sign complaint forms against police officers under the penalty of perjury if they make false statements.
“Some individuals may be reluctant to file a complaint for fear of reprisal from the officer or officers they are complaining against or the police department itself,” the report states. “Ideally, the complaint form and process should not in any way intimidate or discourage persons from making complaints.”
The grand jury examined police departments in Pasadena, Bell Gardens, Burbank, Culver City, El Monte, Glendale, Inglewood, Pomona, San Fernando, South Gate, Torrance and West Covina.
Of the 12 departments reviewed by the grand jury, only Pasadena and Glendale have complaint forms that contain perjury warnings.
Forms in Torrance and South Gate include warnings that false statements could lead to prosecution and the complaint form in West Covina warns that officers and civilians could be required to take a polygraph during the investigation of a complaint against a police officer.
The grand jury recommended all 12 cities comply with a requirement to provide written notification to the complaining party of the disposition of the complaint within 30 days. Pasadena does comply with the requirement 78 percent of the time.
The CGJ also called on all 12 departments to develop websites that would allow complaints to be taken online.
City officials were scheduled to respond to the report this week via a formal letter. As of press time, Mayor Terry Tornek had not signed off on the letter.
The matter was also scheduled to be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.
“As a progressive city, appropriate civilian oversight of the Pasadena Police Department must be viewed in that context, without a federal judge ordering it,” said Councilman and committee Chair John Kennedy. “What is needed is leadership, and best-in-class policies, not more studies.”
Kennedy has been the council’s leading proponent of civilian oversight of police.
“The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department enjoys civilian oversight because the Board of Supervisors passed legislation requiring reasonable oversight,” Kennedy said.
Activists have been calling for civilian oversight of the Pasadena department since the 1991 beating of Altadena motorist Rodney King in Lake View Terrace.
After that effort failed, then-Police Chief Jerry Oliver started a citizens’ police academy, a 12-week class designed to provide participants with an inside look at police operations while promoting the principles of community policing.
The call for civilian oversight of police went out again following the death of local barber Michael Bryant. In 1993.Bryant led police from San Marino, Pasadena and Los Angeles on a high-speed pursuit that ended in Highland Park. Bryant got out of his car, climbed a hillside and jumped into a swimming pool to avoid arrest. While he was in the water, police officers used their Tasers to shock him.
Police reports later stated Bryant was struck several times by police batons, according to a Los Angeles Times article. Pasadena police claimed local officers did not strike Bryant, but helped him to the police car.
Bryant was hogtied and placed on his stomach in the car’s backseat and died a short time later. Bryant was overweight, out of shape and high on cocaine at the time of the incident. Bryant’s family was awarded a $1.5 million settlement from the city of Los Angeles.
After his death, more than 100 people demanded an independent investigation.
In 2005, Bernard Melekian, when he was chief of police in Pasadena, opposed calls for more civilian oversight in the aftermath of the officer-involved deaths of Maurice Clark and LaMont Robinson.
The call for more accountability came up again in 2009 after officers shot and killed Leroy Barnes after Barnes exited the backseat of a vehicle with a weapon during a traffic stop.
Three years later, the calls resurfaced after Officers Matthew Griffin and Jeffrey Newlen shot and killed unarmed teenager Kendrec McDade after 911 caller Oscar Carrillo Gonzales told police that he had been robbed at gunpoint by McDade and a juvenile at a taco stand in Northwest Pasadena.
After McDade was fatally shot officers discovered he was unarmed.
According to a 2016 poll “Community Perceptions of Policing in Pasadena,” African Americans by far had the most negative perceptions of local police. Seventy-percent of those polled said they believed police engaged in racial profiling. Sixty percent of black respondents said they believed police stopped people for no good reason. Fifty-three percent found verbal and physical abuse to be a problem, and 37 percent said they found offensive language to be an issue during encounters with local officers.
Interim Police Chief John Perez told the Pasadena Weekly that the grand jury report “details the best practices on how the Pasadena Police Department can do better in serving the Pasadena community.”
“We take the grand jury recommendations seriously and move to enhance our complaint process for sheer equity of all the stakeholders,” Perez said. “Certain recommendations have been or will be put into place while others need further examination on how to better satisfy the recommendations moving forward.”
This past year at least two people filed claims that later appeared to be false based on camera footage provide by the police.
On July 17, the city released footage of a 2016 police stop involving Sharell Thompson, 43, and her daughter Sharaya Brown, 22.
After the stop the women claimed that Thompson was forced to show her breasts and Brown was fondled and molested during a “nightmare of a traffic stop.”
But dashboard camera footage released in July did not appear to substantiate the claims of misconduct.
In July 2017, Kelvin Jankins said he was “threatened, assaulted, battered” and subjected to excessive force, which left him physically and mentally injured. Body worn camera footage contradicted Jankins claim.
“The CGJ’s goals were to increase the availability and acceptance of citizen complaints; insure that timely and appropriate investigations occurred; assess that compliance with the citizen complaint process was being followed and to insure that logging and tracking measures were in place to identify problem officers early. This can potentially prevent more serious problems in the future.
“It was the CGJ’s desire to improve transparency and oversight, and thus police conduct.”
This year there have been six complaints against officers for excessive force. That number is down from 19 last year.