Do some civic-minded math and you’ll find that in Pasadena it is rare when two and two actually adds up to four.
Take last year’s brutal police beating of motorist Christopher Ballew for example. A report by an outside expert hired by the Pasadena City Attorney determined that the two officers who beat the young man in a gas station parking lot at this time last year did so with “reasonable force.”
Watch the video and you will be reminded of the joke about the abusive and cheating husband who is confronted by his wife after she finds lipstick on his collar. When she presses him as to how it got there, and asks if he’s having an affair, the husband denies it. Instead he asks, “Who are you going to believe? Me, or your lying eyes?”
So now we have a report.
The report to City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris comes from Robert Fonzi, a former San Bernardino County undersheriff and use-of-force expert retained by the city. It will make up part of the city’s defense in federal court, where city officials including Mayor Terry Tornek, the two officers (identified as Zachary Lujan and Lerry Esparza) and former Chief Phillip Sanchez are defendants.
The National Police Foundation (NPF), an organization whose board is chaired by former Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian, was recently hired by the city to investigate the incident.
Clearly the city has no incentive to discipline these officers if Bagneris is defending them in court. That would be counter-productive.
During my 12 years of service as a Pasadena elected public official and in the years since, I was well known as a strong advocate for public safety. My history with the Pasadena Police Department goes back almost 40 years to the early 1980s. When Don McIntyre was city manager I served on the Crime Advisory Committee and I was on the Police Chief Selection Advisory Committee when Jim Robison was appointed police chief.
I was on the bond committee that helped secure the funding for our new police headquarters building. During a time of budgetary restraints I pushed hard for full staffing of our Police Department and for salaries in the upper 25 percent of comparable jurisdictions.
And over the objection of my constituents who were concerned about the noise from gunfire, I made sure that the Eaton Canyon shooting range was kept open so that our police officers could maintain the highest standards in lethal force training under the watchful eye of range master Jack Preston. We even secured federal funding to install a sound baffling system to mitigate the sound of gunfire.
As a city councilman and mayor of Pasadena, I established the Public Safety Committee, was its first chairperson, and advocated for civilian oversight of the Police Department.
There was a time when our Police Department was a model for other departments to follow. During Robison’s tenure new police officers were subjected to an intense psychological evaluation to ensure that only mature and well-balanced recruits earned the badge of a police officer for our city. Sadly, our Police Department is no longer a shining example for others. The recent scandals that have befallen our Police Department have taken a toll on its once stellar reputation. The former police chief’s adjutant will be sentenced next month in federal court for illicit trafficking in firearms, and the police chief himself was forced to resign when it was revealed by this newspaper that he was aware of the illegal gun sales and did nothing to stop it.
The situation with the Ballew case is the best example of why civic involvement and oversight is so important. Otherwise, two and two will always be whatever the city wants you to believe it is. The bottom line is that the city has a conflict of interest when it represents the interests of Officers Esparza and Lujan and not the interests of those like Mr. Ballew.
No reasonable person who has seen the video can walk away with the conclusion that Ballew’s beating was justified. But who are you going to believe? The city, or your lying eyes?
Attorney William Paparian is a former mayor of Pasadena