Pasadena police recently made public nine video clips recorded on body cameras worn by police officers and four 911 calls involving the fatal officer-involved shooting of Daniel Warren last May in Northwest Pasadena.
In the videos, released on Sept. 3, Warren, 36, is dressed in a tactical vest and can be heard screaming at police as he ignores eight commands to drop his automatic weapon before he pointed the gun at police. The officers responded by fatally wounding Warren behind a residence on Glen Avenue.
The video marks the third time this year that Pasadena Police Chief John Perez has released images of an officer-involved shooting (OIS) incident. That’s a far cry from seven years ago when then-City Manager Michael Beck refused to release the results an independent investigation or police cruiser images of the fatal police shooting of unarmed 19-year-old Kendrec McDade, despite cries from activists and the media that more information be made public.
A redacted copy of a report on the McDade OIS investigation was eventually ordered released by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant after the city changed its tune in court and announced that it supported the public’s calls to see results of the McDade shooting probe, leaving only the Pasadena Police Officers Association to oppose its release.
“The issue is leadership,” said Councilman John Kennedy, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee. “Chief John Perez is the police executive needed for a time such as this. He is as transparent as he can be with the assistance of City Attorney Michele Bagneris and City Manager Steve Mermell,” Kennedy said. “John Perez is holding his department to a higher standard. That is good for the community and good for the women and men we call upon to do the right thing in every instance.”
Since being hired earlier this year, Perez, who has spent his entire law enforcement career with the Pasadena department, has formed a citizen police advisory commission and enacted policy that mandates the department to release critical body-worn camera images within 45 days.
Perez’s policy went into effect while the state Legislature was still trying to decide policy mandating the release of police body cam images, a policy which is now a law that went into effect on July 1.
“We were out in front of the law by a year,” Perez, who served as interim chief from December 2018 to when he was sworn in as permanent chief the following February, told the Pasadena Weekly.
“Our goal is to get it out to the community … I want our communities to support us when we go through these incidents and hold us accountable,” Perez said.
In 2016, under former Chief Phillip Sanchez, the department’s 275 officers began wearing body cameras, which officers are prohibited from tampering with.
Officers can delay the release of the images if an investigation is ongoing. However, that did not stop Perez from releasing the Warren clips, even though the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department are still investigating the shooting.
“We didn’t see any type of nexus not to release the information,” said Pasadena police Cmdr. Jason Clawson, who serves as an adjunct to the chief. “Even if the video does not put the officer in a good light we have to release it. It’s greater transparency for the department.”
Besides the Warren OIS, the department also released images in July of a shooting in May in which police fired at a van on Woodbury Road near the Mountain View Cemetery after the unidentified teen driver drove toward the officers.
In January, clips of a shooting incident involving alleged gang member Brandon Green and police on Green Street and Raymond Avenue, near Castle Green, were released less than a month after it occurred. No one was hurt in either of those incidents.
‘THE MAJOR CONCERN’
The videos of those incidents have led some to question what material the department chooses to release.
“The release of body cam videos of critical incidents, as the law now requires, is a welcome move toward greater transparency of policing,” said Kris Ockershauser, a member of the Coalition for Independent Civilian Oversight of the Pasadena Police (CICOPP).
But, she asked, “Is the department releasing all of the critical incidents on body cams or does it pick and choose which ones to release? We don’t know. Could there be a catalogue of all incidents and which videos have been released available to the public?”
Ockershauser said she is now concerned that the cameras could be used to deny rights instead of protect them.
“The major concern in civil liberties and civil rights organizations now is attaching facial recognition technology to body cams,” she said. “The cameras arose as a device to keep the police honest. They now are often seen as a good defense tool for police behavior, and facial recognition with racially suspect algorithms would turn them into tools to survey the public and keep the videos on file forever.”
Ockershauser said the city still needs an independent police auditor with subpoena power.
“Unfortunately, the city has not been supportive” of that idea, she said.
But even before the department adopted the new policy, the city was already beginning to release body-worn camera clips of controversial incidents, with mixed results.
In December, City Manager Mermell announced that he was publicly releasing cruiser dashboard camera and body-worn camera clips of a violent police stop involving 21-year-old Christopher Ballew of Altadena. The images revealed Ballew was repeatedly punched, struck with a metal baton and at one point had his face slammed into the asphalt of the gas station parking lot where the struggle occurred.
On Mermell’s order, the city released six videos, including clips from the dashboard camera of two of the officers involved, as well as that from other officers who responded to the scene.
Officers Zachary Lujan and Lerry Esparza, who were involved in the incident, are currently on desk duty pending the results of an internal affairs investigation, which remains ongoing. Ballew is presently suing the city, the department and the two officers in federal court.
Shortly after that incident, word began leaking out about another Ballew-like situation involving a motorist. In January, city officials moved to quell those rumors and conducted a media briefing at Pasadena police headquarters to play a 911 recording and show police clips of the 2017 police stop and arrest of Kelvin Jankins of Altadena. Jankins filed a lawsuit claiming police falsely arrested him after an unreasonable search and seizure. The claim further stated officers and city jailers “threatened, assaulted, battered” and subjected Jankins to excessive force, which left him physically and mentally injured after he was taken into custody following a traffic stop on Navarro Avenue, near Howard Street.
Police appeared to follow procedure in the video, which did not show Jankins being assaulted by officers.
In July 2018, the city released a clip of the 2016 police stop of two women who claimed they were fondled, molested and forced to show their breasts to Pasadena police officers. The clips did not substantiate the women’s claims.
MORE TO DO
Calls for the transparency and citizen accountability in the Pasadena Police Department date back to the 1993 death of Michael Bryant, who, according to a coroner’s report, died of “cocaine intoxication and asphyxiation from restraint procedures.”
Bryant, a popular local barber, was first followed by San Marino police on his way to the 110 Freeway. By the time he got there, Pasadena police were also on his tail. Eventually LAPD got involved. Bryant, who was overweight and out of shape, pulled off the road, climbed a hill, hopped a fence and jumped in a pool, which police from the three agencies surrounded. Exhausted from the chase, he was ultimately Tasered, pulled from the pool, hogtied and placed face down in the back of a police car, where he died. His family members sued the city, accepting a $1.5 million settlement.
Calls for transparency grew in intensity in 2004 after two officer-involved fatal incidents involving 30-year-old Lamont Robinson, who was suspected of having cocaine in his mouth and was choked into unconsciousness and later died, and Maurice Clark, also 30, who was shot to death by police returning his fire, which came from a gun that fell out of his pants as he was fleeing officers. Clark was killed two weeks after Robinson lost consciousness, leading to his death.
In the McDade shooting, the city in 2014 settled separate lawsuits filed against the city by the teen’s parents for just more than $1 million, $850,000 of which went to his mother
But shortly after McDade was killed in March 2012, technology and social media would catch up to demands for more openness. Police body cams became widely available over the past five years, and clips of police brutality began appearing on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, leading to the dismissal and criminal conviction of several police officers around the country.
“It’s the job of the whole City Council to hold the City Manager responsible and in turn he ensures that the Police Chief is leading with integrity and excellence. I am pleased with the progress,” said Kennedy. But, he said, “There is more to do.”