Pasadena is not Ferguson. In contrast to the authorities in that shameful St. Louis suburb who reacted to peaceful protests over the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown by rolling out armored military vehicles, tear gas and battlefield weapons in an over-the-top show of force, Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez attempted to ease tensions surrounding the death of Kendrec McDade through dialogue, respect for organized protests and by calling for independent investigations.
In the three years since McDade was shot by officers Matthew Griffin and Jeffrey Newlen (who mistakenly believed the 19-year-old was armed), Chief Sanchez and his staff have worked to shore up fragile bridges of goodwill with the community. Unfortunately, the actions of the Pasadena Police Officers’ Association (PPOA), a union which functions independently of the department, are undermining those efforts at healing.
Police officers presented valid grievances recently when they marched on Pasadena City Hall and then addressed the City Council. Seven years of stagnant pay have chipped away at the officers’ morale, leading several to seek employment with other agencies. The PPOA was right to bring these issues before the city government but, from a community relations standpoint, the timing was lousy. It simply looks bad for the local police union to go out and demand higher pay while simultaneously blocking the release of the final independent report on the McDade tragedy. Adding to the appearance of callousness was the fact that the PPOA held its City Hall march one day after local clergy led a Palm Sunday rally with Kendrec McDade’s mother, Anya Slaughter, at the spot where her son was killed.
The report in question was compiled by the Office of Independent Review and was requested by Chief Sanchez over two years ago to ensure investigative objectivity. (Sanchez also invited the LA County District Attorney’s Office and the FBI to probe the incident.) The chief and the City Council agreed last year that the results of an investigation by the now-defunct Office of Independent Review Group (OIR) should be made public. But the PPOA argued in court that the report should be sealed because it contained personnel information, and therefore private information about the officers who shot McDade. When a judge ruled that a redacted version of the document (deleting the disputed personnel information) could be released, the PPOA secured yet another injunction preventing that from happening.
No doubt the police union believes that it is protecting the interests of its members by stopping the public from reading the OIR report on the McDade shooting. But, through its courtroom wrangling, the PPOA is prolonging our city’s pain and deepening the distrust that many residents harbor toward law enforcement. By standing in the way of releasing the OIR report, the union is feeding the old perception that police, when accused of wrongdoing, will unite behind a “code of silence.” This is particularly unfortunate given the sincere efforts that have been made by the chief and others to mend ties with the community. So, rather than aiding its members, the PPOA is likely making it more difficult for officers to do their jobs.
Ultimately, the police union should allow the OIR report to be opened because it is the right thing to do. Kendrec McDade’s parents have been awarded large cash settlements by the city of Pasadena, but their dark journey through grief cannot advance until they have the full facts about what happened the night their son lost his life. The OIR report is the final, necessary collection of said facts.
While it is unlikely that the report will challenge the district attorney’s conclusion that Officers Newlen and Griffin acted lawfully (recently published excerpts cite “tactical decisions that were not congruent with principles of officer safety” but do not imply that the officers erred in firing), the report is nonetheless crucial for young Mr. McDade’s loved ones — and the whole of Pasadena and Altadena with them — to achieve some semblance of closure.
For the benefit of law enforcement, our community and a grieving family, the Pasadena PPOA should move aside and allow the OIR report to be seen.