A former Irvine deputy police chief who currently works as a consultant said the arrest of a 23-year old Altadena man brutalized following a traffic stop by the Pasadena gang unit was a “racially motivated pretext stop that went sideways.”
Jeffrey Noble has been retained as an expert witness by local attorney John Burton, who represents Christopher Ballew in a civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court against the city, the department and the two officers involved in the incident.
Ballew suffered contusions to his head and a broken leg after he was struck repeatedly with fists and a police baton during a traffic stop in November 2017. A portion of the encounter was captured on a cellphone camera by a passerby who later posted it to Facebook.
After examining 197 field interview cards completed by the gang unit, or Special Services Section (SES), Burton claims he found a disturbing trend of racial profiling that led Noble to his conclusion, which is contained in a declaration taken by Burton.
According to a profile in the Orange County Register at the time of his retirement in 2012, Noble is a 1985 Medal of Valor winner who has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Cal State, Long Beach, and a juris doctorate from Western State University College of Law. He is the author of “Managing Accountability Systems for Police Conduct: Internal Affairs and External Oversights,” and has written numerous articles for various law enforcement periodicals and journals.
According to Burton’s data, 43 Hispanic and 31 African-American motorists were told to get out of their cars during traffic stops in 2016, 2017 and the first half of 2018, while information about them was recorded by officers on field interview cards. Two white motorists were removed from their vehicles and subjected to field interviews during that time period. Fifteen of the people told to get out of their cars and sit on a curb while their vehicles were searched were arrested.
“You have to take it in a broader perspective other than just the numbers,” said Pasadena police spokesman Cmdr. Jason Clawson. “You have to consider the level of gun violence that year, the number of guns we recovered. There are a lot of factors involved, including the gang unit’s mission.”
According to Burton, “These data show that, with two exceptions, only black or Hispanic motorists were pulled over, and they almost never received a traffic citation, but were frequently subjected to the disgusting practice of ‘curbing,’” or forcing people out their cars and having them sit on curbs while their vehicles are searched, Burton said in an online post. “It is important to note that these traffic stops were based on race, and not on any criminal activity other than alleged traffic infractions.”
Officers with SES are responsible for the suppression of gang activity, according to city spokesperson Lisa Derderian. Derderian added that most of the city’s gangs are comprised of African Americans and Latinos and the contacts made by the gang unit would reflect people fitting those demographics.
Officers typically curb motorists while they search their vehicles. A vehicle cannot be legally searched unless a law enforcement official has probable cause to believe a crime has taken place.
“The arrest and other data were compiled by an expert witness paid for by Mr. Ballew’s attorney in litigation against the city,” Derderian said of Noble. “We cannot confirm the figures at this time. The conclusions are designed to favor the plaintiff’s litigation, not to objectively review the overall work of the department.”
According to the most recent US Census figures, white residents make up 54 percent of the city’s population, Latinos represent 33 percent and African Americans account for 19 percent of the population. According to Noble, whose remarks are contained in a declaration taken by Burton, the real purpose of what Burton calls unconstitutional pretext stops is to prepare field information cards on African-American and Hispanic motorists and search their vehicles and check for warrants.
Ballew, who has no gang affiliation, was stopped at a Mobil station in Altadena. A passerby used a cellphone to record Officers Lerry Esparza and Zachary Lujan slam Ballew’s head into the asphalt, punch him and repeatedly strike him in the legs with a metal baton.
The city is considering starting early on collecting detailed information regarding stops and searches, as will be required in 2022 by the Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015, or RIPA. City staff anticipates discussing RIPA at the City Council’s Public Safety Committee’s next meeting, currently scheduled for Wednesday, August 21.