$500,000 BLM Settlement Report | South Pasadena Conducting “Organizational Assessments”

PHOTO: Staff | The South Pasadenan News | South Pasadena City Hall on Mission Street
PHOTO: Staff | The South Pasadenan News | South Pasadena City Hall on Mission Street

Black Lives Matter protesters Fahren James and Victoria Patterson have settled their civil rights lawsuit against the City of South Pasadena and five of its police officers. Terms were not made public but are exclusively monetary, said plaintiff attorney V. James DeSimone of Marina Del Rey. He said he hopes the city will still implement a slate of reforms his clients sought that were left out of the settlement, including one that the City review the social media of current and prospective police officers.

James and Patterson will share a $500,000 payout in the case over how police officers responded to their complaints against BLM opponents Richard Cheney and Joe Richcreek, who in separate incidents confronted them during demonstrations organized here by James and her brother London Lang in the summer and fall of 2020 in response to the murder of George Floyd.

FILE PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | BLM Organizers/ protesters Fahren James, and Victoria Patterson

Deputy City Manager Domenica Megerdichian said the City insurer will pick up the entire cost of the settlement. But she did not address the issue of whether the City would consider any of the reforms demanded by the plaintiffs, noting they were not included in the settlement.

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Meantime James and Patterson’s civil rights claim against Cheney, which was the subject of a failed mediation session, was not resolved and is set for trial next September. Richcreek was not sued but accepted a plea on two counts of misdemeanor assault.

SCREENCAP from video taken by Victoria Patterson | The assaulter, Joe Luis Richreek, spits at the camerawoman. Richcreek has been arrested 40 times and convicted of at least 20 crimes in the past years

“The City’s policy department “turned a blind eye to the attackers and worse took their side,” Patterson said in a statement. “The significant monetary award is an obvious acknowledgment of the personal harm the City’s police force inflicted on us for exercising our right to protest for racial justice and police accountability, However, the City has thus far made no commitment to change any of its practices to ensure that what happened to us cannot happen again. Nor has it taken any steps to reign in the documented bias in its police force. We continue to demand that it do both of these things.”

James did not issue a statement but DeSimone said “we took this case for accountability because we observed what was going on and how the South Pasadena police force treated James and the stream of hate crimes directed against her.” He said the amount of the settlement shows police “did not respond appropriately” to the hate crimes or in the subsequent decision-making about whether to arrest or press charges against Cheney and Richcreek.

“We think it is important that [the reform requests] be considered and implemented,” DeSimone added.

The detailed list of reforms sought are summarized as follows:

  • Establishment of a complaint hotline and community review process aimed at “improv[ing] public trust in South Pasadena Police Department”;
  • Mandatory use and activation of police body cameras and the recording of all phone calls between police officers and members of the public;
  • Including, as part of an ongoing review the City is doing of its police department, background checks for current and prospective police officers that include their social media accounts and “any other public records, to assess any bias they may have” that would subject them to action under the City’s Bias-Based Police Policy and the recently passed California Law Enforcement Accountability Reform Act;
  • Creation and funding of a “support space for unhoused communities in the City”;
  • Annual hosting and funding of a set of Black History Month activities; and
  • Publication of a set of apologies, acknowledgements and pledges with respect to specific acts and omissions attributed to the City and its officers in connection with the events leading to the litigation.

Patterson claims up to a half dozen SPPD officers were “known by the city council to be affiliated with the Oath Keepers,” though DeSimone acknowledged no such finding was stipulated as part of the litigation. Patterson also asserted that none of the police officers involved have been disciplined, a matter on which the City says it cannot comment, though its own investigation “sustained” 21 of 53 complaints filed against nine police officers over events during the BLM demonstrations.

In a separate lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles, James has alleged civil rights violations against police officers there. DeSimone, who also represents James in that case, said during BLM demonstrations in Los Angeles, James was shot by police and still has a metallic object lodged in her abdomen as a result. He said the City of Los Angeles “has not been readily settling” cases stemming from BLM demonstrations there and that trial in James’s case is currently set for February 2024.

Meantime Megerdichian said the city manager’s assessment of the South Pasadena police department, one of several assessments the City has undertaken of its various departments and divisions, is ongoing. The assessments are “organizational assessments” that review “staffing, workflows, policy review, industry best practices, etc. and brings forth actionable recommendations.” She said a presentation and final report to the community and Council on the SPPD assessment is expected no later than August. “In the coming weeks, the consultant will be conducting community outreach and input via listening sessions and surveys,” she added.

Coverage of the demonstrations & protests: CLICK HERE


Ben Tansey
Ben Tansey is a journalist and author. He grew up in the South Bay and is a graduate of Evergreen State College. He worked in Washington State as a reporter in a rural timber community and for many years as an editor for a Western electric energy policy publication based in Seattle.