There was time she wasn’t a big fan, highly critical of law enforcement looking back on her early childhood.
“I really never liked cops,” said Jessie Cleveland, a longtime South Pasadena resident, reflecting on a turn of events occurring about a month of go that helped to change her view. “I grew up in East Los Angeles and all I saw was nothing but violence from them.”
Expressing deep-seated concerns about police officers long ago hardly mirrors the feelings she now has for them in her hometown today, based on a recent positive experience she likes to share with anyone willing to listen.
Cleveland, a senior, who doesn’t drive, depending instead on the city’s dial-a-ride program to move about for scheduled doctor’s appointments, shopping and other needs, recently relayed an incident involving the local police to Sean Freizer, a warm-hearted, friendly individual always willing to go the extra-mile for those he greets daily. Friezer just happens to be one of the most sought after dial-a-ride drivers Cleveland depends on most to get her from point A to point B during the day.
On board one of his buses, she told Friezer about the day South Pasadena Police Department Sergeant Matt Ronnie, joined by two other officials, came knocking at her door with the aid she so desperately needed.
“I’ve been telling this story to everyone I can,” said Cleveland. “I had to tell Sean, one of the kindest people I know. I also told the people on the dial-a-ride bus the other day because when this thing happened I was just so shocked. I’m so pleased and grateful. It was just so sweet. It’s just such a wonderful thing, so, so nice.”
It happened during a 10-day stretch of intense heat that had been gripping California with the most severe high temperatures ever recorded in September, as cities up-and-down the state set new record highs. Thermometer readings hit as high as 106 degrees in South Pasadena.
Cleveland, who lives alone in a second story condominium in the 1000 block of Magnolia Street, did everything possible to stay cool, avoiding the use of an old air conditioning unit that requires Freon, an odorless gas that can lead to respiratory difficulties and other harmful health conditions.
“It never gets this bad,” she said of the sizzling conditions. “It really doesn’t. I opened up the windows, usually get a little breeze and I’m okay, but it really didn’t do much good. I had a really hot Sunday on my hands.”
Even with concerns of using Freon, a sweltering Cleveland went to turn on the air conditioner, but it didn’t work. Splashing around in a bathroom tub full of cold water has served as a usual reliable source of relief in the past but, with the state facing an ongoing drought, she refrained from that practice. So, the idea was nixed.
“I was so hot, I felt like I was going to melt, die right here, living alone, and nobody is even going to know,” she said, before reaching for help from the city. “So, I decided I’m going to call the cops.”
Cops? Meaning the men and women in uniform she grew up not liking, lacking trust, suspicious of their worth?
Fortunately for Cleveland, SPPD Sergeant Matt Ronnie was on the on the receiving end of her call. “I told him, ‘I’m just so hot, I’m an old person, I don’t know what to do. I don’t drive, there’s no place I can go to cool off. The senior center and library are closed (as cooling centers). I can’t sit around inside a business.’ They don’t want you to be there not buying anything. I’m at a loss.”
Cleveland remembers Ronnie in a calming voice saying, “I’ll see what we can do.”
She thanked the sergeant, hung up, “figuring he was just getting rid of me,” she remembers “and I wouldn’t hear back from him.”
It wasn’t more than 20 minutes later when Ronnie, along with support from two others, arrived on the scene with a portable air conditioner in hand. “And he was carrying the heavy thing up the stairs,” recalls Cleveland, who also watched as he hooked it up. “Not only was it heavy but cumbersome.”
Beaming, full of gratitude and compliments, she showed her appreciation for the officers’ sincere kindness, careful to point out that her unfavorable thoughts for the police didn’t include those in South Pasadena.
“Coming to my place, they were like family,” said Cleveland. “I could not get over it. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the air conditioner, and in how they acted, the way they behaved and how they were interested in my welfare. I didn’t know those kind of people existed in public service.”
Ronnie’s goodwill didn’t stop there. When he returned to Cleveland’s residence later in the day to pick up the air conditioner, he handed her an envelope with his own personal cash inside.
“The kindness is just amazing,” she added. “I was thrilled.”
And further, Ronnie, turned a knob here, a button there, and low and behold got the air condition unit inside Cleveland’s condo to work, although she is reluctant to use it due to Freon. “I’m just trying to be very green, I always have,” she insisted.
What Cleveland may not know is Ronnie, other SPPD officers, including Catalina Valdez, Issac Gutierrez, Lieutenant Shannon Robledo and Clerk Joe Ramirez, came to the rescue of the elderly, responding to other welfare checks during the heat wave. They helped arrange for cooling centers to be setup at city locations and one officer even crawled under a house, noticed air ducts not connected properly and corrected the problem. After purchasing duct tape, officers later returned to repair the air conditioning duct.
When word of Ronnie’s good deed reached the desk of Robledo, the lieutenant slipped a positive personal incident conduct report in the sergeant’s work file.
“You recognized that this might seem like a low-priority inquiry, but I am impressed that you made this a top priority,” wrote Robledo. “All too often, senior citizens of advanced age, such as the lady you helped, fall victim to heat-related deaths due to the circumstances you realized with this resident.
“I commend you, Sergeant Ronnie,” continued Robledo, “for your truly exceptional service performance. Your dedication to detail in handling this call reflects the professionalism and customer service we strive for every day as law enforcement officers. Your genuine compassion for this resident is paramount to our expectations for all our employees. Your actions set a standard for others to follow.”
South Pasadena Mayor Michael Cacciotti weighed in, also highly impressed, but not surprised by the actions of local police department personnel. He’s noticed the trend throughout his 21 years on the council, including five times as mayor.
“This is just typical of what the men and women of our police department do,” he said. “This is just part of Matt Ronnie’s DNA. Another example is Shannon Robledo, who has shared holiday dinners with one of our homeless individuals. Our officers and staff do a lot of things for those in need that nobody sees.”
And for Cleveland, what are her thoughts now about the police? “I like our cops,” she said, insisting South Pasadena officers are among the best. “I don’t see them being mean to anybody. It’s just that when you learn something as a kid it stays with you. I just remember how mean they were to everybody. That’s what I saw.”
In South Pasadena, she sees the situation much differently, calling officers “kind, courteous, understanding, and caring people. They always look friendly and appear to be having a good day. I didn’t like the cops when I was growing up but ours are very, very nice. I’ll never be able to thank them enough.”