The South Pasadena chapter of Black Lives Matter was joined by an alliance of local and regional advocacy groups, representatives, and supporters as updates which expressed both condemnation and dissatisfaction were broadcast to the public.
A series of assaults and confrontations against local protesters has created a brief but dense timeline of alleged police misconduct, miscommunication, and obliqueness that has prompted members of the community to call for investigation and reassessment of the services and role the local police department provides not just to its government, but to its people.
Most salient of these recent cases involved that of Richard Cheney, a resident who had driven a large Dodge Ram 1800 truck onto a sidewalk, “barreling” dangerously close to hitting pedestrians, customers, and protesters alike on October 3rd.
“It’s just not the assaults that they perpetrated, or in the brutality that they’ve perpetrated against peaceful people in many, many instances,” local BLM Organizer Fahren James told the media, “It’s the lack of urgency (from police) when it comes to supporting black and brown people of this community and all communities.” The congregation in front of South Pasadena City Hall was but one of many recent demonstrations and formal gatherings that had begun on June 1st in the wake of national civil unrest and public outcry over the murders of unarmed POC civilians like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of law enforcement. The ensuing conflicts have re-opened debate and demand for the massive overhaul of the heavily-reproached institution of police departments — both on a large and small scale — that have been considered complacent, and in some cases propagative, of the systematic racism instilled in modern American Society.
Among the organizations present to speak and substantiate the cause were: Care First South Pasadena, represented by cofounders William Kelly and Helen Tran; South Pasadena Youth for Police Reform (SPY4PR), represented by founder London Lang; Anti-Racism Committee (ARC), represented by Phung Huynh; Joshua Parr, Staff, Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission; Abbi Coursolle, Board Member, LGBTQ+ Lawyers LA; and Michael Saavedra, representing JusticeLA Coalition.
“It seems like with these recent events that South passing Police Department has shown to us, as a community, is that they aren’t really on our side,” an aggrieved Lang said, exasperated but steadfast in repeatedly delivering a message of “peace and love” rather than anger.
James also addressed the perennial inequality that she and others believe exists — whether it be covert or blatant — when it comes to justice being fulfilled for “African-Americans, colored people, and anybody aligned with Black Lives Matter”, as she asserts that there are “two different justice systems” that operate in South Pasadena.
William Kelley, founder of Care First seconds that conviction, saying “We’re calling on the council to start providing oversight over the police department of South Pasadena. It’s out of balance. It needs to be brought under control.”
James also told the South Pasadenan News that she is not sure how safe to feel anymore after the transgressions committed by local reactionaries. Citing other high-profile encounters with anti-protesters, those being the 3 that occurred with Joe Luis Richcreek, a repeatedly arrested violent offender with an extensive rap sheet, and the August 30 incident in which a lone BLM supporter was assaulted by couple/ residents Michael Plough and his wife Jane Mi.
According to James, no police reports have been made available for the October 3 Cheney incident. She had received a letter from the SPPD stating that they would not provide a police report with similar reasons given to our news staff: that they cannot provide a report for an ongoing investigation.
On October 5, The South Pasadenan News had filed formal requests to access these documents along with several others in pursuit of additional information regarding the Oct 3 incident and another involving Cheney and police on Feb 14, 2019 in which he and his wife felt “disrespected by South Pasadena Police officers” after being detained when 911 was called by a neighbor to “investigate what appeared to be an attempt(sic) residential (hot-prowl) burglary during dark hours.” It happened to be Cheney on his roof fixing a leak. This has lead some to speculate that this produced a nepotistic relationship between him and SPPD Police Chief Joe Ortiz, in an effort to remediate any grievances from last year’s detainment. This is supposedly bolstered by the claim it was Chief Ortiz that Cheney had called personally on the day of the confrontation with protesters.
What ensued was an exchange with the police department — a follow-up initiated by our Investigative Journalist, Ben Tansey — via e-mail that evokes a level of difficulty in obtaining information and a perceived series of hurdles/confusion in filing public information requests; a phenomenon that some have speculated had not existed as prevalently prior to the creation of the Black Lives Matter chapter in town and the subsequent investigations involving a group falsely labeled as “anti-police” by one SPPD incident report written by Corporal Randy Wise.
In an e-mail on Oct 19 from Police Clerk Desiree Rodriguez, who initially claimed that they did not have a report request submitted from the South Pasadenan, it was stated that the “incorrect form was filled out”. However after proving on the contrary, Rodriguez retracted the statement saying they had, “located (our) requests on (their) online reporting system and have reviewed them.”
Despite this clarification, SPPD still maintained in a later message that the Feb 14 incident report (file number T20000350) warranted a Public Records Request through the City Clerk’s Office.
In addition, Rodriguez said a report on “the incident that occurred on 10/03 on Fair Oaks and Mission (report 201924) does exist, however, records cannot release this report at this time. Records department must stay in accordance with the California Records Act 6254 (f) which states that records under investigation are exempt from being disclosed.”
Beyond the need for access to police reports on an informational basis, James also makes a case that, as she continues to fear for her safety, the documents are a necessary component in filing a restraining order against Cheney. “He felt empowered enough to send his car barreling towards us onto a sidewalk to express his disdain for what I’m doing,” she says, noting what sparked the conflict was a banner of President Trump with the phrase ‘The face of racism, hatred and stupidity, should not be the face of America.’
This has been what the social justice alliance has adjudged as a premeditated attack based on the Cheneys’ support and participation in extreme rightwing rhetoric online. This also encapsulates discussions that appear to support confrontations that similarly involve violence and using vehicles as potential weapons.
“This man had weapons in his vehicle. He has inquired about underground weapons dealers,” said James, in a weighty allegation. “He has shown his hate and disdain for me personally, and the Black Lives Matter movement. When you let people like that get away without any consequence, it emboldens them to come back and do it again.”
Cheney was not arrested nor issued any citations. The police department has defended this action by saying the incident’s “violations, including traffic violations, will be examined in their totality” while claiming the findings be will be forwarded to the LA County District Attorney’s Office for “review and potential criminal filing”.
ARC has called for an investigation of the incident as a hate crime, “pursuant to the department’s own policy manual, and for the City Council to directly condemn white supremacist activities that threaten the safety of residents,” according to a press release. Representative Phung Huynh on Wednesday emphasized the importance of this, vowing that “If our protesters are threatened, and if their safety is threatened, then this ultimately creates a rippling effect that threatens our entire community.”
As the pivotal November election is no less than two weeks away many are imploring others to exercise their right to vote as a simple but important step in facilitating the change that millions now desire. For James, regardless of the outcome, she feels laying low — after over 142 days of protesting with her brother London — may present itself as a prudent option to avoid anymore potentially dangerous conflicts, albeit temporarily.
This all comes at a time when the Public Safety Commission along with the appointed Police Reform Subcommittee approved 26 recommendations on Monday, sending them to the City Council for recommended review.
Joe Luis Richcreek originally had a court date set for October 9, but it had been pushed to October 23 at the Alhambra Courthouse. According to Jim DeSimone, a Civil Rights Attorney working with James, a letter was sent to Police Chief Ortiz in August, requesting amendments to the Richcreek reports which were claimed to be fraught with inaccuracies. DeSimone says the letter received no response nor was acknowledged by Ortiz. Furthermore, James says when she was contacted by the police for questioning she was addressed as a witness and not a victim.
As for Richard Cheney’s case, no further developments have been announced as of this story’s original publication.
To make a collective point, the alliance invokes the South Pasadena adopted Resolution 7491, a resolution of the City Council of the city of South Pasadena, California, affirming the city of South Pasadena’s commitment to diversity and to safeguarding the civil rights, safety and dignity of all of our residents. “South Pasadena community members want to see a real demonstration to exercise this resolution now and an investigation of Police Chief Ortiz and police practices in the department.”
This is a developing story, stay tuned for more updates.