Special Report: Newly Released Records & The South Pasadena Police

Police Shootings across the country have prompted protests and constant debates in in recent years. A collaborative of media organizations throughout California has begun to review internal police records released under a state new law. One of those investigations includes a police officer from South Pasadena.

As the story begins to unfold about a former South Pasadena police officer smashing his pickup truck into a pole that fell onto a roof of a Duarte home following impact, one might wonder what other revelations will come out as the result of a new landmark transparency law.

Will the Bernal Case Open Door to More Information About the Vanessa Marquez Shooting?

Information about Cpl. Ryan Bernal’s incident in February 2017 became public under the law, in which internal police records regarding confirmed cases of sexual assault, lying on duty, use of force and shootings can now be released.

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It’s all part of the California Reporting Project, a collaboration of 33 news organizations around the state, under a new law, now has an opportunity to examine internal police records.

So far, the collaborative has sought records from 600 law enforcement agencies, receiving, according to the Los Angeles Times, hundreds of incidents in which police used deadly force, were found to be dishonest, commit sexual assault or other sexual misconduct while on duty.

When police pushed to fire Bernal in July 2017, the officer reportedly resigned for his involvement in the hit-and-run, for making false statements and for obstructing an internal affairs investigation. The L.A. Times reported prosecutors declined to charge Bernal with a misdemeanor hit-and-run charge, and an investigator with the Sheriff’s Department, who reportedly handled the case, said two of Bernal’s colleagues, apparently holding key evidence in the case, opted out and did not work with authorities in the investigation.

The City of South Pasadena refutes the claim, Public Information Officer John Pope writing in a statement to the South Pasadenan: “The City was recently made aware of a 2017 Charge Evaluation Worksheet from the L.A. District Attorney’s office that contains incorrect information concerning two employees of the South Pasadena Police Department.

A statement from South Pasadena City officials:

“The City was recently made aware of a 2017 Charge Evaluation Worksheet from the L.A. District Attorney’s office that contains incorrect information concerning two employees of the South Pasadena Police Department.
The document states that the two employees were not forthcoming with information in response to an investigation by the Sheriff’s Department into possible criminal charges against a former police officer and would not testify in court about the incident. These statements are incorrect. On the contrary, both South Pasadena employees provided all requested information to investigating authorities and were prepared to testify if called upon. Furthermore, the District Attorney’s office has the subpoena power to compel any witness to testify in court, and no subpoena was issued in this incident.
The document only came to our attention in recent weeks, following a request for comment from the Los Angeles Times. The Police Department responded quickly and fully to the Times. The City appreciates that the Times notified us of this report so that we could correct the misinformation to the press and public.”

Bernal, off-duty at the time, was said to have been drinking with colleagues on February 7, 2017, according to an internal affairs report, and later struck the utility pole, causing it to fall on a patio roof of a Duarte home, according to police records obtained by the collaborative .

Several hours had passed when, records show, Bernal’s mother told the Sheriff’s Department she was responsible for hitting the pole with the vehicle. According to the Times’ story, the woman was on the verge of hyperventilating, nervous and shaking during the questioning.

Hour later that same day, Bernal, placed a call to the South Pasadena Police Department, admitted to a sergeant he had been drinking and was responsible for crashing the truck but, according to the internal investigation, was not drunk at the time of incident.

Following the accident, the Times’ article reports Bernal drove his truck around a block before walking to a Walmart store and left the scene in a ride-hailing service vehicle.

The following day, according to internal records, Bernal and his mother went to the Sheriff’s station. Investigators say the woman falsely claimed she was responsible for the accident.

Now the new question is if the new law, Senate Bill 1421, will open the door on anther major case in South Pasadena occurring last August when actress Vanessa Marquez was shot and killed in her Fremont Avenue apartment.  In a $20 million claim against the City of South Pasadena, the mother of Marquez says negligence, poor tactics, and over reaction by police led to the woman’s fatal shooting.

Police had gone to the apartment for a wellness check, and upon arrival, according to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, Marquez was having a seizure and would not cooperate with officers, reportedly offering medical attention.

Sheriff’s officials say Marquez grabbed what appeared to be a handgun while talking with officers and a mental health clinician. Authorities say two of them fired at Marquez, striking the woman at least once in the torso. She was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. Police later said the weapon Marquez allegedly held was a BB gun.

With tensions running high at police departments over the use of deadly force and new transparency efforts in place, it appears law enforcement across California will now be under heavier scrutiny unlike ever before.

“The public finally gets to see inside one of the key institutions of our community, the police force,” Laurie Levenson, a criminal law teacher at at Loyola Law School, told the Los Angeles Times. “For too long it was very difficult to try to pierce through the departments to see who these officers were and what they were doing.”

Those officers include Bernal, who at one time was honored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for “assiduous patrolling of DUI suspects culminating in arrests,” according to the Times’ news article, only to see his career shattered on that early February morning in 2017 when his Toyota Tundra truck, according to investigators, barreled into utility pole, busting it loose from its foundation and forcing it to crash on the patio roof of a house.