Black Lives Matter activist charged in connection with police confrontation

A local Black Lives Matter activist who is among the Los Angeles and Pasadena police departments’ most vocal critics was charged with a felony Friday in connection with a confrontation at a Pasadena park.

Pasadena police arrested Jasmine Richards earlier this week as part of an investigation into a group of people they claim interfered with the arrest of a battery suspect Aug. 29 at a local park. The group consisted of members of Black Lives Matter activists.

Seven other people were cited and released on misdemeanor counts of interfering with police, authorities said. Those arrested included an 11-year-old and three other juveniles no older than 16.

Their names and genders were not released.

Richards, who was arrested Wednesday, pleaded not guilty Friday to one felony of trying to free a person from custody and is due back in court later this month. She faces up to two years in jail if convicted, prosecutors said.

Out of eight people police took into custody for the incident over the last few days, Richards, 28, was the only one booked and charged with a felony, said Pasadena police Lt. John Mercado.

On Friday, Richards’ supporters showed up at the Pasadena police station to demand her release and for her charges to dropped. But she had already been transferred to the custody of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for her court appearance.

“It’s clear [police] decided her work needs to be stopped and they figured if they arrest her, prosecute her, arrest people that work with her, other people will leave,” said Richards' attorney, Nana Gyamfi. “She is clearly being targeted.”

But authorities don’t see it that way.

Mercado said that when police tried to arrest a woman last week for not paying for her food at a restaurant across the street from La Pintoresca Park in Pasadena, Richards and other Black Lives Matter activists intervened.

The group regularly gathers at the park after marches or when they do outreach with local youths, Gyamfi said, and they are routinely tracked by police.

On Aug. 29, the activists allegedly surrounded the woman at the restaurant and escorted her to the park, where police ultimately took her into custody. Sometime during the arrest, police say that Richards encouraged the other activists to “riot” and then tried to free the suspect.

The battery suspect was not affiliated with the activists, Mercado said. The episode was captured on camera.

But neither Richards nor any of the activists were arrested that day -- only the woman from the restaurant was taken into custody.

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“If it was so horrible, why are they not arresting them then and there?” Gyamfi said.

Mercado said police had to rely on the video to identify everyone involved. It wasn’t until days later that police began rounding up the activists they identified  in the video, including Richards.

“They inserted themselves into the investigation that was across the street and protected and shielded the suspect from officers,” Mercado said.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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