Pasadena residents protest lack of transparency on shooting report

Pasadena residents protest lack of transparency on shooting report
Family members of Kendrec McDade attend a rally in front of Pasadena City Hall in 2012. The NAACP organized the rally in response to the shooting of McDade by police. (Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)

An independent consultant's report on a 2012 fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager by Pasadena police was highly critical of the officers' tactical decisions, calling some of their moves leading to the 19-year-old's death "troubling" and "potentially disastrous," according to portions of the report made public at a City Council meeting this week.

The criticisms are contained in a report that has been kept secret since it was completed last summer. A police union representing the two officers involved in the shooting sued the city to block the report's release, contending that the assessment of the officers' actions was legally protected personnel information.

The Pasadena Police Officers Assn., however, itself disclosed significant portions of the report in legal papers filed March 16 as part of an appellate court case about whether the report should be made public. The papers quoted about a dozen excerpts the union said were examples of the "appraisals about [officers'] performance."

More than a week later, union attorneys asked the court to seal the document; Associate Justice Jeffrey W. Johnson, acting presiding judge for the 2nd District Court of Appeal, signed off on the order and ordered the document returned by The Times as well as attorneys representing the teenager's family and Pasadena community groups.

The Times' attorneys had objected to the sealing, arguing that to order a news organization to return information already in its hands was in effect "prior restraint," or censorship before publication. Several other media and free speech organizations also asked to be heard in the case, supporting The Times' position.

Other media organizations that were not covered by the court order, including the Pasadena Star-News and KPCC, published articles based on copies of the court filing.

On Monday, about half a dozen people read excerpts of the report contained in the union filing during the public comments section of the regular Pasadena City Council meeting, saying that they were making parts of the report public in protest against the lack of transparency.

"Without the transparency associated with knowing about that death, we are not going to be able to … better our police responses or indeed heal our community, which desperately needs to be healed," said Michelle White, a local activist and past president of the Pasadena chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Another resident, Elliot Gold, said before reading an excerpt that he was disappointed by the police actions.

"I am a supporter of law enforcement," he said, "but I have to say I'm not very happy about the report that I've seen."

The excerpts from the report called into question choices made by Officers Matthew Griffin and Jeffrey Newlen the night they shot and killed Kendrec McDade while responding to a report of an armed robbery of a laptop. A 911 caller had falsely reported that McDade and a second man were armed.

The report, prepared by the Office of Independent Review consulting group for the city of Pasadena, questioned why Griffin and Newlen placed themselves in a vulnerable position by traveling through a narrow alleyway in pursuit of McDade. The report called certain maneuvers by Griffin "troubling," and concluded that the officer made a "potentially disastrous mistake" when he got out of the patrol car without putting it in park.

Newlen separated himself from his partner to chase McDade, even though department policy prefers that officers stay together during foot pursuits, the report stated. It also found that Newlen should have better communicated his intentions to his partner.

The report faulted the officers for "repeatedly" making tactical decisions that "were not congruent with principles of officer safety," according to the portions made public at the City Council meeting.

Griffin and Newlen were cleared in the shooting by the department's internal review and the district attorney's office. Pasadena paid about $1 million to settle wrongful-death suits brought by McDade's parents.

Richard Shinee, an attorney representing the union and the officers, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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