Touching Base: A Message from the Chief (11/17/13)

Touching Base: A Message from the Chief
November 17, 2013

Dear Community Members and Department Personnel: 

On December 19, from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., Pasadena Armenian Police Advisory Council (PAPAC) will host its 18th Annual Christmas Toy Drive at the Pasadena Police Department (207 North Garfield Avenue).  Prior to the event, if possible, please bring new, unwrapped toys to 1160 East Walnut Street, in Pasadena.  For more information, please call Harry Kouladjian (626) 945-3031, or Hovannes Sarkissian (626) 792-9597.  

Pasadena’s Finest:  

On October 23, I received a letter from relatives of a murder victim commending Pasadena Police Detective Keith Gomez.  I thought you might like to read the entire letter, which I believe underscores the dedication, professionalism, and investigative talents of Detective Gomez and other personnel involved in this investigation.   Out of respect for the victim and her family, I have removed the name listed in the letter to shield their privacy.  

“On behalf of, and in the memory of our niece, _________; we want to thank you for your professional investigation of her murder on September 27, 2011, her 28th birthday. 

 Your steadfast and exhaustive investigation of the truth and forensics evidence related to her murder lead to the conviction of her killer in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, with Judge Stan Blumenfled presiding, on October 22, 2103. The evidence you present in court (an audio-taped confession and a hand-written letter by the defendant to ____’s family and to the defendant’s own family was painful to hear.  However, we knew that this evidence was essential in your discovery, investigation, and sworn testimony of the truth.  Your testimony was factual and credible, and delivered with compassion.  We appreciate you recalling, with respect and dignity, the memory of our niece.  You referred to her as ______ or ______.  We don’t remember you call her the victim although she was the victim of this horrific murder.  Your words made _____ real and personal, not just a statistic.  

The individual, collective, scientific and forensic testimony of the witness (Pasadena Fire Department Arson Investigator, Captain Wendell Eaton; the Los Angeles County Deputy Medical Examiner; and, Forensic Scientist, Ms. Jeanne Putinier from the Orange County Crime Laboratory) corroborated the findings of your investigation, your interviews, and the tape recording, and the hand-written confession from the killer, to secure a conviction. 

We had a strange experience as we left the courthouse.  We rode to the elevator with two members of the jury, (one of them, the foreperson) who were ’released’ from their injunctions about the trial.  We thanked them for their verdict.  The foreperson stated that their work was ‘easy’ with the case presented by the District Attorney, especially the work of the Pasadena Police Detective who was so convincing.  No one won this case, especially ____ or her 10-year old son, ____, who is without his only parent.  The convicted killer’s daughter is now without a father, with abused mother who will struggle to explain her history. 

Thank you Detective Gomez for your sworn service to our community and dedication to our society to seek Justice for All, especially for ____. 

With our respect and thanks…” 

In the four plus years that I have served as Pasadena Police Chief, I have listened to violent crime victims express similar thoughts about the detectives assigned to the Pasadena Police Homicide Unit.  While my detectives are not perfect, the family’s heartfelt feelings expressed in the letter sharply contrasts much of the nonsense and rhetoric opined by defense counsel(s) and echoed in the local media over the past year concerning the veracity, character, and motives of Keith Gomez and other homicide investigators.  I believe the letter speaks for itself.  

On October 28, I received a letter from Harvest on the Hill, Father Michael Higgins, thanking the Pasadena Police Department for participating in their annual fundraiser.  Father Higgins wrote, “… I was very moved by the warm spirit of welcome and friendship that was so apparent through the entire evening…”  

On November 5, I received an email from a community member commending Pasadena Police Corporal R. Padilla for his assistance during a burglary investigation.  The author wrote, “… on-site personnel were efficient and collected evidence beyond my expectations.  Detective Padilla kept me informed with phone calls during the process.  Having just moved here, I was very impressed with the department’s response…”  

Our Community:  

On November 9, several Pasadena Police employees and I attended the Los Angeles County Explorer Academy, Class 91, Honor Run, which was held in the shadows of the iconic Rose Bowl.  Escorted by officers and police vehicles, more than 140 young explorers participated in the run around the bowl. The run concluded at the main Rose Bowl entrance where the group assembled for a photo. Pasadena Police personnel supporting the class included:  CMDR Russ, Sergeant Sharma, Corporals Thompson and Finney, Officers C. Allen and V. Burris, and PS White.  Two Pasadena Police Explorers were highlighted in a news article (James Macpherson, Pasadena NOW).  The article included a photo link.  http://www.pasadenanow.com/main/pasadena-police-explorer-trainees-graduate-sheriffs-academy-class. Please take a moment to visit the link and celebrate our future leaders.  I am very proud of our Pasadena Police Explorers and encourage all young people to consider becoming part of this extraordinary group of young people. You can learn more about the Pasadena Police Explorer Program at: http://www.ci.pasadena.ca.us/Police  (Photos @PPDChiefSanchez).  

On November 9, I attended the John Muir High School Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.  The event was very well attended by former and current Mustangs and was extra special, given the November 8 football victory against their crosstown rivals, the Pasadena Bulldogs. Among the many honorees were Pasadena Vice-Mayor Jacque Robinson and Mrs. Turner. The event was emceed by Pasadena Weekly Deputy Editor and 2011 John Muir Hall of Fame Honoree, Andre Coleman. Pasadena Police Deputy Chief and 2011 John Muir Hall of Fame Honoree, Darryl Qualls, and his wife Teri, also attended the ceremony. 2013 Hall of Fame Honorees included: Harold Busby (65’), Molly Munger (66’), Starla Lewis (68’), Tim Estes (73’), Richard J. Jimenez (76’), Jacqueline C. Robinson (96’), and Mrs. Mildred Turner (Posthumously Awarded) (Photos @PPDChiefSanchez).  On November 9, I attended a Veterans Day Celebration at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, in Altadena.  The church was packed with family, friends, and well-wishers to celebrate and honor our veterans. Dr. Richardson, Sr. Pastor and Chaplin/Captain in the USAF Associate & Pastor, Dr. Eric Walsh, introduced the speakers.  I focused my remarks on the valor, honor, and dedication of our warriors (veterans) and their tremendous sacrifice to ensure a high quality of life in our nation.  Veteran Honorees included: Ream M. Johnson-Smith, PhD, Everad Williams, Sr., M.D., William (Bill) Keets, and Hon. Robert L. Roberson, Jr. The event was very special indeed (Photos @PPDChiefSanchez).  

On November 9, I attended the Harambee Community Garden Coalition Event, which featured the Butterfly Fair. The event was very well attended by local officials and city staff.  District 1 Field Representative, Tina Williams, and City Manager Michael Beck stopped by the event. I spend time talking with many of the community members including, Brandon “The Butterfly Expert,” Margie Hakel, and Harambee Executive Director, Harlan Redman (Photos @PPDChiefSanchez). 

On November 11, Pasadena Police Lieutenants Tracey Ibarra, Tom Delgado, and I attended the 2013 Veterans Day Celebration, which was held in front of City Hall. The event was very well attended by combat veterans, the community, family, and friends.  There were a number of elected officials including: CA Assemblyman Holden, Mayor Bogaard, Vice-Mayor Robinson, Councilman Tornek (US Army Vet), Councilmember Masuda, and Councilmember Kennedy. VIPs and Veterans included: John Watkins (Chair of the Pasadena Veterans Day Committee), William Paparian (Veterans Committee), William Thompson (PCC Board of Trustees), Allen Kinne (WWII US Army Air Corps, Fighter Pilot),  Danny Castro (WWII US Army), Teresa Lamb-Simpson (Field Representative for US Congressman Adam Schiff), Anthony Portantino (former CA State Assemblyman), SgtMaj Lee (US Marines),  Sheriff Lee Baca (US Marines), Mark Rocha (PCC President), Calvin Wells (Pasadena Fire Chief), Steve Mermell (Pasadena Assistant City Manager), Mercy Santoro (Pasadena Director of Human Services), and William Boyer (Pasadena Public Information Officer). PUSD JROTC Honor Guard posted the colors and there were a number of speakers.  The real heroes of the day were our veterans (Photos @PPDChiefSanchez).  

On November 13, Lieutenant Tracey Ibarra and I attended the Clergy Community Coalition (CCC) monthly meeting, which was hosted at the First Church of the Nazarene of Pasadena.  CCC President, Pastor Kerwin Manning, facilitated our meeting.  Religious leaders from throughout Pasadena attended the meeting as well.  Presentations from PUSD, Altadena Sheriff’s Department, Pasadena Police Department, and W.O.W. Jam, consumed most of our time.  I focused my remarks on public safety issues and the recent gang-related shootings in our community.  W.O.W. Jam Executive Director, Steven Tavani, presented a power point presentation of the impact of W.O.W Jam in Pasadena and across the nation.  You can learn more about W.O.W. Jam at wowjam.org. CCC Pastor Jean Burch had a powerful closing prayer, calling on every one to work together to stop violence in our community (Photos @PPDChiefSanchez).  

On November 14, I spoke at the “On Leadership” program, which is coordinated by Pasadena Police Commander, Chris Russ.  The lecture series is held in the City Council chambers and is open to public, free of charge.  Past speakers have included Mayor Bogaard, Councilwoman McAustin, Assistant City Manager Steve Mermell, and Dr. Eric Walsh.   

On November 14, several Pasadena Police employees attended the Day One Center to celebrate their 25 years of service.  Executive Director Christy Zamani, Deputy Chief Darryl Qualls, and others reenacted the humble beginnings of Day One.  I understand the event was very well attended.  Day One is valued community partner.  

Critical Incidents:  

On October 5, Pasadena Police officers responded to the area of Orange Gove Boulevard and Fair Oaks Avenue regarding a possible assault with a deadly weapon investigation.  On arrival, officers talked with the victim (Male Black, 53 – Pasadena resident) who was bleeding from a laceration to his right thigh.  He was uncooperative and refused medical treatment.  It was unclear how the victim was injured; however, witnesses indicated he was possibly fighting with another male.  After the officers spent a great deal of time talking with him, the victim agreed to medical treatment.  He was transported to a local hospital for treatment. Our investigation is ongoing.  

On October 12, a UCLA season ticket holder let a young man borrow his authentic UCLA Football helmet so he could wear it while selling candy in the parking lots prior to the game against Cal Berkeley.  The young man never returned with the helmet, essentially constituting a theft.  The victim never reported the incident to the Pasadena Police Department, however.  On November 11, Pasadena Police Officers Andrea Perez and Kevin Okamoto were working the UCLA v. Colorado Football game.  They were alerted by the victim (from the October 12 theft incident) who saw the young man with his UCLA helmet once again selling candy in the Rose Bowl parking lots.  Andrea and Kevin contacted the young man.  At first he denied the incident; however, latter he admitted he did not return the helmet and took it home.  The officers spoke with the young man’s mother, who had taken the helmet and safely stored it, assuming it did not belong to her son.  After talking with Andrea and Kevin, the young man’s mother agreed to meet with the officers.  On November 7, the officers drove to Hawthorne and recovered the UCLA Football helmet from the young man’s mother. The property was subsequently returned to the victim. This incident underscores the dedication and commitment of Officers Perez and Okamoto.  The victim was elated.  

On November 14 at 8:50 p.m., Pasadena Police officers responded to the area of Michigan Avenue and Corson Street regarding an attempted robbery.  The victim (Male Hispanic, Pasadena Resident) told officers he was walking west on the south sidewalk of Corson Street when he noticed the suspect (Male Hispanic) approach and point a handgun at him. Fearing for his safety, the victim ran across Corson Street hoping to get someone’s attention.  The victim continued running until he reached Mar Vista Avenue and Walnut Street, where he stopped and called 9-1-1.  Several Pasadena Police officers and the police helicopter arrived quickly; however, they did not locate the suspect.  

On November 14 at 10:25 p.m., Pasadena Police officers responded to Huntington Memorial Hospital (HMH) regarding a gunshot victim.  On arrival, officers talked with the victim (Adult Male Hispanic – Pasadena Resident) who said he “shot himself because he wanted to see how it felt.” PPD officers established the victim’s identity and learned he had been drinking alcoholic beverages prior to the incident.  Although uncooperative, it appears the victim’s story is accurate. Our investigation is ongoing.  

On November 16 at 12:43 a.m., Pasadena Police officers responded to the Lincoln Motel, in the 1500 block of Lincoln Avenue regarding a Male Black adult acting strange and arguing with a female. Officers Adesina and Burchett arrived quickly and saw the suspect on the west side of the property, near room #110.  When the suspect saw the officers, he retreated into room #110 and locked the door.  As other officers arrived at the scene, Officer Adesina looked through the window and observed the suspect (Steven Flower, Male Black, 32, Pasadena Resident) standing in the room holding an infant (Female Black, 10 months old) in one arm and a knife (6" blade) in the other.  Flower appeared agitated and angry, as his erratic behavior suggested to the officers that he was possibly under the influence of a controlled substance and/or alcohol.  Officer Adesina attempted to gain the suspect's attention while other officers secured tactical positions outside the motel room. 

Pasadena Police Sergeant Bzdigian arrived and assumed command. He saw suspect Flower holding the infant at knife point. Sergeant Bzdigian quickly assembled an emergency entry team.  He assigned specific duties to each officer, which included arming some officers with less-lethal devices.  Sergeant Bzdigian also assigned lethal coverage to one officer in the event Suspect Flower attempted to stab or cut the infant. Officer Saunders, a trained negotiator, began talking with Flower through the bedroom window.  Officer Saunders asked Flower to place the knife on the floor and release the infant. A moment later, suspect Flower dropped the knife; however, he remained barricaded in the room with the infant.   

At Sergeant Bzdigian's direction, Officers Adesina, Burchett, Martinez, Saunders, and Reinbold quickly entered the motel room (they had obtained a pass key) to effect a rescue.  Upon entering the room, the suspect retreated into the corner of the bedroom and appeared to be squeezing the infant.  Flower was aggressive, belligerent, and appeared paranoid.  Officers continued to order suspect Flower to release the infant in a calm and direct manner.  

Fearing for the safety of the infant, Sergeant Bzdigian initiated the pre-arranged rescue plan.  Officers acted as one unit, each with specific assignments to simultaneously rescue the infant and subdue suspect Flower! He was arrested without further incident.  Some of the officers involved in the incident received minor injuries. As a precaution, the infant and the suspect were transported to a local hospital for medical assessment.  The suspect was later released from the hospital and booked at the Jail of the Pasadena Police Department. 

It is clear that this incident and subsequent rescue saved the infant's life or at a minimum prevented serious injury.  The rescue was well supervised and the mission was clearly communicated by Sergeant Bzdigian.  The officers were professional, deliberate, and focused on the safety of the infant and the suspect. We should celebrate the professional restraint, maturity, and courage of these brave Pasadena Police Officers who, I would argue, saved the life of an infant!  When suspect Flower threatened the infant with the knife, the totality of the circumstances may have warranted lethal force.  Nevertheless, lethal force was avoided in this situation.   


Phillip L. Sanchez, Chief of Police
Pasadena Police Department
207 N. Garfield Ave., Pasadena, CA 91101
Office: (626) 744-4545
Mission First, People Always

Posted: 11/17/2013 03:50:00 PM
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