Here is the sequence of events:
1. Last Thursday afternoon at around 4:20 p.m., two Pasadena police officers pulled over a car that officers said was driving on the other side of a residential road at Menton Avenue and Washington Avenue. Somehow the traffic stop turned violent and, within seconds, a man in his 30’s had been shot by police. He died at the scene.
2. Thursday night, a Pasadena Police Department spokesperson made a statement saying that the man had gotten out of the car and had opened fire on the police, and so they had shot and killed him.
According to the City News Service, Pasadena PD spokesperson Janet Pope Givens said, “Officers were doing a traffic stop, and everything was going okay until the driver got out and fired shots at officers.” The officers fired back, killing the man, she said.
“Several suspects from inside the vehicle fled, so a perimeter has been set up in the area while we search for them,” she said.
3. On Friday, the dead man’s name was released. He was a 38-year-old named Leroy Barnes. He had just been released from prison in April
4. Also on Friday, Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian told a new version of the story. Barnes was not the driver, he was in the back seat, the chief said. Barnes had not gotten out of the car. He did not fire first.
But he definitely assaulted the officers with a gun, said Melekian.
5. It furthermore came to light on Friday that there were at least two eyewitnesses who saw some of the action, and that their accounts were very much at odds with accounts originally given by police.
One of them was a 24-year-old named Brandon Gardner who was across the street when the shooting occurred. Gardner told the Pasadena Star-News that heard two shots and looked up to see a man fall out of the car onto his stomach.
“When he was down there, he did not move,” Gardner said. “When he hit that ground, his body was down and he stayed down. About four-seconds after, officers let out four more rounds on him.”
6. There was a video in the cop car that likely caught the circumstances of the shooting too.
The police had yet to review the tape, Melekian said. But he would hold a press conference on Monday once the department had a chance to do a bit more investigating.
It also came out that Barnes, had a fairly lengthy criminal record, although friends insisted that since his release from prison last April, he was a changed man who they could not imagine attacking police.
7. On Friday night, the multiple versions of the story—from police and from witnesses—-caused tensions in the community to rise to the degree that a planned Black History festival in Pasadena was cancelled (although many complained that the cancellation was unnecessary)
8. Monday Chief Melekian had an informal press briefing with reporters, reported Pasadena Now, and said that, while Barnes didn’t fire his gun, he pulled a gun on police with the likely intention of using it.
““A struggle ensued in the back seat of the car. Mr Barnes displayed a handgun and pointed it at one of the officers as they fought for it ,” Melekian said. “That officer fired one gunshot. The other officer believed that Mr. Barnes had in fact shot his partner. That accounts for the statement Thursday night that Mr. Barnes fired at the officer.”
Melekian also told reporters that the police officers fired a total of 11 rounds.
He also said that the video did not show the details of the struggle in the car. The Pasadena police declined to release the video.
It should be said here that I know Chief Bernie Melekian to have a reputation for being a smart, decent, enlightened cop who, as the Pasadena Chief, is respected as a straight shooter.
But the sequence of events as painted by the police continues to be troubling to community members, local activists, and the ACLU of So Cal, among others. Many are calling for the matter to be investigated independently. I even got a note from a reporter who privately expressed concern about the issue.
In yesterday afternoon’s press release, the ACLU said it was “concerned about disturbing reports from witnesses who allege that officers continued to shoot Barnes after he fell still on the street.”
“It’s troubling that the Pasadena Police Department is changing its story,” said the ACLU’s Peter Bibring, “that raises questions as to why they gave out erroneous information to begin with, and whether officers initially lied about what happened. The residents of Pasadena must be given a clear account of what led to the shooting, and why the police initially made incorrect reports that the victim fired on them.”