Story by Georgia Parsons
Photo by Richard Gomez
South Pasadena community members shared their experiences with the SPPD in an effort to improve policing and public safety in the city at a storytelling forum on Thursday, July 16. The forum is the first event organized by the city council’s new Future of Policing in South Pasadena Subcommittee, which the city recently approved in response to the growing Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
A total of 70 people attended the forum via Zoom, including council members Dr. Marina Khubesrian and Dr. Richard Schneider, as well as SPPD Chief Joe Ortiz and Deputy Chief Brian Solinsky. The SPPD officers and city officials did not respond to any of the stories because the forum was purely designed for residents to share their experiences — not as a dialogue.
Many residents submitted anonymous stories, some describing the racial profiling they had experienced in South Pasadena. One person brought up the discriminatory use of drug dogs in schools and their personal experience being targeted as a person of color. Others wrote about harassment they had encountered from local police officers, and how white crime was treated differently than Black crime.
For example, people criticized the SPPD’s handling of Joe Richcreek’s assault of two BLM protesters on the corner of Fair Oaks and Mission. Richcreek spat on the victims on July 8 and then threw a rock at one of them two days later. After community members cornered the assailant, police arrived and detained him, although he was later released on July 12.
However, the SPPD failed to properly follow up with the victims after the spitting and waited to handcuff Richcreek on July 10 until after talking peacefully with him for a considerable amount of time — which community members were quick to point out would not have happened if the suspect were Black. The department also used inflammatory and inaccurate language in the police report such as calling the group of residents encouraging Richcreek’s arrest on July 10 a “mob” and labelling the South Pasadena BLM protests “anti-police.”
Victoria Patterson, one of the two women Richcreek assaulted, read a statement describing the events that occurred and how the police had mishandled the situation.
“I feel like I don’t matter to SPPD, that because I support Fahren, London, and Black Lives Matter, it’s okay for a man to spit on my face during a pandemic,” Patterson said. “The officers seemed to want me to let it all go, that it was no big deal, [and that] I shouldn’t have filed a report. No one [from the police department] reached out to me.”
Local BLM protest organizer London Lang shared his negative experience with SPPD Corporal Randy Wise, one of the officers who arrested Richcreek, and called on the department to discipline Wise for his actions.
“His punishment should not only be a suspension, for he is not a good leader and he could not control a crowd of peaceful people and exudes racial bias,” Lang said. “I also want you to tell the DA [that] Corporal Wise lied multiple times on the report. I want [the SPPD] to resend the report [to the DA] with what really happened and not defame my movement, my sister or I.”
Additionally, after Richcreek’s arrest, Lang shared that Wise chastised him for “cop hating,” questioned if the victim was really his “blood sister,” and told him that “this ain’t Minneapolis this is South Pas, bro” in an attempt to undermine the validity of his concerns and calls for reform.
Several people also came forward with stories about how the SPPD inappropriately handled domestic abuse and assault. Many residents’ recounted that the officers favored the male abusers’ side of the story over the female victims’, and sometimes even acted hostile or rude. Some expressed their hopes for police funds to be reallocated into community programs and social services, including domestic violence prevention.
On the flipside, a couple of individuals offered praise for the SPPD and its strong connection with the community.
“My relationships with the police and being across the street from the police and fire [departments] have been positive,” longtime resident and local business owner Ellen Daigle said. “They have always been there to help me and assist me. Serving on the public safety commission, I felt we served and did so many wonderful things [with the police department, like] the creation of CERT which trained over 2,000 people.”
The subcommittee hopes that residents’ stories will help city leadership better understand the community’s relationship with the SPPD and chart the next steps for reform.
“We have yet to decide an exact path forward, but we will definitely be engaging with the community throughout the coming months,” forum facilitator Will Hoadley-Brill said. “Looking forward, we want to provide a space for dialogue, community building, and community healing.”