A press release sent out by the Pasadena Police Department, dated February 20, 2009 stated that, "At approximately 4:20 p.m., on Thursday, February 19th, two Pasadena Police Officers were involved in an officer involved shooting in which the suspect was fatally wounded. The incident took place on Mentone Avenue, just South of Washington Boulevard."
The rest of the one and a half page release stated, "The deceased has been identified as Leroy Barnes, Jr., 37 of Pasadena." Then the next page and a half cited statements about Barnes' arrest record from 1989 to his release from prison in 2008. The release ended with a statement from Police Chief Bernard Melekian about how "the Department takes a great deal of pride in programs designed to prevent gang and criminal involvement because we truly understand the social consequences." The release goes on to further quote Melekian as saying, "It is unfortunate that Mr. Barnes' decisions led to the events of his death when so many in our community are trying to prevent just that." The release then says that the Police Department's criminal and administrative investigations, the Los Angeles Coroner's office, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office are conducting their investigations.
From these statements, it was Barnes who did something wrong that got the police officers to shoot him while he was sitting in a car driven by a young lady. The first reports said that Barnes got out of the car with a gun in his hand and was shot because the police thought he was going to shoot at them. This version of the events was even repeated by Chief Melekian. Melekian by his statement in the written release had already blamed Barnes for his own death rather than the actions of the two yet unnamed officers.
It appears that Barnes' convictions for past conduct have something to do with his shooting on February 19, 2009. Could he mean that this was pay back for allegedly shooting at a police officer in the past?
A Pasadena Star News article on Saturday, February 21, 2009 clarified that Barnes was shot while in the car. It also tells how the Pasadena Police Department has been involved in two other officer involved shootings - just this year. We are only in February. On the surface the officers seem trigger happy.
What is not clear from any release or articles is, when will the Federal Civil Rights Department be called in to investigate Pasadena and Melekian's trigger happy officers? Why are the Pasadena Police Department's friends in the Los Angeles District Attorney's office the primary investigation agency? Experience demonstrates that they are not to be trusted. What are the Department's policies on shooting into cars? What are their policies for shooting, period? They say they saw the young man taking a gun out of a backpack. How could they see this from the angle they were allegedly shooting from? The community is asking, "Why did the officers shoot into the air to scare off witnesses after doing their shooting?" "Why did the Department make up a variety of stories about what happened" ...many of which were repeated by Chief Melekian?
A Friday, February 20, 2009 Star News article quoted the police as saying that Barnes got out of the car shooting at police and they returned fire, killing him. Witnesses state that Barnes never got out of the car until he fell out dead and was then he was shot four more times, apparently in the back, while face down on the ground. The Police had changed their story to fit the witnesses observations.
This shooting is painfully reminiscent of the infamous Leonard Deadwyler case of 1966. In the Deadwyler case shortly after the 1965 Watts Riot a Los Angeles police Officer Jerald Bova stopped a car driven by Mr Leonard Deadwyler. Deadwyler was rushing to the hospital to take his pregnant wife who was delivering their baby. Bova leaned into the car and shot Deadwyler in front of his wife and a friend who was in the car. When Mrs. Deadwyler asked the officer why he shot her husband he merely put his gun back into the holster and went back to his car.
A coroner's jury inquest with seven jurors and only one Black person on it found that the shooting was accidental but that Officer Bova had violated the police department policies. Then District Attorney Evelle Younger refused to prosecute Bova for a murder or even manslaughter. Younger later became the Attorney General of California.
It was just an accident leaving the Deadwyler family without a husband and father and some mother without a son. This was common in the sixties for the police to do injury to someone in the Black community and get away with it one way or another. Generally it was to make up a story about what happened and sell it to the public as truth that justified police action.
On about May 8, 1968 this writer personally experienced these same tactics. I was a senior at Pepperdine University and when I stopped my car in front of the house where my wife and I lived with our two sons, one being only 8 days old. I was approached by two LAPD officers who proceeded to beat me and arrest me. I was charged with assault and battery on a Police Officer. A group of neighbors watched as I was beaten and spoke to my Lawyer saying they would testify if necessary. But for those neighbors as witnesses, I would have been found guilty of a felony, ending my opportunity for a career as a lawyer.
What is important in the Barnes case is for witnesses to come forward and make statements. It is also advisable for witnesses to write out their statements and pass along copies to the media and friends in case the police forgets to talk to you or somehow changes your story.
This is a case that cries out for a Civil Rights organization to bring in independent investigators, as the Police Chief of Pasadena has damaged his credibility by his statements and his premature indictment of Barnes and exoneration of his officers.
Melekian's credibility with the African American Community has been further damaged his recent actions and those of his Deputy Chief Chris Vicino resulting in a reduction of a number of highly respected Black Officers on the Department's command staff.