NAACP seeks records in Pasadena police shooting
by Nathan McIntire and Robert S. Hong, Saturday February 28, 2009
PASADENA - Local NAACP officials Thursday called on the Police Department to release crucial documents and video surrounding the death of a local man shot by officers during an altercation last week.
The letter sent to the department and news outlets came as police refused to comment further on the events of Feb. 19, when Leroy Barnes, 38, was shot to death by police during a traffic stop.
Police also placed a security hold on the autopsy results, preventing any information about how many times Barnes was shot and the location of his bullet wounds from being disclosed, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner spokesman Ed Winter said Thursday.
Pasadena police spokeswoman Janet Pope Givens said the department would treat the NAACP's request for information like any other public information request, meaning the department will decide within 10 days whether or not to honor the request.
She also declined to answer for the Pasadena Star-News whether the two officers who shot Barnes were involved in either of two previous police shootings this year.
"We are not talking any more about the case, we are not talking any more about the officers," Pope Givens said in a voicemail message Wednesday night. "At this particular point we're not looking at making any more statements for the next 30 days or so."
The decision not to make further comments about the case was "made out of respect to the family" of Barnes, whom Police Chief Bernard Melekian met with Wednesday, Pope Givens said.
Barnes and a friend, Ameka Edwards, who was driving, were pulled over by police at about 4:20 p.m. Feb. 19 at Mentone Avenue and Washington Boulevard. Moments later, reports of shots fired came over police scanners.
A few hours later, Pope Givens told reporters Barnes got out of the car and fired a gun at officers, who returned fire, killing him.
The next day, however, Melekian said Barnes was shot in the back seat of the car.
On Tuesday, Melekian said Barnes never fired a gun and was in fact shot during a struggle with an officer in the back seat of the vehicle. Officers fired 11 rounds at Barnes, the chief said.
NAACP Pasadena Chapter President Joe Brown said his organization requested information pertaining to the shooting after receiving multiple requests from residents.
His letter asks that the department release dispatch records, written and taped reports, coroner's reports, recorded interviews regarding the shooting and copies of several department policies and procedures.
A dearth of information has raised numerous questions about the shooting, Brown said in his letter.
"At this point we have nothing," he said in an interview.
The NAACP chapter has retained two seasoned criminal attorneys, who volunteered to assist in the matter, he said.
"We have two first-class attorneys who will be looking at documents on behalf of the NAACP regarding this case as soon as we are able to receive them," he said.
While the NAACP, ACLU and media organizations press for more information, local community activists have helped keep residents informed of what is happening, Brown said.
"I support the other activists in this community who are keeping peace and keeping calm in this town," he said. "I hope they would continue to do just that and know that justice is going to prevail."
Despite recent community anger over the city's break down of a memorial to Barnes, and the sudden cancellation of the annual Black History festival on Feb. 21, the community is handling things in an organized way, Brown said.
"Most people in this community are peaceful," said local activist Tarik Ross. "Of course, a lot of people want answers. But at the same time, nobody is going to burn police cars or riot at the Black History Festival."
Local youth advocate Jon Brookhart agreed.
"We're equating this to a problem of, `how did this happen,' `why did it happen' and `should it have happened'," Brookhart said. "(Authorities are) asserting that we're going to do the wrong thing because they did the wrong thing."
During the public comment period at the regular meeting of the Northwest Commission, residents continued to speak out about the shooting.
Clarence Nelson, 37, called for Melekian's resignation, saying his reaction to the shooting has been "nonchalant."
"My brothers are dying on the street and we're being treated with injustice," he said.
He also called for an independent investigation of the shooting, a request echoed by Michelle White, president of the ACLU's Pasadena chapter.
"We think that it's a conflict of interest for the police department to investigate itself," she said. "We need to have some kind of closure on this and I don't think police can do this for us."
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