Longtime guard detained at Pasadena school, sparking outrage

A longtime guard at a Pasadena elementary school was handcuffed and detained by the Pasadena Police Department on Sunday following reports of a possible burglary, sparking outrage from school officials and triggering an investigation into how law enforcement handled the case.

Police responded to a call from a suspected burglar at San Rafael Elementary School around 8:30 a.m., said Marcia Taglioretti, acting commander and public information officer for the Pasadena Police Department.

In a recording of the 911 call shared with the Times by Pasadena public information officer Lisa Derderian, a caller called to report “someone climbing a fence” at the back of the school and wearing what looked like a backpack and a bag. The caller described the person as possibly a ‘tall woman’ or a man, adding that it was ‘hard to tell’ and told the operator the person ‘looked white’ and in twenties or thirties.

“I don’t know if there’s something to this, but I just thought I’d point it out,” the caller said first, and quickly added that “it doesn’t sound right” . Before hanging up, the caller said “it could be very innocent”.

When officers arrived, they found the school’s back door open, Taglioretti said. They came across a man who introduced himself as the caretaker. Because officers were responding to calls from a suspected burglar, they handcuffed and detained the man, who told officers to call the school principal to confirm his identity, Taglioretti said. According to KCBS-TV Channel 2, which first reported the story, the man had worked at the school for 14 years and was wearing his uniform at the time of the incident.

Police confirmed the guard’s identity during a call with school principal Rudy Ramirez, who said the guard was working overtime. The guard was released and police conducted a final sweep of the scene before leaving around 9:10 a.m., Taglioretti said.

The custodian’s name is not being released at this time, said Pasadena Unified School District spokeswoman Hilda Ramirez Horvath. Ramirez Horvath declined to give details of the goalkeeper’s ethnicity.

A security official from the California Metro Patrol, a company under contract with the school district, was also at the scene. According to a report filed by the officer and provided to The Times by the Pasadena City Manager’s Office, Ramirez eventually arrived on campus visibly upset and expressed strong criticism of the unfolding situation, suggesting that race was a postman.

The report quotes Ramirez saying, “I bet if he was white, he wouldn’t have been treated like this” and used an expletive to ward off “curious…white neighbors.” The report also states that Ramirez described that when “white children” entered and vandalized school property, no one called.

San Rafael Elementary School is located in a predominantly white, affluent area, according to Census Reporter, an independent organization that collects and simplifies data from the US Census Bureau.

In a statement, Brian McDonald, Superintendent of Pasadena Unified, called the incident “deeply concerning” and said the Pasadena Police Department and Cynthia J. Kurtz, Acting City Manager of Pasadena, are investigating.

“I am concerned about the manner in which the PUSD employee was apprehended and the manner in which he was treated,” McDonald said in the statement. “I also have questions about any inaccuracies made by the person who called the police.”

Derderian said officials are expediting the review process to determine whether responders followed proper protocol, and that body camera footage worn by responders could be released as early as Tuesday.

“Our intention is to post a video to show exactly how it happened, and we hope people will wait to see the actual video before speculating on this incident,” Derderian said.

Police confirmed that the body camera footage was being reviewed and said they were unsure if there was any surveillance footage from the school that could support the initial 911 call.

Ramirez Horvath, the district spokesman, did not immediately provide additional comment on Tuesday.

Los Angeles Times

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