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Pasadena Police Making Changes After Death Following Violent Arrest

Pasadena's Police Chief endorsed a series of newly presented recommendations the city had sought in the wake of the 2016 death of a man following a violent arrest, for which the city paid a $1.5 million settlement to his family.

The eight recommendations include expanding de-escalation training and finding additional less-lethal force options.  Chief John Perez told Pasadena's Public Safety Committee the department has already moved forward on much of what was recommended by the National Police Foundation.

Its report was formally presented Wednesday night at a public meeting in City Hall.

The report made a case study of the tragic turn of events that began with calls for help in dealing with a loved one acting bizarrely, but ended in the sudden of Reginald Thomas, Jr, 36, the father of eight.   The lawsuit contended he would be alive had officers handled the situation better.

On the night of September 29, 2016 and into the early morning hours of the 30th, Thomas was in the Orange Grove apartment of his significant other and her teenage son.  There were multiple calls from the apartment to 9-1-1.   According to the Police Foundation report, Thomas got a fire extinguisher and sprayed it at the woman and her son.  They told 9-1-1 he had a knife and was on drugs.  

Thomas was outside when officers arrived.  When he failed to follow their commands, they deployed Taser stun guns multiple times.  He dropped the knife--referred to by the officers as a "dagger" or "sword"--and went back into the apartment.

The officers told investigators it was concern he would harm someone inside that compelled them to force their way throught the door and take him down with baton strikes and other physical force.  Police then restrained Thomas by both his hands and feet--a technique commonly called hogtie--then minutes later discovered he had stopped breathing.  Officers tried CPR but could not revive him.

His autopsy failed to pinpoint cause of death, but found intoxication from methamphetamines, PCH, and marijuana to be a contributing factor.  

The family's use of force expert faulted the Pasadena Police Department officers for incompetent arrest tactics, excessive force, and ignoring guidelines for how to place someone hogtied so as not to compromise their ability to breath.

The Los Angeles District Attorney's office reviewed the case and declined to charge any of the officers.  The family maintains at least one of the officers should have been terminated.

"They should have been gone a long time ago," said Annie Harris, Thomas's grandmother.

"Those officers did the best they could with the situation that we had," Pasadena Police Chief John Perez said. "As good as de-escalation... can be, it requires that the other party be cooperative with the officers, and we didn't have that."

In the lawsuit settlement, approved by a federal judge, the city did not admit any wrongdoing.  But the city's decision to hire the Police Foundation to conduct an independent review and make recommendations reflected intent to find ways to resolve situations with less or no use of force. 

The death of Thomas came only days after Pasadena Police had formally adopted de-escalation as a policy, and four years after the controversial police shooting death of another African-American man, Kendrec McDade, 19, who turned out not to have been armed.

The same attorney, Caree Harper, represented both the McDade and Thomas families.  Harper attended Wednesday night's public safety committee hearing, and spoke during public comment.

"It doesn't seem like anyone learned from the McDade case," Harper said. "I pray that everything gets better before there's another one."

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