City of Pasadena releases video of elementary school janitor’s encounter with police


On Monday, the City of Pasadena made public several video recordings of an encounter between a local elementary school janitor and Pasadena police officers the day before.

The videos show police using bolt cutters to enter the campus of San Rafael Elementary School on Sunday morning after a 911 caller reported seeing a man with a backpack scaling a fence at the school.

The caller said:

“It looked like a tall female, but it could have been a male. It’s difficult to tell… I’m carrying a backpack and a bag, and it just doesn’t look good.”

Police arrived and questioned a man who turned out to be a long-term employee of the Pasadena Unified School District.

“I don’t need to climb the gate because I have the keys,” the unidentified janitor said, allowing police to search his phone in order to contact school principal Rudy Ramirez.

In the video, the janitor is wearing his PUSD uniform shirt. Throughout the incident, he was cooperative and polite.

“What brings him here on a Sunday?” one of the officers said over the phone to the school principal.

Officers can be heard on one video saying that there is a neighbor who can’t stand the school and that they believe that was the person who called.

The incident has enraged some parents, who have requested a town hall meeting with school officials and local police.

“While the caller who initiated the call for service is concerned during the call, the caller is not inflammatory, and the call has no racial overtones,” City Manager Cynthia Kurtz stated on Monday.

“Police officers responding to the call discovered the campus gate was locked, but the school door was visibly open.”

When police arrived, one person was seen inside the school wearing black shorts, a white t-shirt, and an open blue outer-shirt, according to Kurtz.

Officers questioned the man, who has not been identified, and handcuffed him for approximately 6-1/2 minutes until they could verify that he was a PUSD employee with permission to be on a closed campus, according to Kurtz.

Kurtz stated that the PUSD employee was not “proned out,” and that the handcuffing was done quietly and respectfully by a female police officer. The PUSD employee was also courteous and cooperative.

Kurtz also stated that the weapons carried by police officers were non-lethal weapons that fired foam projectiles to stun rather than injure suspects.

According to a report obtained by this media outlet from California Metro Patrol, a security officer dispatched to the scene stated that when he arrived and entered the school grounds, he saw “what appeared to be a janitor detained on the steps.” He stated that he was on campus working extra hours to clean the school. [He] mentioned that he could give the number to Mr. Ramirez, the school’s principal.”

The police “spoke on the phone with Mr. Ramirez and verified the OT that was approved for, and he [the janitor] was quickly released from handcuffs,” according to the security officer.

“When Superintendent Brian McDonald informed me of the incident, I immediately launched an internal investigation so that we could present the facts to the community,” Pasadena Police Chief Jason Clawson said.

“Our job is to approach a situation based on the information provided to us in the initial call to our dispatch center.  Our officers received that information and conducted themselves in a professional and polite manner as I’d expect from our entire department.  The custodian was detained, cooperated and understood the process the officers had to go through to validate that he was permitted to be on a closed school campus.”

The incident “deeply concerned” Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Brian McDonald and enraged others in the school district.

“I am concerned about the manner in which the PUSD employee was apprehended and treated. I also have concerns about possible misstatements made by the person who called the police,” McDonald said in a statement. “I’m looking for a complete explanation of how this situation was handled.”

“While we see the Pasadena Police Department as a partner agency in our city, as with all Pasadena community members, we expect that law enforcement will act respectfully and appropriately when dealing with members of the public, including our PUSD staff. We will continue to gather information before determining any further action.”

When responding to the incident, School Board Member Scott Phelps made no apologies.

“When will the police ever change their training and tactics?   Let me guess, a wealthy neighbor who like too many residents nearby doesn’t want the public school kids there anyway saw a person of color on the campus?  And the police of course responded the way they do to people of color.  Nothing has really changed in Pasadena has it?”