Longtime custodian detained at Pasadena school, stirring outrage

A longtime janitor at a Pasadena elementary school was handcuffed and arrested by the Pasadena Police Department on Sunday after reports of a possible break-in sparked the outrage of school officials and prompted an investigation into how law enforcement had handled the matter.

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 Lisa Derderian, public information officer for Pasadena, a caller reported that “someone was climbing a fence” at the back of the school and was carrying what appears to be a backpack and bag looked. The caller described the person as possibly a “tall woman” or man, adding that it was “hard to tell” and telling the operator the person “looked white” and in their 20s or 30s.

“I don’t know if there’s anything to it, but just thought I’d report it,” the caller said at first, before adding, “It doesn’t look good.” Before hanging up, the caller said, “It’s very harmless could be”.

When officers arrived, they found the school’s back door open, Taglioretti said. They came across a man posing as a janitor. Because officers were responding to calls from a suspected burglar, they handcuffed and arrested the man, who told officers to call the 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 janitor’s identity in a call with principal Rudy Ramirez, who said the janitor was working overtime. The manager was released, and police conducted a final search of the premises before departing around 9:10 a.m., Taglioretti said.

The administrator’s name is currently being withheld, said Hilda Ramirez Horvath, a spokeswoman for the Pasadena Unified School District. Ramirez Horvath declined to reveal the administrator’s ethnicity.

A security officer from the California Metro Patrol, a company hired by 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 Clerk’s Office, Ramirez eventually arrived on campus, visibly upset, and voiced harsh criticism of the way the situation was developing, suggesting race was a factor .

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

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

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

“I have concerns about the manner in which the PUSD employee was arrested and treated,” McDonald said in the statement. “I also have questions about false statements that may have been made by the person who called the police.”

Derderian said officials are expediting the verification process to determine whether responding officers followed proper protocol and body camera footage worn by responding officers could be released as early as Tuesday.

“Our intention is to release a video to show exactly how it unfolded and we hope people will wait until they see the actual video before speculating about this incident,” Derderian said.

Police confirmed the body camera footage is being reviewed and said they were unsure if there was surveillance footage from the school to support the first 911 call.

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

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-16/pasadena-school-custodian-mistaken-for-burglar Longtime custodian detained at Pasadena school, stirring outrage

Alley Einstein

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