Pasadena principal under fire for remarks after custodian is detained

When Principal Rudy Ramirez learned that the principal at his Pasadena elementary school was arrested Sunday by police investigating reports of a possible burglar, he ran to campus feeling upset and fearing for his staffer’s life, he said.

At the scene — and unbeknownst to him, in view of a security officer’s body camera — he turned his ire on neighbors and parents in the predominantly white, affluent community, using expletives to describe them and making allegations of racism, according to video footage and a written report, released by the Pasadena Police Department and City Administrator’s Office as part of their review of the incident.

On Thursday, Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo issued a scathing rebuke to the principal, criticizing him for making “derogatory racist remarks” about parents and community members.

In a letter to Pasadena residents and parents at San Rafael Elementary School, Gordo called Ramirez’s comments “offensive” and said they were “not factual and inflammatory.”

“Racial slurs are never appropriate,” Gordo wrote in the letter released Thursday night. “Biased statements designed or intended to denigrate people because of the color of their skin were wrong in times long past, wrong on Sunday, and always will be wrong.”

A responding officer with the California Metro Patrol, a private security company hired by the district, wrote in a report released as part of the city review that Ramirez, who arrived at the school after police left, visibly upset, said of his employee: “I bet if he was white he wouldn’t have been treated like that.”

Ramirez also used an expletive to criticize the school’s “nosy … white neighbors,” according to the report, saying that “no one calls” when “white kids” enter and vandalize school grounds. Sunday’s incident began with an 911 call reporting a suspected intruder on campus.

The mayor’s criticism of Ramirez’s comments was followed by an apology from the director.

In his own letter, addressed to the San Rafael school community Wednesday night, Ramirez expressed regret for some of the language he used about parents and neighbors. It was a moment of heightened emotion, he wrote.

“I made some offensive and inappropriate comments in the presence of a Metro Patrol officer who had his body camera turned on without my knowledge,” Ramirez wrote in his letter. “I am deeply ashamed of the language I used and some of the things I said.”

Hilda Ramirez Horvath, spokeswoman for the Pasadena Unified School District, which includes San Rafael Elementary, shared the letter with The Times.

The district does not condone the headmaster’s remarks and does not comment on personnel matters, Ramirez Horvath said in a statement.

Gordo wrote that he “finds it difficult to accept [Ramirez’s] Excuse me.”

After school officials and some parents expressed their outrage that the janitor was arrested while he was on the job, Pasadena Unified Supt. Brian McDonald asked the Pasadena Police Department and the city manager to conduct an investigation into how the event unfolded and whether law enforcement responded appropriately.

A review of body camera videos by both agencies found police followed protocol when they handcuffed and arrested the manager following reports of a possible burglar, officials said. They also said the manager was cooperative.

The janitor was detained for approximately 6½ minutes when officers called and confirmed his identity to Ramirez, who informed officers that the clerk was working overtime to prepare for the new school year. The police then released the caretaker.

The city on Tuesday released body camera footage of the responding police officers, as well as California Metro Patrol officers who were at the scene. A recording of a neighbor’s 911 call and a written report from the security company were also released.

According to materials from the review, Ramirez claimed that race contributed to the incident.

The school district declined to identify the administrator, but a spokesman confirmed that he is Latino, in his 40s, and has been a district employee for 14 years.

People in a car carry signs reading Black and Brown Unity and Stronger Together in front of Pasadena City Hall

Activists participate in a peace rally in front of Pasadena City Hall in December in response to the rise in violent crime.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

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

In the audio of footage captured by a security guard’s body camera, Ramirez can be heard hurling powerful comments about the school’s neighbors. In one instance, he used sexist slurs against a white neighbor and parent at his school. In another, he used a derogatory term about Mexicans.

Ramirez also described the simmering tensions with local residents. He recalled a neighbor laying her hands on him and imitating her finger pounding on his chest while complaining about a parent at school.

“I may be the only Mexican in your life who doesn’t work for you, so be careful how you talk to me,” Ramirez told the woman.

In his letter to his school community, Ramirez said he received a call Sunday morning from officials wanting to confirm his guardian’s identity. He said that while driving to school, the janitor called officers and described to them that they had “these big assault rifles and rubber bullet pistols.” His employee was deeply shocked, he wrote.

The city said the guns carried by the police are non-lethal and use a foam bullet.

Ramirez described in his letter how he felt scared for his employee, “confused and hurt” – feelings he said stemmed from his own experiences of gun violence and police harassment growing up in Paramount.

He was also touched by what he saw as an injustice to the school administrator and the school community, he said.

Ramirez apologized for allowing “my feelings and my fear to get the better of me.”

“It is my responsibility to make amends and I have every intention of doing so,” Ramirez wrote.

Nathan Solis, a Times contributor, contributed to this report. Pasadena principal under fire for remarks after custodian is detained

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