Crime & Justice

Pasadena NAACP sues over changes to city's police body camera policy

File: Police body cameras are seen on a mannequin at an exhibit booth by manufacturer Wolfcom at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago.
File: Police body cameras are seen on a mannequin at an exhibit booth by manufacturer Wolfcom at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago.
Jim Young/Reuters/Landov

The Pasadena branch of the NAACP is filing suit against Pasadena over changes the city made to its police body camera policy. The NAACP chapter says those changes contradict what it submitted to the Department of Justice when it applied for funding. 

The suit asserts that Pasadena applied for and received a $250,000 grant from the DOJ fraudulently, Pasadena NAACP attorney Dale Gronemeier told KPCC. The organization is calling for the policy to be withdrawn.

"This was not something minor. This was one policy that was black, and another policy that was white," Gronemeier said.

The policy Pasadena submitted was "quite progressive," Gronemeier said, but changed after the city negotiated with the police union. Gronemeier described the policy that Pasadena ultimately decided on was "radically more reactionary," resulting in a "bait-and-switch."

One of the changes made to the policy: allowing officers to view body camera footage before giving criminal investigation statements. Gronemeier argues that would allow officers to tailor their statements to the evidence they view in the video. He said the updated policy would also allow police to withhold portions of video from the public, which he says would allow officers to "cherry-pick" segments of footage to show the public — releasing footage that is favorable to the officers and unfavorable toward the other side.

Pasadena is defining body camera video and audio as "investigative materials," which are exempted the California Public Records Act. Gronemeier said that an appeals court decision means you can't make something an investigative document before the investigation exists, which he argues is the case with the body camera footage police collect.

"It's a patent attempt to put a square peg in a round hole. It won't work, and we're in a lawsuit attacking it as facially invalid," Gronemeier said.

The suit asserts that Pasadena "erroneously and intentionally misled" the DOJ when it applied for a federal grant, knowing that the policy would change. That, it says, is what makes the city's application to the DOJ fraudulent.

As part of its application, the city also solicited and received support from community activists, including Pasadena NAACP President Gary Moody. Gronemeier said that support was based on the initial policy the city submitted.

"The Department of Justice doesn't ask for a draft policy — they ask for the policy for the body cameras," Gronemeier said.

The suit also asserts that Pasadena's city attorney has been misleading the Pasadena City Council about their powers in this matter, Gronemeier said. At issue: whether  the police chief can enact policy before the City Council is able to review it and whether the Council itself can set policy.

"The city manager and the city attorney are refusing to communicate to the City Council that they have that power [to create policy], and they are snookering them," Gronemeier said.

The Pasadena Police Department declined to comment for this story.

Read the policy, how it changed and a letter submitted by the Pasadena NAACP's lawyer calling for the policy to be withdrawn below:

Policy 450

Read the full suit here:

Pasadena suit