City Council Criticized Over Handling of OIS

Self-proclaimed national director of the Brown Berets, Dave Sanchez, addresses the City Council. Photo by Steve Whitmore

The South Pasadena City Council weathered a rash of criticisms during its recent public meeting over the handling of the officer-involved shooting (OIS) that claimed the life of local resident Vanessa Marquez.

In fact, David Sanchez, the self-proclaimed national director of the Brown Berets, an organization that gained prominence in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, called for the officers involved to be fired.

“I do know that you have power over your police department and how they handle situations,” Sanchez said to the council during public comments. “We are demanding that perhaps the policeman who did the shooting that he be disciplined or fired from his job.”

Moreover, several people followed Sanchez with scathing remarks regarding the city’s handling of the situation, including one woman who became emotional while decrying the council’s marginalization of Marquez’s life. Another, who said she was a newspaper editor, promised Freedom of Information (FOI) requests will be forthcoming that will force the city to release more specific information. As of press time, the city has received at least one FOI regarding the OIS.

The criticism did not come as a surprise to the City Council, which opened its meeting with a statement from City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe explaining the city’s reluctance to discuss the ongoing investigation into the OIS.

Brown Berets called for the firing of officers in the OIS. Photo by Steve Whitmore

“We’ve heard from some of our residents about the incident,” DeWolfe said at the beginning of council meeting. “We understand your concerns and questions and you may wonder why your elected officials here on the dais are not saying more about the incident. The reason is this: It’s important that we respect the investigative process. It would be inappropriate for the council to comment on a case that is being actively investigated by agencies outside our city. So, we ask for your patience as the investigation is underway.”

It was at this juncture that Mayor Dr. Richard D. Schneider interrupted DeWolfe.

“Can I interrupt you for a second,” Schneider asked DeWolfe, who readily agreed.

“On behalf of the City Council, I would like to express our condolences to all of those who knew Vanessa Marquez, her friends, her family, and her neighbors,” Schneider said to the assembled crowd in the council chambers. “We are a small town and a tight-knit community regardless of the circumstances as a loss of a member of our community affects us all.”

A memorial was held Saturday in honor of Vanessa Marquez who was killed in an officer-involved shooting with local police. Photo by Joseph Ruiz

The OIS probe is being handled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department as well as the Justice System Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Also, the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office is in charge of the official cause of death report. Sheriff investigators have put a “security hold” on the coroner’s report, which means the coroner can’t talk about its findings.

The District Attorney’s Office will render its opinion as to whether the shooting was justified or not. Investigations such as these can take anywhere from six months to a year to complete, according to officials. Local officials, including police, have already unofficially determined that the OIS was justified.

The three local officers involved in the Aug. 30 incident were placed on administrative leave as per department policy and have since returned to patrol duties, police said.

The 49-year-old Marquez died in the OIS that occurred at about 1:48 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at her residence, 1133 Fremont Avenue. No officers were injured during the incident.

Marquez was an actress, most notably with roles on “ER” and “Stand and Deliver.” Marquez was transported to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead. A public memorial was held Sept. 22 at Arroyo Park where family and friends fondly remembered Marquez.

Vanessa Marquez

The criticism levied at the council concerned, in large measure, the limited amount of information being publicly released about the specifics of the OIS.

Interim Police Chief Brian Solinsky addressed that issue at the council meeting as well.
“I can discuss the facts that have already been released by the Sheriff’s Department,” Solinsky said to the assembled crowd in the council chambers. “On Aug. 30…police were called to a residence in the 1100 block of Fremont Avenue for a welfare check. The caller was concerned about the subject’s well-being and asked police to investigate. Officers arrived on scene with a mental health professional to assist in the investigation. The officers and the mental health professional talked to the subject for approximately 90 minutes. It was during that time she appeared to demonstrate mental health issues. An additional officer was called to assist. At one point, the subject armed herself with a handgun and drew it on the officers. At which time an officer-involved shooting occurred. The subject was transported to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead.”

Solinsky went on to explain that the handgun turned out to be a replica semi-automatic handgun and per department protocol, the officers were put on administrative leave. Sheriff’s investigators said the replica looked “exactly” like a real handgun.

South Pasadena City Council chambers were packed during its last meeting where several people stood up and criticized the city for its handling of the OIS. Photo by Steve Whitmore

“As you can imagine this has been a traumatic event for them,” the interim police chief told the people in the council chambers, in reference to the officers involved in the Aug. 30 incident. “But they are doing well and have returned to active duty. In closing, I would like to reiterate our full and complete cooperation in the ongoing investigation.”

The officers involved were wearing body-worn cameras and the video is not being publicly released per the Sheriff’s Department as it is considered evidence.

The last OIS that occurred in So Pas was in 2016. There was another in 2017 that occurred in Burbank and also involved South Pasadena police officers. In that incident, a replica handgun also was brandished at So Pas police. The subject was killed in that OIS.