So Pas Public Safety Commission Gets OIS Probe Update

Interim Police Chief Brian Solinsky, center, updates the So Pas Public Safety Commission about the officer-involved shooting. Photo by Steve Whitmore

The South Pasadena Public Safety Commission learned this week the investigation into the officer-involved shooting (OIS) that took a woman’s life is ongoing and may not be completed for another six months.

“The (Los Angeles County) Sheriff’s department is still going through the investigation and this process can take up to five to six months before it’s completed,” Interim South Pasadena Police Chief Brian Solinsky told the commission during its regularly scheduled meeting Monday morning. “There also is an independent investigation by the District Attorney’s Office. We are fairly confident that they will rule it a justified incident.”

The lead sheriff investigator explained the different investigations in an earlier interview this way.

“This is a bifurcated investigation,” Sheriff’s Homicide Lt. Joe Mendoza said during a telephone interview following the shooting. “We will gather all the facts and when we are done, we will present that to the District Attorney’s Office.” At which time, the DA will issue a letter of opinion that will indicate the shooting was justified or unjustified. That letter is given to homicide, which in turn gives it to the SPPD. Mendoza cautioned that the process could take anywhere from 6 months to a year. The Justice System Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is handling the DA’s part of the probe, but also the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office has to file its final report that will include the official cause of death and the exact number of shots to strike Marquez.

Sheriff investigators have put a “security hold” on the coroner’s report, which means the coroner can’t talk about its findings.

Vanessa Marquez

The woman that died in the OIS on a Thursday, Aug. 30, was 49-year-old So Pas resident and actress Vanessa Marquez. The incident occurred at about 1:48 p.m. at 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 is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 22. The location had not been announced as of The Review’s press deadline.

Solinsky also explained to the commission that there has been misinformation presented to sheriff investigators, such as people saying they had first-hand knowledge of the incident when, in fact, they did not.

“A lot of that information turned out to be negative and sheriff investigators determined they were never at the scene,” Solinksy said.

Solinsky went on to tell the commission that three officers responded to the incident that started out as a medical call.

“It went from medical to a mental situation pretty quickly,” Solinsky said. “It was decided she needed more attention, so they were going to take her to the hospital.” It was when the officers made that determination and approached Marquez that she brandished the weapon at the officers and they were forced to fire multiple shots. Solinsky also told the commission that some of the misinformation involved how many shots were fired. He said the number 19 was bantered about along with 12 shots.

“The investigators are still working this investigation and that is not known,” Solinsky told the commission. He said the weapon, which turned out to be a BB gun, looked and felt exactly like a real weapon.
I couldn’t tell the difference,” he said. “It looked like a real gun.”

That assessment was echoed by Mendoza, who said the weapon was a replica of a semi-automatic handgun.

“It has the appearance of a real gun,” Mendoza said during that same telephone interview following the OIS. “It didn’t have the orange tip that is usually found on these guns. This looked like a real gun and then she pointed it at the officers.” 

Three So Pas police officers and a Los Angeles County mental health clinician responded to the OIS. Per department policy, the three officers were placed on administrative leave immediately following the incident. They received counseling the next day and are expected to return to full patrol duties sometime this week, according to Solinsky.

“They are doing much better,” Solinsky said. “It was traumatic for them, as you might imagine, but they are fine now. They will be returning to patrol this week.” Solinsky also said the clinician is doing fine. The SPPD is fully assisting in the probe.

Police also said the health clinician just happened to be riding with the So Pas police the day of the incident. Initially, two officers responded to the situation and, as Marquez’s behavior allegedly became more unpredictable and problematic, they called in a third officer with the health clinician.

Furthermore, the officers were wearing body worn cameras, but Mendoza said investigators are not releasing any video at this time because it’s considered evidence.

Officer-involved shootings have occurred in South Pasadena but are considered rare, according to Solinsky, who has been with the department for the last 25 years. The last officer-involved shooting in So Pas was in 2016, the interim chief of police said. In 2017, there was an office-involved shooting involving So Pas police in Burbank.

So Pas City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe agreed with the acting chief and also said the city is going to fully cooperate with the investigations.

“We look forward to hearing the results of the investigation,” De Wolfe said in a prepared statement recently released. “In the meantime, we are asking the public to be patient and wait until the facts of the case are confirmed before making judgements about the incident.”