Chief Defends Officer in Shooting

Chief Defends Officer in Shooting
Pasadena official says the policeman, whom residents accuse of a reputation for violence, was in the right.
By Kristina Sauerwein
Times Staff Writer

April 29, 2004

Before three dozen angry and sometimes tearful residents Wednesday night, Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian defended an officer’s fatal shooting of a man who was firing at police.

“The facts in this case are straightforward…. The officer involved did nothing wrong,” Melekian said during a meeting at the office of the NAACP’s Pasadena branch.

But he acknowledged failure on the Police Department’s part to prevent “a disconnect” with residents who accused police of using excessive force against young black men.

NAACP branch President Joe Brown said he received 60 calls from people concerned about Saturday night’s shooting.

Maurice Clark, 30, a felon and known gang member, died outside an apartment in the 300 block of West Howard Street in northwest Pasadena.

Police Cmdr. Chris Vicino gave this account:

Officers Keith Gomez, 27, and Javier Aguilar, 28, spotted Clark “acting suspicious and appearing anxious and nervous” at Howard and Lincoln Avenue about 11 p.m. When they saw the outline of a handgun in his waistband and confronted him, Clark ran east on Howard, firing shots at the officers as they chased him.

Gomez shot back, striking Clark twice, Vicino said. The wounded man died at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena.

Capt. David Campbell of the county coroner’s office said five gunshot wounds were found on Clark’s body. Multiple wounds “do not tell us how many times he was shot,” Campbell said, because each bullet can cause more than one injury.

More than a dozen people at the meeting told Melekian that Officer Gomez had a reputation in northwest Pasadena for violence.

Jessie Harris, 36, said Gomez rough-housed him on several occasions, including once when the officer arrested Harris on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon. “Everyone in the community knows about Gomez,” said Harris, who called Clark’s death a murder.

“No, actually, it’s not,” Melekian responded.

Of the comments about Gomez, the chief said: “I clearly heard some things that need to be looked into.”

He urged residents to file complaints about officers. But residents said they feared retaliation.

Caree Annette Harper, a Pasadena attorney, said she was working on several cases involving Gomez. “There is a real fear of excessive force,” she said.

The Police Department will hold a community meeting at 9 a.m. Saturday in the Jackie Robinson Center, 1020 N. Fair Oaks Ave., to discuss concerns about the shooting.

The area of the city discussed Wednesday night is roughly north of the Foothill Freeway and west of Lake Avenue.

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