'Good ole boys' Pasadena police gang attacked, demeaned nonwhite officers, suits claim

PASADENA, CA - JUNE 06: Carolyn Gordon retired in April as a lieutenant with the Pasadena police department. She is among current and former Pasadena police officers who have filed lawsuits claiming discrimination and assault. Pictured in the back is current Pasadena police officer Lt. Sam De Sylva who also is involved in the lawsuits. Photographed at the Pasadena Police Department in Pasadena, CA on Thursday, June 6, 2024. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Retired Pasadena Police Lt. Carolyn Gordon is among a group of current and former officers who allege discrimination and assault within the department. Pictured in the background is Pasadena Lt. Sam De Sylva, one of the plaintiffs. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Several current and former Pasadena police officers and supervisors — all of them people of color — suffered assaults, discrimination and retaliation by a pair of department cliques, one of which is dubbed the Good Ole Boys Club, according to a series of lawsuits filed against the department.

Three allege they were assaulted by colleagues. Officer Jarvis Shelby said he was placed in a headlock by a commander in August. Lt. Sam De Sylva said he was kicked so hard in the leg by another lieutenant that he needed surgery. And retired Lt. Carolyn Gordon said she was shot in the groin with a paintball gun during training, an injury that caused internal bleeding.

"These are police officers that are supposed to protect the community, but they attack their own," said Brad Gage, an attorney representing the six Pasadena officers and former supervisors. Four have already sued the department, and two others — Gordon and retired Officer Omar Elhosseiny — are planning suits, Gage said.

The allegations cast a further pall on a department accused of stopping minorities and using deadly force on young Black men under questionable circumstances.

At the crux of the lawsuits are two cop gangs alleged to control the Pasadena Police Department. One is dubbed the GOBC, or Good Ole Boys Club, and the other is known as the Veteranos, which consists of officers who have been involved in a police shooting.

Those named in the current and pending lawsuits say the police gangs rule the department.

Attorney Brad Gage with Carolyn Gordon and Omar Elhosseiny
Former Pasadena police officers Carolyn Gordon and Omar Elhosseiny, right, recount their experiences with assault and discrimination during a news conference with attorney Brad Gage, left, at police headquarters Thursday. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

"If there is racism, retaliation and violence within the Police Department, it can certainly bleed over into the community," said Gordon, a department supervisor who retired in April.

She said she was called a crybaby after being shot during a training exercise in 1998. "Sometimes in this building, I feared for my safety," said Gordon, standing outside police headquarters at a news conference Thursday.

Read more: Brass knuckles, body cams and bad behavior: LAPD probe links troubled Valley gang units

Elhosseiny, a retired officer who was awarded the department's Medal of Courage, said that last year, when he reported three officers for drinking on duty, he was mocked.

"I was called 'Taliban,' " said Elhosseiny, who is Muslim. "I was told to park my car facing Mecca."

The series of lawsuits against the Pasadena Police Department began last year and garnered public attention when Officer Taisyn Crutchfield alleged that she was wrongfully punished for trying to de-escalate a situation with another officer and a woman being detained.

In the lawsuit, Crutchfield, 27, alleges she was punished after a situation on Feb. 20, 2023, in which additional officers were called to an argument involving the two sons of Charles Towns, a Black man who was shot and killed by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies in Altadena in January.

Former and current Pasadena police officers who are involved in lawsuits against the department.
Clockwise from top left: Pasadena Officer Omar Elhosseiny, Officer Jarvis Shelby, retired Lt. Carolyn Gordon, Sgt. Milton White, Lt. Sam De Sylva and Officer Taisyn Crutchfield. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Crutchfield's attorney said that police were called to the scene when one of Towns' sons, a juvenile, was "understandably upset by the death of their father."

The incident was captured on body camera video and shows her touching Officer Ralph Palacios' arm and then his shoulder in what she characterized as an effort to de-escalate a situation in which he was arguing with a Black woman who was being detained. Palacios told her, "No, you don't do that," and then pushed her arm away and told her to get out of his face. A supervisor then directed the officers to move away from each other.

Crutchfield was placed on administrative leave with pay after the incident. In the aftermath, she said, officers retaliated against her by not answering her call for backup when responding to a man with a gun.

Read more: Jurors award $11.5 million to former LAPD K-9 handler who claimed discrimination over Samoan heritage

In her lawsuit, Crutchfield also alleged that while she was in training, Officer Al Garcia asked that she be washed out and fired from the department. Once on patrol, she was subjected to derogatory racial comments and left without backup, according to her lawsuit.

In another instance, Crutchfield was dispatched to a domestic violence call alone, and Shelby said he responded as backup. The call caused him trouble in the department and put a target on his back, he said in his lawsuit, noting that a commanding officer put him in a headlock last fall.

Melvin White, who is now a sergeant, witnessed the headlock incident and described what he saw to his superiors, he said in a lawsuit. White said after his report, he became the subject of retaliation.

Pasadena Chief Gene Harris, however, said of the incident: "There was no assault or violence perpetrated on or by any member of this police department."

Harris said in December that "a thorough investigation was conducted and completed before [White's] claim was filed."

“I take any complaints of assault or violence seriously, and I will not tolerate an internal culture of assault or violence,” Harris said at the time.

The Pasadena Police Officers Assn., the union that represents rank-and-file officers, called the allegations false. And Pasadena police officials have said they will vigorously defend themselves, adding that the department "is proud of its diversity throughout all ranks." Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo did not immediately respond for comment.

During the last decade, Pasadena has paid out millions of dollars in civil lawsuits stemming from fatal police shootings and in-custody deaths of Black men.

In 2021, the city paid $7.5 million to the three young children of Anthony McClain, a Black man fatally shot as he ran away during a 2020 traffic stop. In 2012, police fatally shot Kendrick McDade, another unarmed Black man, after a 911 caller falsely reported he had a gun.

Times staff photographer Myung J. Chun contributed to this report.

Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.