By Christopher Odalis
It seemed like another beautiful Saturday morning in sunny Pasadena, California as hundreds of people showed up to dine, shop and enjoy a relaxing day. Some were aware of an event scheduled that day and were forced to stay clear of the main arteries Colorado Blvd and Union Street that run through the city. They certainly didn’t expect what came next.
Unknown to residents who had parked their cars in various parking structures before visiting the gym, restaurants and shops, they would not be getting out any time soon. Upon returning to their cars hours later and trying to exit the parking structures, they were met by armed police on bikes and on foot, barring them from exiting. By unanimous accounts, it was like a scene out of iRobot where the policeman began rudely and methodically yelling at residents to return to their cars. When asked why they couldn’t leave, the officers said it was because of the bike tour and that they would not be let out until hours later.
The problem was that nothing was posted at the entrances to any of the parking structures warning people that if they parked there, they would not be able to exit until later. For those who needed to pick up children, attend to elderly parents, respond to a family emergency or other urgent business, it was a very serious problem. And it was happening to hundreds of people simultaneously. A call to Lieutenant Tracey Ibarra of the Pasadena police department yielded a simple denial of any false imprisonment allegations, though she did sympathize with residents’ complaints. However, the law provides a test for determining what constitutes false imprisonment. The results of this test call into serious question the judgement of the officers on the scene:
(1) Were people willfully detained from leaving? Yes. The police denied exit of the vehicles. Clearly everyone in the parking structure arrived by car and could not get where they needed to go without that car.
(2) Were people detained without consent? Yes. Clearly they did not consent to being detained.
(3) Were people detained without the authority of law behind this detention? Yes. None of the residents were suspected or accused of committing a crime. The permit that the police department thought gave them the authority was most certainly contingent upon proper notification to businesses and the posting of notices at the entrances of the parking structures- notifications that failed to happen.
What made the situation even more maddening to Pasadena residents was the cause of their unlawful detention. It was not a raging building fire. There was no deranged fugitive on the loose. It was a corporate-sponsored bike race where an group of weekend warriors suit up to ride an insane distance so they can brag to colleagues on Monday about their ‘accomplishments’. But it gets even better. What corporation was sponsoring the bike tour? Amgen, maker of Epogen. Remember that oxygen-doping drug that caused the disqualification of Lance Armstrong and nearly every other leading cyclist in the Tour De France? That’s the one. Widespread use of Epogen single-handedly destroyed the event, which has not since recovered. Amgen now faces over $1 billion in fines and settlement fees for illegally promoting Epogen. Which begs the question that any city official should have asked before agreeing to partner up with Amgen: Why the heck are they sponsoring a bike tour, of all things?
Now, one has to step back and marvel at the chain of events. Amgen effectively ruins cycling’s most venerated event the Tour De France. Amgen decides to establish its own Amgen Tour of California where, coincidently, blood testing of cyclists will not be conducted, thus increasing use of its lead product Epogen. Amgen pays millions of dollars to the municipal boards of twelve cities, including Pasadena. The city greedily accepts the money with no questions asked and force-feeds it through their planning commissions. No public hearing is called to weigh the pros and cons with residents, no referendum is held and consequently no consent is ever obtained from the people. To put perspective on this, if an apartment complex three blocks away wants to add a unit, they call a public hearing. It’s absurd that an event taking over the main arteries of the city, affecting over 100,000 residents, causing untold inconvenience and hardship, would not warrant a public hearing. Lastly, this ill-conceived plan hits the streets and the police department suddenly finds itself in the embarrassing position of unlawfully detaining hundreds of people against their will.
Just how upset are residents?
‘I just left the 24-Hour Fitness. I came in from the street that allowed access to the parking structure. When I came out to leave I was told by these police officers that I couldn’t leave. I was told I would be detained until 4 PM. I’m a Pasadena resident and I didn’t see anything on TV or receive anything in the mail so I don’t understand,’ stated Tim Brooks.
Rosemary Tong, another Pasadena resident, was equally stunned. ‘I live in the area and didn’t receive any notice from the city. Only the side streets were blocked but there were no signs on the structure. I have to work at 4 PM and can’t get out.’
Melinda Walters entered a parking structure through an open street but upon exiting later was blocked by police and the exit gate. She was forced to sit in her car for two hours. ‘I was not allowed to leave the parking structure. There was no sign saying we would not be able to exit until 4 PM. Otherwise, I would not have parked here.’
Miguel Hernandez, a Pasadena resident, drove into a parking structure where, again, no warning was posted. ‘I’m not able to leave and am being detained at the moment. It’s kind of a hassle. They’re saying I can’t leave until 4 PM. The police aren’t even trying to help us.’
‘You tend not to think about civil rights abuse until it happens to you. Right now, we’re being held in the parking structure unable to pick up our two-year-old daughter because there are three Pasadena police men barring the way. These are not respectful, concerned officers of the law, these are rude, belligerent thugs who think it’s acceptable to shout out commands and trample people’s rights. I’m surprised violence hasn’t erupted,’ said Stryker, singer from pop rock group Millennium. ‘I’m out with my wife Sapphire and not looking for trouble. But if you’re going to bar the exit without any prior notification and infringe my rights, then be prepared for some unpleasantness.’
Three of the officers identified in the unlawful detentions were officers Brown, Watson and Roehl. ‘The callous and rude behavior of these officers was completely unacceptable. They knew something was wrong with what they were doing, but instead of re-evaluating the situation and figuring out a way to help people, they became antagonistic bullies,’ stated Melanie Fischer, a resident of Highland Park who had eaten breakfast at Mi Piace restaurant before returning to her car and encountering the police.
The Pasadena bike tour debacle calls into sharp focus two deep-seated and alarming trends. The first is corporate and civic greed causing city officials to push through permits for lucrative events without due consent from residents. Ironically, if such consent had been sought, someone might have pointed out the glaring parking structure issue. Yet, no one seemed to be thinking about residents’ rights at city hall, with big money at stake. In short, the bike tour debacle reveals a dismal failure of city officials to execute their civic duty- namely to represent the interests of the people, not the interests of big corporations like Amgen. The second alarming trend is the increased lawlessness and militant attitude of police officers. Logically, if city officials are willing to trample over residents’ rights, that attitude will extend down the chain of command to them. But while the first type of rights violations can be concealed from the public behind closed doors, the second type cannot.
Gazing down Union Street, there are certainly not the crowds of enthusiastic supporters that Amgen and the City of Pasadena had hoped for. Instead, there are crowds of enraged residents whose cars are trapped in parking structures against their will, while the Pasadena police shout rude, fascist-style commands at them. Amidst the angry and bewildered throngs are a conspicuously few people cheering the cyclists on. They have Amgen shirts on. The scene pretty much says it all. It’s not the scene Amgen and the City of Pasadena hoped for, but it looks like the scene they rightfully deserve.