Crime & Justice

Pasadena to pay $1.5 million to family of Reginald Thomas, who died in police custody

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Pasadena officials have approved a $1.5 million settlement to the family of Reginald Thomas, who died on September 30, 2016, after a struggle outside his apartment with six Pasadena police officers.

A statement issued by the city of Pasadena said, in part: "By agreeing to the settlement, the City and its officers do not admit liability or fault in the matter... This settlement, when finalized and approved by the court, will resolve the lawsuit."

Thomas, a 35-year-old black man, was reportedly acting strangely just prior to the altercation with police offices. His family members have said he was suffering from a medical emergency. 

The incident took place on the 250 block of East Orange Grove Blvd., just after 2 a.m. During the struggle, Thomas was shocked with a Taser three times as officers tried to wrestle him into custody.

After being restrained, Thomas stopped breathing. Officers administered CPR until paramedics arrived but they couldn't revive him and he died at the scene.

A day after Thomas's death, authorities released a security video and a 911 call made by Thomas's family. In the 911 call, a male caller tells the dispatcher that his brother is high and holding a knife under his armpit, but has not threatened anyone in the apartment with it.

The caller says he doesn't know if his brother has any mental conditions. Later he says his brother has been known to be violent.

Thomas's family sued the city of Pasadena, claiming officers used excessive force.

Despite the settlement with the city of Pasadena, Thomas's family is pressing Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey to file criminal charges against the officers involved. Thomas's family members also wants his autopsy report to be made public.

The Pasadena City Council approved the settlement in closed session at its March 26 meeting, "three weeks before the case was set to go to trial," according to the Pasadena Star News reports.

Amid heightened scrutiny of the Pasadena Police Department, Chief Phillip Sanchez announced on 
March 13 that he would be retiring. Other controversial events under Sanchez's leadership include the November 2017 beating of 21-year-old Christopher Ballew by police officers during a traffic stop and the 2012 death of 19-year-old Kendrec McDade, who was unarmed when he was shot by police.

The city of Pasadena's full statement is below:

The City of Pasadena and the plaintiff family members of Reginald Thomas have reached a tentative settlement in the lawsuit brought against the City (Lindsey v. City of Pasadena, et al.). Thomas died on September 30, 2016, following an altercation with Pasadena police officers who were attempting to restrain him after he had failed to comply with their instructions. Following settlement discussions that were conducted with U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero, the City will pay the family $1.5 million to settle all claims. 

By agreeing to the settlement, the City and its officers do not admit liability or fault in the matter. The City Council unanimously approved settlement at its March 26, 2018 meeting, and the lawyers have since been finalizing the settlement agreement. The final settlement is subject to approval by the court.

In the early morning hours of September 30, 2016, officers from the Pasadena Police Department responded to emergency 911 calls from family members within the apartment, as well as others, requesting police assistance at an apartment in the 200 block of East Orange Grove Boulevard, in Pasadena.  Upon the officers' arrival, they observed the 35-year-old Thomas outside the apartment door holding a fire extinguisher, and carrying a large dagger under his arm.  In the apartment were four children and Thomas’ girlfriend. Thomas was acting erratically and appeared to be under the influence of controlled substances. Officers learned that before they had arrived, Thomas had sprayed the fire extinguisher inside the apartment, including spraying one of the children.  

From the time the officers arrived, and in an effort to safeguard the minor children and others, they instructed Thomas to drop the dagger and fire extinguisher numerous times. When he did not comply, Thomas was tased by the officers but remained uncooperative and slammed the front door on the officers as he was re-entering the apartment. Additional officers arrived and they entered the apartment and attempted to take Thomas into custody. A struggle ensued, Thomas later became unresponsive and the officers immediately commenced CPR. The paramedics from the Pasadena Fire Department were called and, upon arrival, took over CPR efforts. However, Thomas was declared deceased at approximately 3:26 a.m. Expert investigators determined that Thomas’ death was not caused by the use of force by police in their efforts to restrain him, but rather by Thomas’ ingestion of lethal levels of illegal narcotics, including PCP and methamphetamine, which had caused his erratic behavior.  

The facts of this incident are currently under review by the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office. Additionally, the Pasadena Police Department is undertaking an administrative review of the incident to assess whether the officers acted within Department policy. Finally, the City is undertaking an independent review of the incident, and has retained the Washington, DC-based non-profit Police Foundation to conduct that review. This settlement, when finalized and approved by the court, will resolve the lawsuit. City officials convey condolences to Mr. Thomas’ family and friends.