Officer in the eye of a storm

Homicide detective is under investigation by the Sheriff's Department.

June 10, 2012|By Adolfo Flores, adolfo.flores@latimes.com

Pasadena Det. Keith Gomez is under fire from several directions. It is not a first for the 13-year veteran of the force.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is looking into allegations that Gomez falsified evidence and lied on the stand in the 2011 trial of a Pasadena man for a 2006 fatal shooting. The defendant in that case has said Gomez threatened to kill him.

And the family of Kendrec McDade, who was shot and killed by two Pasadena police officers in March, alleges Gomez manipulated an interview with a key witness in the aftermath of McDade's death.

Gomez did not return calls seeking comment. Pasadena police have decided to keep him on active duty while the sheriff's investigation plays out.

Gomez's conduct first came under scrutiny in 2004, four years after he joined the department out of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Academy.

At that time the FBI, at the request of then-Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian, investigated Gomez's fatal shooting of Maurice Clark, an armed suspect who shot at police while running from arrest. Gomez shot and killed Clark during the incident, but was cleared of any wrongdoing, and a lawsuit filed by Clark's estate was dismissed.

Gomez was at the scene in another 2004 incident when LaMont Robinson, 30, died following an altercation with Pasadena police. Police used an arm hold against Robinson's neck to stop him from swallowing what they believed to be cocaine. The FBI also investigated that incident, and Gomez faced no discipline for his role in it.

In 2009, Pasadena settled out of court with a youth who alleged he and his friends were victims of police brutality. Gomez was among the six officers named in the federal lawsuit.

The most recent charges against Gomez stem from the trials of Aujulius Bailey and Jamaul Harvey, who were accused of murder in the 2006 gang-related shooting of Tommie Evans.

Harvey's first trial resulted in a hung jury. At retrial in November 2011, he was acquitted.

In a signed declaration, an alternate juror in the second trial accused Gomez of falsifying evidence, lying on the witness stand and relying on a witness whose testimony was untrustworthy.

The declaration was presented to the Pasadena Police Department last month.

“Initially when Detective Gomez first took the stand, I was tricked into believing there was a true case here,” the declaration states. “As time went on, something was not right with the picture. Things just did not match up.”

Harvey's attorney, Pamela Dansby-Decatur, said, “It just felt like [Gomez] would do anything to make the case stick.”

Harvey also submitted a complaint alleging Gomez threatened to kill him during a search of Harvey's home.

Bailey faced three trials for his alleged role in Evans' death. In the first, the jury voted 11 to 1 for conviction, according to his defense attorney, Jonathan Mandel. In the second, after a jailhouse informant cultivated by Gomez recanted his story, the jury came back 10 to 2 for acquittal, Mandel said. Early in the third trial earlier this year, prosecutors offered Bailey a plea deal: If he would agree to a manslaughter charge, he would be released for time already served. Bailey agreed.

Pasadena Lt. Phlunte Riddle, the department spokeswoman, and Deputy Chief Darryl Qualls declined to discuss the allegations against Gomez until the sheriff's investigation is complete.

Riddle said Qualls and Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez asked for the sheriff to conduct an independent probe.

Skipp Townsend, a consultant with the Urban Peace Academy, which trains Los Angeles police officers and sheriff's deputies on gang intervention, said officers dealing with violent criminals walk a fine line.

“Officers will be very aggressive in interactions with community members because they're suspected gang members, based on their training,” Townsend said. “A lot of times there is an abuse of power, even though it's minor or verbal.”

At the same time, Townsend said, people unfamiliar with police procedures and training will find fault where there is none.

“People will accuse officers of abusing their authority when they don't understand,” Townsend said. “The No. 1 thing is, everyone wants to go home, including the police officer and the person labeled as being violent.”

When he was at the sheriff's academy, Gomez was assigned to duty at county jail facilities, according to his court testimony in the Bailey case.

In 2002 and 2003 he was part of a task force composed of Pasadena officers and Altadena sheriff's deputies that targeted violent gangs. In 2003 he went to a special intelligence team assigned to African American gangs, where he dealt with informants, conducted surveillance and worked alongside other police agencies.

In 2004 Gomez became a homicide detective, which he remains today.

Gomez was not present when Kendrec McDade was shot on March 24. But according to the wrongful death suit filed in April by the McDade family, he was interviewing a minor who was with McDade at the time of the shooting when his tape recorder “mysteriously malfunctioned for 25 minutes” while he questioned the minor.

In the Harvey case, Dansby-Decatur said, Gomez didn't record, or only partially recorded, two interviews with the defendant.

Joe Brown, president of the Pasadena chapter of the NAACP, has tracked the McDade case closely and said that he has heard complaints about Gomez over the years.

He said he hopes the complaint related to Harvey and the allegations in the McDade lawsuit are thoroughly vetted.

“Otherwise, in two years we're going to be reading about the same thing, only with someone else's name,” Brown said.

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