Huy Pham Will Be Remembered Again Today
Six years ago today, at approximately 3 p.m., I received an urgent telephone call from a friend who works at the Costa Mesa City Hall telling me to drop whatever I was doing, grab my camera and get to City Hall - NOW! No further explanation, just the repeated instruction to get to City Hall immediately. Well, I trust this friend, so I did, indeed, stop what I was doing, grab my camera and drove a little too quickly to the Costa Mesa City Hall.
CLEAR SIGNS OF TROUBLE
When I turned into the parking lot off Fair Drive I immediately saw emergency trucks parked near the employee entrance on the east side of the building, with yellow Caution tape strung around. I knew something was seriously wrong.
As I parked my car I saw Public Services Director Peter Naghavi, obviously very distraught, briskly walking toward that site. I later took a photo of him sitting on a curb in the parking lot, sobbing.
LEARNING OF PHAM'S DEATH
As I worked my way around the side of the building I encountered folks who told me what happened. Huy Pham, a then 29-year old maintenance worker who had been out on a medical leave due to a non-work related injury, was one of the more than 200 employees who were to receive layoff notices that day. He apparently got the word unofficially, came to City Hall, went to the roof of the building and leaped to his death.
IMAGES BURNED IN MY BRAIN
As news vans packed the parking lot and their helicopters circled overhead, memories of that day will never leave me. Even though the images I captured that day clearly show the drama of that incident, those I did NOT record remain burned in my memory - I suspect I will never forget them.... Like new City Manager Tom Hatch being consoled by Pastor Mike Decker... Like Transportation Manager Raja Sethuraman restraining Pham's supervisor as he moved to confront Jim Righeimer - the man who will carry Pham's blood on his soul forever... Like my brief conversation with then-interim Police Chief Steve Staveley, who began his second tour in that role just two days earlier... And the tears - so many tears on the cheeks of employees as they heard about this tragedy and came downstairs to console one another.
MONAHAN'S WORST MOMENT - OF MANY
I've written about this day many times, and always on the anniversary - St. Patrick's Day. The fact that it occurred on that holiday is relevant because, upon hearing the tragic news then-Mayor Gary Monahan, instead of dropping what he was doing and going to City Hall to help manage the situation and console distraught employees, he chose to remain in his little kilt at his gin mill and pull beer taps, selling green beer and having a good old time. He told one reporter at the time that it was, "the biggest day of my life". I was disgusted then and remain so to this day. That event, and more that would follow, demonstrated what a poor excuse for a human being Monahan is, and that he was unworthy of the trust placed in him by the electorate.
WORST DAY - BEGINNING OF AN ERA
Last year I wrote about this tragedy HERE. Please take the time to read that entry and follow the links embedded in it to other entries I've written. This event marked one of the worst days in the history of our city. It marked what can be considered the beginning of the Jim Righeimer era in our town - when his flawed vision for the city and his ham-handed ways about trying to achieve his objectives have left an indelible scar on our city that will last forever.
LAYOFF NOTICES RESCINDED AFTER COSTLY LAWSUIT
The layoff notices issued that day, which precipitated Pham's death, proved to be illegal after a long and costly court battle and were rescinded.
DESTRUCTION OF THE CMPD
A few months later Righeimer led the march to disband the ABLE Helicopter program - the benchmark by which other municipal airborne law enforcement programs had been measured. He had already instructed Staveley that the staffing level for the CMPD was too high and imposed an artificially-contrived number that gutted the department. That, combined with the bogus lawsuit filed by Righeimer and councilman Steve Mensinger against the men and women of the CMPD, created such a toxic environment that more than 50 experienced officers either retired early or left for other jurisdictions, creating a vacancy issue that we still deal with today. Righeimer refused to let then-Chief Tom Gazsi begin recruiting efforts to fill those vacancies for nearly a year. Incidentally, Gazsi is among those who have moved on - retiring from the CMPD to become the Chief of the Los Angeles Port Police. According to current Police Chief Rob Sharpnack, if we have no further drop-outs it will still take until the end of 2018 to fully staff the department - and that's at the artificially-created lower staffing level. And the crime statistics rise.
STAVELEY WAS CORRECT
In June of that year, 2011, Staveley - a law enforcement leader of national renown who brought stable, skilled leadership to the CMPD twice when it was so necessary - abruptly resigned. In his wake he left behind a long letter outlining his thoughts. With his permission I reproduced it verbatim in an entry, HERE. His criticism of the city elected leaders was spot-on, which has been validated in the years that have passed since that date.
In the days and weeks following Pham's death we saw many demonstrations at City Hall. There was a formal remembrance of his passing, with his family present. On a rainy day more than 100 individuals circled City Hall under umbrellas for a prayer vigil in his honor, HERE. A year later a tree was later planted on the opposite side of the building in Pham's memory.
ATTEMPTS TO DESTROY HIS IMAGE
In the wake of Pham's passing there was a focused effort to sully his image by claiming he was some kind of drug-addled doper - a falsehood spread far and wide on social media by sycophants of those in power. Pham apparently was taking pain medication for his injured foot. That campaign demonstrated the lengths some folks will go to in order to destroy a reputation. Shame on them!
NO CELEBRATING FOR ME
So, today I will not be celebrating St. Patrick's Day the way most will do - by joyfully wearing green and slugging down too may beers to mark the day. I will not be going to Monahan's pub, although I won't be surprised if some folks visit to remind him of this day. The CMPD is joining many other law enforcement agencies by enhancing patrols, to try to keep the roadways safe from drunk drivers.
A SMALL REMEMBRANCE TODAY
No, this afternoon I will join others who remember that day as we pay our respects to the memory of Huy Pham at the site where he died, in the parking lot on the east side of City Hall, near the employee entrance. From 4-6 p.m. folks will gather to respectfully remember that young man and his life cut short by circumstances that should not have happened.
I WON'T FORGET...
And I will NEVER forget nor forgive the circumstances that created that tragedy and the people responsible. Rest in Peace, Huy Pham...