Five Glendale police officers, including a sergeant involved in an ongoing federal discrimination lawsuit against the Police Department, were promoted Wednesday to higher-ranking positions.
Sgts. Tigran Topadzhikyan and John Gilkerson as well as Officers Scott Holmes, Ernesto Gaxiola and Alex Krikorian were placed at the top of promotion lists and were honored in front of family members, friends and fellow police officers, who packed a room at the Glendale Police Department headquarters.
Topadzhikyan came in first on a promotion list for a lieutenant's position — a rank he has tirelessly worked to get, but, according to his U.S. District Court lawsuit, was passed over for previously.
Still, on Wednesday, Topadzhikyan said he was eager to start his new position as the department's new west Glendale area commander.
“I look forward to continuing to serve the community and the city of Glendale,” Topadzhikyan said. “I am excited in accepting my new role and providing the best service I can to our community.”
In a joint federal lawsuit, which has been scheduled to go to trial next week, he and Officers Robert Parseghian, Vahak Mardikian, John Balian and former Officer Benny Simonzad claim they suffered on-the-job discrimination, retaliation and harassment because they're Armenian. The officers also claimed they were looked over for promotions and denied career-building opportunities.
Glendale Police Chief Ron De Pompa dismissed claims the promotion was connected to Topadzhikyan's lawsuit, adding that it “had nothing to do with it.”
The promotions, he said, were necessary because two lieutenants plan to retire in December.
“Decisions to retire are solely those of the employees that are retiring, so it is was it is,” De Pompa said. “If people make something out of a coincidence of the fact that a promotion is occurring at proximity to a trial starting that is not my issue and not my department's issue ... We do the right thing for the right reasons and as soon as we had the opportunity to promote, we did.”
The promotions were a long time coming for some of the officers who tested for the new posts two years ago and waited for an opportunity to move into more supervisory roles.
The new leadership comes as the agency prepares to welcome new police chief Robert Castro, who will be leaving his post with the Glendora Police Department and replacing De Pompa on Dec. 16.
“All these gentlemen have spent many, many years wearing the badge,” De Pompa said. “They are very savvy and capable leaders.”
Topadzhikyan has spent most of his life dedicated to the Police Department, where he was a police cadet, then a reserve officer and later worked various assignments as a police officer. He is currently working on his second master's degree.
He's used his bilingual skills to help Armenian families in several criminal investigations and has traveled to Armenia to work with police there on criminal cases.
He most recently served as supervisor of a task force focused on monitoring felons who have been released early from California prisons.
Gilkerson was also promoted to lieutenant and will monitor south Glendale, where he said he wants to open up communication with residents, so they are more comfortable talking to police.
De Pompa said Topadzhikyan and Gilkerson were “very tenured [and] experienced” and know their areas well.
Before becoming a lieutenant, Gilkerson, who was born and raised in Glendale, oversaw the department's Community Policing Unit since 2008. Community police have been a key part of De Pompa's implementation of area command policing.
“John was the right man at the right time,” De Pompa said. “I don't believe we would have had the success that we had today without John's leadership in that effort.”
Now in sergeant positions, Holmes, Gaxiola and Krikorian will be responsible for implementing the department's goals. The officers, De Pompa said, are great leaders and “proven commodities.”
As sergeants, they will be “out there where the rubber meets the road,” he added.
Gaxiola is an experienced detective investigating assaults, and is known for his ability to handle highly sensitive and complex cases involving sex crimes, De Pompa said.
“One thing that stood out from Ernie's career is his empathy and compassion and attention to the victims,” he added.
Next year, Gaxiola will ride in the Police Unity Tour in Washington, D.C., in honor of a sergeant with the Santa Cruz Police Department who was killed in February in the line of duty. Gaxiola used to work for the police department in Santa Cruz.
Krikorian, an Iraq war veteran and a recipient of the department's Medal of Heroism award, worked as a school resource officer and helped organize “Every 15 Minutes,” an awareness program for teens highlighting the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
He was also a detective in assaults and robbery/homicide details as well as a sniper with the department's Special Weapons Tactics Task Force.
His sniper skills were put on display earlier that day, when he expertly aimed and shot through the center of a golf ball from 100 yards away, De Pompa said.
Holmes is a longtime Glendale police officer who has trained fellow officers and held a spot in the Special Enforcement Detail for many years. He has also earned special recognition from the California Attorney General.
As a new sergeant, Holmes wants to continue to mentor officers and be “a good leader.”