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Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has recommended criminal charges against an officer who killed an unarmed homeless man in Venice, marking the first time as chief that Beck has called for charges in a fatal on-duty shooting.
LAPD investigators concluded that Brendon Glenn was on his stomach, attempting to push himself off the ground, when Officer Clifford Proctor stepped back and fired twice, hitting the 29-year-old in the back, Beck told The Times.
After reviewing video, witness accounts and other evidence, investigators determined Glenn was not trying to take either Proctor’s gun or his partner’s weapon at the time of the shooting, Beck said. Proctor’s partner also told investigators he did not know why the officer opened fire.
The May 5 shooting generated fierce criticism of the LAPD and came amid a heated national conversation about police officers and their use of force, particularly against African American men. Glenn was black, as is Proctor.
Beck said he made his recommendation to Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey last month when the LAPD handed over its investigation to prosecutors. He said he has suggested that prosecutors file charges against officers in other cases but never for a fatal on-duty shooting.
It will be up to Lacey and her office to decide whether to bring a case against Proctor, and it’s unclear when that decision will be made. Los Angeles County prosecutors have not charged a law enforcement officer for an on-duty shooting in 15 years.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement Monday that he hoped Beck’s recommendation “is considered with the utmost gravity.”
“No one is above the law, and whenever use-of-force crosses the line, it is our obligation to make sure that principle is upheld,” Garcetti said.
Beck said the majority of shootings by officers are justified. But, he added, “in those much rarer cases where a shooting is not justified–and on top of that, not legal–I will also say that.”
Proctor’s attorney, Larry Hanna, defended his client’s decision to shoot, saying the officer saw Glenn going for his partner’s gun — even if his partner may not have realized it. Although a security camera captured the events leading up to the shooting, Hanna said, both of Glenn’s hands could not be seen for the entirety of the recording.
Hanna accused LAPD brass of making a “political decision,” saying the chief spoke too early about the case last year when he publicly questioned Proctor’s actions just hours after the shooting. The chief’s recommendation to the district attorney, Hanna said, is “following suit.”
The attorney said he believed Lacey’s office would “make the right decision” and decline to file charges against the officer.
“There’s a lot of people out there who want to see officers tried for any type of shooting,” Hanna said. “When an officer is making a split-second decision and he sees somebody going for his partner’s gun…the officer’s perception is very crucial here.”
E. Stewart Jones, a New York attorney who is representing Glenn’s family, said they were grateful — and surprised — by the chief’s decision.
“It’s telling,” Jones said. “It’s not easy for a police chief, particularly when he’s never done it before, to make a decision that one of his own be prosecuted by the district attorney’s office.”
Jones, who expects to file a lawsuit on behalf of the family sometime this month, said he believed Lacey’s office would charge Proctor. Not doing so, he said, would be “political suicide.”
“There’s too much controversy over police shootings,” he said. “When someone is unarmed and shot in the back, you’ve got to send a message to the rest of the police that you can’t do that.”
Glenn’s death stood out among the 21 fatal shootings by on-duty LAPD officers in 2015. Local activists and friends of Glenn packed a town hall meeting in the days after the shooting, angrily complaining about how the LAPD uses deadly force and interacts with homeless Angelenos.
Within a day of the shooting, Beck told reporters he was “very concerned” by surveillance video that captured the incident. The video, he said at the time, did not show the “supporting evidence” or “extraordinary circumstances” that would justify an officer shooting an unarmed person.
Beck’s actions in the Venice incident contrast with his finding in another high-profile case: the fatal shooting of Ezell Ford. Beck cleared the two officers who shot Ford, a mentally ill black man, in August 2014. The city’s Police Commission later disagreed with the chief and found that one of the officers violated the department’s policy for using deadly force. The district attorney’s office said last week it was still reviewing whether to file criminal charges against the officers.
Glenn’s shooting occurred after Proctor and his partner went to Windward Avenue in response to a complaint that a homeless man – later identified as Glenn – was “harassing customers” outside a building, the LAPD said in the hours after the shooting. The officers briefly talked to the man and returned to their patrol car after he walked toward the boardwalk.
Soon after, police said, the officers saw Glenn struggling with a bouncer outside a nearby bar. The officers approached Glenn and tried to detain him, police said, leading to a “physical altercation.” At some point, Proctor opened fire.
Proctor, who has been with the LAPD for eight years, has not returned to work since the shooting.
Those who knew Glenn described him as a kind man who constantly told people he loved them. The New York native was known for his “hand hugs” – grabbing hold of someone’s hand before saying goodbye, they said, and adored his black Lab mix.
Glenn’s friends acknowledged he would sometimes be vocal when he drank – one mentioned “a little mean streak” – but said they had never seen him be aggressive.
Tim Pardue, the manager of a homeless center on Windward Avenue, said Glenn had stopped by the center just a few hours before the shooting. Glenn left about 8 p.m., thanking Pardue for the noodles and crackers he had given him.
At some point, Glenn stopped to visit with other friends, including Bill Hinson. Hinson said Glenn told him he wanted to find some money to buy a beer, then took off for the boardwalk.
About 11:30 p.m., gunshots rang out. Pardue walked out of the center and saw a man lying on the ground.
It was Glenn.
Story by Kate Mather, Los Angeles Times, firstname.lastname@example.org