Prosecutors declined Thursday to file charges against a now-former Los Angeles police officer who fatally shot an unarmed homeless man steps away from the Venice Beach boardwalk, even though LAPD Chief Charlie Beck had recommended the officer be prosecuted.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said there was “insufficient evidence” to file a criminal case against Officer Clifford Proctor for the May 5, 2015, shooting death of Brendon Glenn, an unarmed man who was shot twice.
Proctor said at the time he thought Glenn was reaching for his partner’s gun. LAPD investigators concluded that Glenn was on his stomach when Proctor stepped back and fired twice, hitting the 29-year-old man in the back. Glenn’s death sparked a series of community protests and demands that the officer be charged with a crime.
In April 2016, the Los Angeles Police Commission ruled the shooting was unjustified. Beck also wrote in a report to the commission that there was no evidence to independently show there was a “perception that a deadly threat was present.” Beck had recommended that Lacey file charges against Proctor, calling the shooting a “criminal act.”
The county’s top prosecutor said the chief’s recommendation didn’t weigh into the decision made by her office.
“We never consider police agencies’ opinion or request to file a case if we don’t believe the evidence is there, and that’s the same with the police commission. I consider them public officials and I feel that their mission and the evidence they considered was substantially different and they had a different standard of proof,” Lacey told reporters. “A letter from the chief indicating that he thinks we ought to file charges is no different from a police officer bringing a packet of evidence in here and saying, `I think you ought to file this.”‘
The district attorney said she would prefer that such a recommendation not be made in the future.
“… It raises expectations when the evidence just may not be there from the community,” Lacey said. “In the future, I would prefer that not happen. Think about it — in the history of the D.A.’s Office, we have never received a letter of this nature on any case and it didn’t help the justice system in this case because we weren’t allowed to consider it.”
Beck said he disagreed with Lacey’s decision not to file any charges, but defended his comments about the case.
“I often make comment on officer-involved shootings, and when I see an officer-involved shooting that at initial review appears to be proper I say so,” Beck said. “… And I also in the rare cases when I see one that I think does not meet our standards or does not meet the legal standards I will also say that.”
Beck’s stance caused a strain between himself and the police union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League. The union’s Jaime McBride said Beck’s comments on the case were “nothing short of political grandstanding.”
Beck said he was not surprised at Lacey’s decision, given the length of time the investigation took. He said he believes Proctor “committed manslaughter by what is called imperfect self-defense. In other words, he unreasonably believed that his life was in danger and he therefore took a life,” the chief said.
Los Angeles County prosecutors have not charged a law enforcement officer for an on-duty shooting in 16 years. Activists have held a series of protests in recent months calling on Lacey to prosecute officers for fatal shootings.
Melina Abdullah, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, reacted to the decision on Twitter, writing, “Jackie Lacey is complicit in murder. Refuses to prosecute police.”
The district attorney responded that she is aware of the protesters’ point of view, but said her office hasn’t had sufficient evidence to file charges involving an officer-involved shooting.
Lacey noted that the law allows officers to use deadly force if they feel there is a threat of death or deadly force. She said her office “concluded that there is insufficient evidence to overcome a claim at trial by Officer Proctor that he did that in defense of his partner or himself.”
The district attorney said she reviewed “almost every speck of evidence” involving the shooting because she “wanted to be sure” about the decision made by her office in the wake of what she called “a lot of angry demands for justice.”
Among the evidence reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office was officer body-camera footage, surveillance videos, statements from 10 civilian eyewitnesses, DNA analysis and the “opinion of a nationally recognized use-of- force expert,” according to the district attorney.
The use-of-force expert concluded that “Proctor’s actions as seen on the surveillance video were consistent with his having observed a threat posed by Glenn,” according to an 83-page memorandum released by the District Attorney’s Office on the investigation into the shooting.
Glenn — who was “given multiple opportunities to leave the location” and “chose to be confrontational and aggressive with civilians and the officers” — had 18 arrests, 12 convictions and seven pending cases, along with multiple bench warrants for failure to appear in court, and toxicological testing determined that his blood contained both alcohol and marijuana at the time of the death, according to the memorandum.
“A thorough review of the law and the evidence in this matter leads to the conclusion that there is insufficient evidence to prove that Proctor’s use of deadly force in the altercation with Glenn on May 5, 2015, was not justified,” according to the memorandum. The report noted that while Proctor’s actions were found to violate LAPD policy, the “standard of proof used in administrative proceedings is not the standard of proof used in criminal trials.”
Lacey noted that portions of the surveillance video played an important role in the decision not to file charges, and that snippets from the video — which had not been publicly released earlier — were embedded into the 83-page decision to allow a “window into the evidence that we considered in this case.”
The district attorney said her office also considered DNA evidence that showed Glenn could not be excluded as a possible contributor to a mixed DNA sample from the holster of Proctor’s partner.
The city of Los Angeles paid $4 million to settle wrongful-death lawsuits filed by Glenn’s relatives.
V. James DeSimone, attorney for Glenn’s relatives, said the family was disappointed in the decision.
“Officer Proctor did not act to de-escalate the situation,” he said. “Prior to shooting Brendon Glenn, he assaulted him in an aggressive and violent fashion. This tragic death could have been avoided with common-sense policing.
“… The inordinate delay and spineless decision not to prosecute highlights the conflict of interest when a district attorney is tasked with the decision to prosecute police officers,” he said. “Justice demands an independent prosecutor in these instances.”