L.A. Police Chief Beck backs charges against officer who fatally shot Venice homeless man

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 Proctor's gun or his partner's weapon at the time of the shooting, Beck said. Proctor's partner, the chief added, 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 how police officers use force, particularly against African Americans. Glenn was black, as is Proctor.

The chief 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."

The decision whether to file charges rests with Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey, who, like prosecutors across the country, has recently come under fire for not charging officers in controversial incidents. L.A. County prosecutors have not charged a law enforcement officer for an on-duty shooting in 15 years.

Beck said he made his recommendation to Lacey last month when the LAPD handed over its investigation to prosecutors. The chief said he spoke to Lacey about the case, but did not ask — and was not told — whether she planned to charge the officer.

On Monday, Lacey's office said prosecutors were still reviewing the case against Proctor.

"As the county's top prosecutor, it is my ethical obligation to remain impartial until a thorough and independent investigation is completed by my office," Lacey said in a statement. "Decisions on whether or not to file criminal charges will be based solely on the facts and the law — not on emotion, anger or external pressure."

The chief's comments prompted mixed reaction Monday. Local activists who criticized the LAPD over Glenn's death last spring welcomed the move, while the police union's president said the chief should not weigh in on the district attorney's decision. Mayor Eric Garcetti said he hoped Beck's input would be "considered with the utmost gravity."

Proctor's attorney, Larry 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 and is "following suit" in his recommendation to the district attorney.

The lawyer defended his client's decision to shoot, saying Proctor 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 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."

The deadly encounter began shortly before midnight, when Proctor and his partner went to Windward Avenue near the famed Venice boardwalk after someone complained that a homeless man was harassing customers outside a building, the LAPD said.

The officers briefly talked to the man — later identified as Glenn — and returned to their patrol car after he walked toward the boardwalk, police said.

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, the LAPD 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.

Almost immediately, the LAPD drew criticism over the deadly shooting. Activists and friends of Glenn packed a town hall meeting days after the shooting, angrily complaining about how police officers use deadly force and interact with homeless Angelenos.

Within a day of the killing, 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.

Police have declined to release that recording.

Craig Lally, the president of the union that represents rank-and-file LAPD officers, criticized Beck in May over his remarks, declaring them "completely irresponsible" given the early stages of the investigation. He criticized the chief again Monday, saying the district attorney should be able to work without "outside interference" from Beck.

"Let Jackie Lacey and her team of investigators do their job," he said. "The chief of police has no business to have a say one way or another."

The chief's actions in the Venice shooting come on the heels of another high-profile case that generated criticism of both Beck and his department: the fatal shooting of Ezell Ford. Over the summer, Beck cleared the two officers who shot Ford, a mentally ill black man. 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 is still reviewing whether to file criminal charges against those officers.

Melina Abdullah, a professor and prominent member of the local Black Lives Matter movement, said she hoped Beck's comments were an indicator that more charges and discipline could come for other officers involved in deadly encounters. One recommendation wasn't enough, she said.

"We won't be pacified by a single person, by a recommendation — the charges haven't even happened," she said. "We want the entire system transformed, where police are held accountable for their behavior."

If Lacey doesn't file charges, activist Najee Ali said, it would "further erode public trust and confidence in the judicial system as a whole."

Along the Venice boardwalk, many people said they felt LAPD officers were too heavy-handed with the homeless. Proctor should have found another way to handle the encounter with Glenn, they said.

"He should have been detained and prosecuted. He should not have been shot," said Lee Parker, 38, who has lived on the beach for the last decade.

Glenn grew up in New York and moved to Los Angeles not long before his death. Friends on the boardwalk knew him as "Dizzle," a friendly man who doted upon his black Labrador retriever mix, Dozer.

A New York attorney representing Glenn's family said it was grateful for — and surprised by — the chief's public stance. E. Stewart Jones 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," Jones 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."

kate.mather@latimes.com

Twitter: @katemather

Times staff writer Taylor Goldenstein contributed to this report.

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A version of this article appeared in print on January 12, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Beck: Charge officer in fatal Venice shooting - It's chief's first such recommendation in on-duty killing" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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