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LAPD killing of unarmed homeless man in Venice was unjustified, Police Commission says

After fatally shooting an unarmed homeless man in the back last year, Los Angeles police Officer Clifford Proctor explained his actions to investigators by saying he believed the man was trying to grab his partner’s gun during a struggle.

“I saw … his hand on my partner’s holster,” Proctor said.

But video from a security camera at a nearby bar on the Venice boardwalk told a different story, according to an LAPD report made public Tuesday.

Footage from the camera didn’t show Brendon Glenn’s hand “on or near any portion” of the holster, the report said. Proctor’s partner never made “any statements or actions” suggesting Glenn was trying to take the gun, the report added.

The video became a crucial piece of evidence cited in a report in which LAPD Chief Charlie Beck recommended that his civilian bosses find the deadly May 5, 2015, shooting unjustified. The Police Commission on Tuesday unanimously sided with the chief, concluding that Proctor violated department policy when he shot Glenn, 29.

The decision capped an 11-month review of Glenn’s death, one of several shootings by LAPD officers last year that fueled criticism of police and how officers use force, particularly against African Americans. Glenn was black, as is Proctor.

The ruling also renewed pressure on L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey to file criminal charges against Proctor. This year, Beck said he had urged Lacey to charge Proctor. It was the first time as chief that Beck has called for charges against one of his officers in a fatal on-duty shooting.

Such prosecutions are rare in L.A. County, where the district attorney’s office hasn’t charged a law enforcement officer in an on-duty shooting in 15 years. An office spokeswoman said the case was still being reviewed.

Within hours of the Police Commission’s decision, local activists again called for Lacey to prosecute Proctor. Najee Ali said the ruling, coupled with Beck’s earlier recommendation, was further proof that the district attorney needed to act.

“This is a true litmus test for Lacey,” he said.

Beck said the commission’s decision “certainly supports” what he told the district attorney.

“I find many times that shootings are out of policy and they don’t reflect criminal charges,” he said. “But that’s not the case in this one.”

The union that represents rank-and-file officers has blasted Beck’s handling of the case, saying the chief’s public support for charges overstepped his authority and was unfair to Proctor.

Craig Lally, the union’s president, said Beck spoke too quickly about the encounter from the start when the chief told reporters hours after the shooting that he was “very concerned” by the video. The Police Commission, Lally said, followed Beck’s lead.

“There was not going to be a fair process for this officer,” Lally said. “They’re railroading him.”

V. James DeSimone, who is representing Glenn’s family in wrongful-death lawsuits in state and federal courts against the city, said the board’s finding “confirms our belief that this was a bad shooting.”

“Simply put, without the video there would most likely be no call for this officer’s prosecution or for a finding that this officer was out of policy,” he said.

An attorney representing Proctor declined to comment.

The events leading up to the deadly encounter began shortly before midnight, when Proctor and his partner went to Windward Avenue after someone complained that a homeless man was harassing customers outside a restaurant, police said.

The officers told investigators that Glenn was staggering and slurring his speech when they first approached, according to Beck’s report. He started to walk away, they said, so they decided not to arrest him.

Then Glenn headed toward the Townhouse bar, where he yelled at patrons, the officers said, according to the report. Glenn and a bouncer began pushing each other, so the officers walked over, planning to take Glenn into custody.

One officer grabbed Glenn’s arm and ordered him to turn around, but Glenn refused and tried to break free, the report said, citing the officer’s account. Glenn cursed, using a racial epithet. The officers then took him to the ground, the report said.

The bar’s security camera captured the fight. The video showed an officer grab Glenn by his hair, the report said.

“Everything was happening so fast,” Proctor told investigators. “Everybody’s hands were flailing around.”

At one point, Proctor said, he saw Glenn’s left hand on his partner’s holster, according to the report. Proctor fired a shot, but said he didn’t see Glenn react. The officer admitted that he then had “a little tunnel vision” and pulled the trigger again.

“I don’t really know where his hands were, but he is still holding on,” Proctor told investigators. “I honestly believed that this guy was on something strong, like some kind of drug. And the first round did absolutely nothing to affect him.”

But the evidence, Beck said in his report, didn’t “independently support” Proctor’s claim. His partner told investigators that he never saw Glenn's hand near his gun or “felt any jerking movements,” the report added.

The names of the officers were redacted from a copy of the report, but the LAPD previously identified Proctor as the officer who opened fire. Proctor, who has been with the department for eight years, has not returned to work since the shooting.

The LAPD has not identified Proctor’s partner, but the lawsuits filed by Glenn’s family identified him as Jonathan Kawahara, a 10-year department veteran.

The Police Commission and Beck also faulted Proctor’s decision to draw his gun, as well as the tactics he and his partner used leading up to the deadly confrontation. The officers should have discussed how to approach Glenn beforehand, the chief said, and would have had a “greater tactical advantage” had they waited for other officers to arrive.

The LAPD has not released the security camera video. The bar’s owner declined to show it to a Times reporter.

Glenn was one of 36 people shot by on-duty LAPD officers last year. Twenty-one were killed. 

Follow @katemather for more LAPD news.

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Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

8:50 p.m.: This article was updated throughout.

This article was originally published at 1:23 p.m.

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