A father's anguish
Kenneth McDade, whose son was slain by police, waits for answers
By André Coleman 08/16/2012
Kenneth McDade weeps openly when he talks about his 19-year-old son, Kendrec, a star athlete who on March 24 was shot to death by Pasadena police on Sunset Avenue, just three blocks away from his home.
Oblivious to the police activity taking place that night far down the street, McDade, 43, recalled tossing and turning in bed and thinking Kendrec needed him. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t shake the feeling something was terribly wrong.
Little could he have known that, at around 11 p.m. that evening, Kendrec would be shot seven times by two officers who believed he was carrying a gun. But Kendrec didn’t have a weapon, even though the officers claimed he’d reached for his waistband.
A standout football player at Citrus College in Azusa, Kendrec lived there with his mother, Anya. He was visiting his father that weekend, however, and had gone out with friends that Saturday night. The teen had never been in any serious trouble, so after about an hour, McDade shook off his feelings of dread and drifted back to sleep.
“I usually sleep pretty good through the night. It was just that night I couldn’t sleep. Something kept waking me up,” the longtime construction worker told the Weekly in a recent interview. “It made me feel like that was him coming and crying and asking for help and telling me to get out of the bed and come and check on him. He was right around the corner from where we live. The same street he was conceived on is the street he died on.”
What happened that evening began about 10 minutes prior to the shooting on Orange Grove Boulevard, near Summit Avenue, at a popular taco truck. Oscar Carrillo-Gonzalez, 26, summoned police, claiming he had been robbed at gunpoint by two African-American men, one of them allegedly Kendrec. Carrillo-Gonzalez, who was once deported to Mexico in 2006 and was in this country illegally at the time of the incident, told a police dispatcher the two men were armed, which he later admitted was not true.
Despite living just a few blocks away, McDade didn’t hear the gunshots or police activity. He woke up early the next morning and began his day the usual way, with a cup of coffee on the porch. That’s when he noticed helicopters flying overhead and decided to head in that direction. Before he could get there, he ran into a friend who asked him if he’d spoken to Kendrec. When he admitted he hadn’t, the friend told him something had happened the previous night and that he needed to contact his son.
When McDade finally reached Sunset Avenue and Orange Grove Boulevard, where a group of police officers and detectives had been working throughout the night, no one answered his questions about what had happened. Finally a TV reporter gave him some information, and after more pleading, a detective confirmed his worst fears. His second oldest son had been shot in a police chase.
After arriving at Huntington Hospital, McDade was still not allowed to see his son. Instead, he was asked to identify him through pictures taken of Kendrec after he’d undergone emergency medical treatment.
“They told me they were going to let me see my son,” he said, fighting back tears. “They just brought me a picture with all the tubes and stuff. Why couldn’t they just let me go look through a window or something and say this is him? They didn’t give me a chance to do that. The police knew all along it was Kendrec, they knew.”
A troubled past
The Pasadena Police Department has struggled to overcome widespread distrust in the neighborhoods of Northwest Pasadena for nearly 40 years. Pasadena averages less than one officer-involved shooting per year, but local activists are still calling for more civilian oversight of the Police Department. Others are asking local African-American leaders to educate youth on how to deal with police.
McDade’s attorney, Caree Harper, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in US District Court against the city, the department and the two officers involved, Jeffrey Newlen and Matthew Griffin. Also named in the suit are Pasadena police Chief Philip Sanchez and Detective Keith Gomez. The Pasadena City Attorney’s Office has filed a request to remove Gomez from the litigation. Gomez, who investigated the immediate aftermath of the police shooting of McDade, is presently under investigation by the LA County Sheriff’s Department for allegedly threatening to kill a suspect in a 2007 murder case.
In addition to the lawsuit, the McDade shooting has reopened long-festering wounds in Northwest Pasadena, where many minority residents claim they have been unfairly targeted in police stops and have been victims of police abuse. Those allegations have led to investigations by Pasadena police, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department and the FBI.
A 17-year old male who was allegedly with Kendrec the night of the shooting was charged with two felony counts of commercial burglary, one felony count of grand theft and one misdemeanor count of failing to register as a gang member. He was sentenced to six months in a juvenile camp.
“[The police] selectively chose to enter into the stealth mode down a dark street,” Harper said of the reaction of the two officers involved in the shooting. “It was not a hot call. It was so lukewarm they appear to have not rolled code three. If it was so urgent, why weren’t they rolling with lights and sirens?”
Last week, members of the Pasadena chapters of the ACLU and NAACP renewed calls for the formation of a civilian oversight committee for the Police Department, a request that has been made several times dating back to 1986, when former Black Panther Michael Zinzun lost an eye after an officer struck him in the head with a police flashlight during a near riot in the Community Arms housing complex — located on the same block where the McDade incident began.
The call for oversight resurfaced in 1993, after local barber Michael Bryant led police on a pursuit that ended in nearby Highland Park. High on cocaine, the overweight and out of shape barber was Tasered while standing waist-deep in a swimming pool that he had had jumped into to evade police. He was hogtied and placed on his chest in the back of a police car, where he died from intoxication and from asphyxia due to the restraint procedures used.
In 2005, then-Pasadena Police Chief Bernard Melekian made history by becoming the first police chief on record to apologize to community members for historical abuses committed against minorities by police officers. Four years later, however, Melekian faced accusations of covering up the truth when Leroy Barnes was shot 14 times in Northwest Pasadena after pulling a gun on police officers. The department originally stated that Barnes had fired on officers, but later recanted that statement. The officers’ shooting was ruled justifiable.
“We have to have ordinary people look at incidents of force,” said local activist Martin Gordon, a member of the Pasadena Community Coalition. “Allowing the police to police themselves is a joke.”
In 2006, Melekian requested a survey be conducted by the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC) in the wake of the 2004 police-involved deaths of LaMont Robinson and Maurice Clark, two Northwest Pasadena men who died in the same area as Barnes. Titled “Assessing Police-Community Relations in Pasadena, California,” the survey revealed that among all ethnicities, African Americans held the most negative opinions about the Pasadena Police Department.
Anything can happen
According to his father, Kendrec loved his family, girls and, most of all, football. In 2009, the teen rushed for 1,345 yards and scored 15 touchdowns, leading the Citrus College Aztecs to an 11-2 record.
“Kendrec could have made it to the NFL. He was one of the ones that could have done that, and if he didn’t do that, he would have been the one that was going to go to college and become that lawyer,” his father said.
“You’re never supposed to have to bury your child,” said McDade. “It wasn’t written like that in the book. You’re born, your parents take care of you, and then you take care of your parents, in that order. You don’t get snuffed out right before you get a chance to become a man.”
Speaking about the night his son was shot, McDade said, “There was nothing I could tell Kendrec on that night (that I hadn’t) been telling him for 19 years. But in the society and the world we live in, you can tell him all this stuff, but once he leaves your address, not just off the porch, once he leaves your address, anything can happen.”