'Why did they shoot me?'
Community still seeking answers one year after fatal police shooting of Kendrec McDade
By André Coleman 03/28/2013
After being shot eight times by two Pasadena police officers, 19-year-old Kendrec McDade was handcuffed as he writhed in pain and bled profusely on a sidewalk near the corner of Sunset Avenue and North Orange Grove Boulevard.
After paramedics arrived at the scene a few minutes later, officers took off the cuffs as McDade, a football standout at Azusa’s Citrus College who was staying with his dad in Pasadena that weekend, was loaded into the back of an ambulance, en route to Huntington Hospital.
In sworn deposition testimony related to one of two federal lawsuits filed against the city and its Police Department in relation to the teen’s death, an emergency medical technician said he gave McDade water along the way when the teenager uttered his last words:
“Why did they shoot me?”
Many people in Pasadena, despite the recently released results of an internal police probe clearing the two officers who shot and killed McDade that night, are asking much the same question.
On Sunday — the one-year anniversary of McDade’s death — some three-dozen people gathered near Orange Grove and Sunset to memorialize McDade with prayers and a candle-light vigil organized by area civil rights attorney Phillip Koebel.
“I wanted to make sure the community is refocused on what happened to Kendrec and the victimization of African-American men by the Police Department,” Koebel told the Weekly. “As a community, we are fast asleep — including me. At best, this is a mistake. At worst, it is far worse.”
According to the internal administrative review, released to the public on March 20, Pasadena Police Officers Matthew Griffin and Jeffrey Newlen, the two officers who shot McDade that night, were led to believe McDade was carrying a weapon by 911-caller Oscar Carrillo-Gonzalez, who called police to report being robbed by two youths, one of them allegedly McDade. Carrillo-Gonzalez, states the review, used the word “gun” times eight times during the one emergency phone call he made for help, creating a sense of high tension. Following the shooting, officers learned that McDade was not carrying a weapon. They said McDade was reaching for his waistband before the shooting started.
Carrillo-Gonzalez, who had been deported but somehow made it back to the United States and has been living here without proper documentation, had his latest deportation proceedings placed on hold as he provided testimony and information to investigators working four separate official probes of the incident and lawyers associated with the two separate lawsuits filed by McDade’s mother, Anaya Slaughter, and his father, Kenneth, who lived only a few blocks from the scene of the shooting. Carrillo-Gonzalez has been free since the shooting with a requirement to wear an electronic monitoring device on his ankle.
Carrillo-Gonzalez was due in Pasadena Superior Court Tuesday for a pretrial hearing on misdemeanor charges of making a false report of a criminal offense and reporting an emergency knowing the report was false.
Along with the internal police investigation clearing the officers of any wrongdoing, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has also determined the shooting was justified. The county Office of Independent Review and the FBI are still investigating the incident.
Slaughter and Kenneth McDade’s separate lawsuits are filed against Newlen and Griffin, as well as Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez and the city of Pasadena.
“One recent study of Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies found that [as] many as half of recent ‘waistband shootings’ involved citizens who were unarmed,” said Thomas Seabaugh who represents Slaughter.
“Waistband shootings tend to involve the only surviving witnesses to the shooting — the officers involved — declaring that the victim was ‘reaching into his waistband area’ at the time he was shot and killed. With this lawsuit, we aim to hold accountable not only the officers involved, but the city authorities as well. Instead of taking measures to prevent police shootings like this one from ever happening again, such as prosecuting, disciplining and retraining their officers, city authorities are encouraging more violence by declaring that the shooting was perfectly acceptable.”
Prior to the shooting, Carrillo-Gonzalez encountered McDade and a male minor near a taco stand on Orange Grove Boulevard and Summit Avenue in Northwest Pasadena. Police say videotape evidence shows the pair tried to break into the cash register at the taco stand earlier that evening before the minor attempted to steal a backpack from Carrillo-Gonzalez’s car while McDade acted as a lookout. The pair fled when Carrillo-Gonzalez saw them.
Reportedly hoping to get a quick police response, Carrillo-Gonzalez told a 911 dispatcher that he had been robbed at gunpoint. Without turning on their sirens, Newlen and Griffin responded to the call and soon encountered McDade near Fair Oaks Avenue, one block from Sunset. Newlen chased the teen on foot and Griffin pursued him in the police car. At one point, Griffin fired at McDade from inside the squad car. The officers have maintained that they believed McDade had a gun because he had his hands in his pants.
After Griffin cut him off in his police cruiser, McDade inexplicably turned and ran toward the police car, according to statements made by Newlen and Griffin to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. Griffin — believing McDade was about to shoot — fired his weapon and Newlen, who thought it was McDade shooting, opened fire as well. McDade suffered three fatal gunshot wounds to the abdomen and non-fatal wounds to the left hip, left elbow, right leg and right forearm, according to the coroner’s report in the incident.
Pasadena City Councilwoman Jacque Robinson told the Weekly that there was no single factor responsible for McDade’s death. “It’s hard to look at incidents like these from a single perspective, because each action on the part of everyone involved generated another more harmful outcome,” Robinson said.
Carrillo-Gonzalez — who is in the country illegally — was arrested on March 28, 2012, on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter, but the DA’s Office refused to file felony charges against him, sending the case back to City Attorney Michelle Beal Bagneris, whose office has filed misdemeanor charges of making a false report to police.
Andres Bustamante, Carrillo-Gonzalez’s attorney, said his client is being made into a “scapegoat.”
“The police had to deflect this whole incident onto someone else to somewhat justify it. That has been their position; that is why they have filed the minimal charges against him,” Bustamante said. “He didn’t file a false report because the incident took place. I would have to point at the Police Department. They were the actual and proximate cause of this young African-American’s death. I don’t believe there was any justification.”
“If Mr. Carrillo would have been truthful in his initial call, that could have changed the outcome,” said Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez. “If Kendrec would have stopped running, the outcome could have been different as well. There are tremendous consequences when people don’t follow the law when people are trying to communicate with them. I think in this case there were many contributing factors, and if any one of them had been different, the outcome would have been different.”