Lack of Charges in Fatal LAPD Shooting of Venice Beach Homeless Man Raises Questions About When DA Would Prosecute

Surveillance video showing Proctor firing at Glenn.

If there was ever a police shooting that would bring criminal charges against a law enforcement officer in Los Angeles, the killing of Brendon Glenn near the Venice boardwalk looked like it could be the one.

The shooting was captured on video. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck issued an unprecedented public call for the officer to be prosecuted. And the city paid out $4 million to Glenn’s family.

But nearly three years later, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey decided not to bring charges against Officer Clifford Proctor, marking a rare public clash between two of the L.A. area’s top law enforcement officials.

Her decision illustrates how even at a time of intense nationwide scrutiny of police officers and calls to hold them more accountable for using deadly force, it remains extremely rare to prosecute officers for on-duty shootings.

The law is heavily weighted in favor of officers if they reasonably perceived a threat to themselves or others when they opened fire — even if that belief was mistaken.

Lacey’s supporters say she made a prudent calculation that she would not win at trial, sparing a police officer the ordeal of unnecessary criminal charges and herself the public humiliation of losing a high-profile case.

But her critics say she appeared so intent on clearing the officer that her 83-page memo justifying her decision reads like it was written by a defense lawyer. Since taking office in 2012, Lacey has not brought charges against a police officer for an on-duty shooting.

Some legal experts were concerned by Lacey’s reasoning, saying it might signal to officers that when there is a tussle in close quarters, they could be able to justify opening fire by later claiming the suspect was trying to disarm them.

Glenn is the third fatal high-profile LAPD shooting in recent years involving a similar scenario. In the March 2015 shooting of Charly Keunang on Skid Row, prosecutors determined that Keunang wrapped his fingers around an officer’s gun as the officer yelled, “He’s going for my gun!” Ezell Ford was fatally shot in South Los Angeles after he allegedly knocked a police officer to the ground and grabbed the officer’s gun.

All three victims were unarmed black men.

“In any arrest where a civilian engages in a physical response — arrests of drunk people, the mentally ill, irate civilians, any of these types of arrests — the officer just has to formulate or allege a belief that the victim is going for their gun, and they have a blanket justification for shooting that individual,” said Eric Miller, a professor at Loyola Law School. “I think that’s horrific.”

David Harris, a professor at University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said it is unusual for a police chief to recommend the prosecution of one of his own and even rarer for a prosecutor to then decline to press charges.

“It tells me that what Chief Beck saw in this case was significantly different from the run-of-the-mill misconduct,” Harris said.

But Harris noted that the law on police use of force is broad enough to accommodate both Beck’s and Lacey’s conclusions. A police chief and a district attorney are coming at the case from different angles, he said.

“The chief sees somebody who doesn’t belong on the police force and violated the basics of the law, while the prosecutor sees someone she has to go to trial against,” Harris said. “She looks at the same law and has to consider whether she actually can win the case. If she doesn’t feel she can do that, she’s not supposed to go forward.”

Glenn had recently moved to Los Angeles from New York to look for work. The 29-year-old often camped out on the beach in Venice with other young homeless people.

The night of May 5, 2015, Glenn clashed with customers at a bar on Windward Avenue. A bartender called 911, reporting that Glenn was being “loud and obnoxious” and refusing to leave, according to Lacey’s report.

When Proctor and his partner, Jonathan Kawahara, arrived, Glenn approached them with a large dog.

On Kawahara’s body camera video, Proctor is captured using an expletive and telling Glenn to back off.

“Don’t come over here with your dog or I will shoot your dog,” Proctor threatens on the video, which is included in Lacey’s memo.

In his report, Beck faults Proctor for using a loud voice and cursing, which “likely escalated the situation.”

Lacey, on the other hand, terms the officers’ demeanor “calm and professional.”

In the body camera video, Glenn appears intoxicated, slurring his words and speaking belligerently to Proctor, who, like Glenn, is black.

The officers urge Glenn to leave. He eventually walks away, and Kawahara shuts off his camera.

But Glenn continues to cause trouble, yelling at customers entering another bar on the block. Grainy video taken from a security camera mounted outside one of the local bars shows a bouncer confronting Glenn and throwing him to the sidewalk.

Proctor and Kawahara enter the frame and attempt to handcuff Glenn. The officers wrestle with him on the ground, trying to bend his arms behind his back and handcuff him.

Despite the weight of two officers on his back, Glenn starts to stand up, wrapping his right arm around Kawahara’s right leg. Glenn’s left hand is not visible in the video, so it is unclear whether he is reaching for Kawahara’s gun, which the officer carries on his left side. Proctor draws his own gun and fires two shots into Glenn’s torso. Glenn rolls onto his back.

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