Officials in Los Angeles declined to criminally charge a former police officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man near the Venice boardwalk, despite the recommendation of the police chief, who called for the officer to be charged.
District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced the decision not to charge Clifford Proctor on Thursday, nearly three years after the 2015 shooting of Brendon Glenn, saying that her office did not believe it could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Proctor, who resigned as an LAPD officer in 2017, had violated the law.
“Prosecutors cannot ethically charge a person with a crime, if they do not believe a jury would convict the person of that crime,” Lacey said in a statement. “This basic tenet of criminal law requires us to consider the suspect’s possible defenses against those charges, as we did in this case.”
A lawyer for Glenn’s family had harsh words about the decision.
“The inordinate delay and spineless decision not to prosecute highlights the conflict of interest when a district attorney is tasked with the decision to prosecute police officers,” V. James DeSimone told the Los Angeles Times. “Justice demands an independent prosecutor in these instances.”
The case had been the subject of media attention and outcry as questions about race continue to drive a national discussion about the fatal use of force by police.
Glenn, a black 29-year-old who had been camping with homeless people in the beach-side area, was fatally shot in May 2015 when Proctor, who is also black, and a partner tried to detain him after he fought with a bar bouncer. Glenn had resisted being handcuffed and was taken to the ground by the officers, officials said. A struggle ensued, and Proctor fired two shots.
Proctor told police investigators that he had fired because he thought Glenn was trying to grab his partner’s gun, according to an LAPD report cited in the Los Angeles Times. But the report found that video taken nearby disputed the account, the Times reported.
It is rare for officers to be charged criminally and even rarer for them to be convicted.
But the city’s police chief, Charlie Beck, recommended criminal charges against the officer after the LAPD completed its investigation of the case in 2016. Beck told the Times that his investigators had concluded that Glenn was lying on his stomach and trying to get up when Proctor fired at him, striking him in the back.
The civilian panel that reviews LAPD shootings also found that Proctor had violated department policy, the Times reported. The city agreed to settle civil lawsuits brought by Glenn’s mother for $4 million.
The district attorney’s report, which cited evidence from body cameras, surveillance videos, 10 civilian eyewitnesses and DNA analysis, came to a different conclusion.
While Proctor’s partner, Jonathan Kawahara, had initially told police investigators that he didn’t know why Proctor fired his gun, he later watched a video of the encounter in which he realized that his pants had hiked up during the altercation, exposing the backup weapon he wore on his leg, the report said.
Kawahara also told investigators that he could not see Glenn’s left hand before the shooting. All 10 of the eyewitnesses interviewed in the case said they could not see Glenn’s hands just before the gun went off.
“In this case, prosecutors concluded that the evidence did not support a finding that Proctor was unreasonable in believing that Glenn posed an imminent threat of great bodily injury to himself or others,” the report noted. “Based upon the circumstances at the time of the shooting, Proctor may have reasonably believed that Glenn was reaching for his partner’s weapon.”
The report notes that on-duty officers have the right to self-defense if they reasonably believe they or another person is in imminent danger of significant injury or death.
“Based upon the aggressiveness of the individual and the struggle they were having at that moment, his state of mind and everything he was perceiving, he believed that he and his partner were in danger,” Proctor’s lawyer, Bill Seki, told the Times. “Based upon the law, this was a justified shooting.”
Proctor is awaiting trial on domestic violence charges in Orange County.