A NATION MOURNS

04.01.12

Another Trayvon Martin? Young, Unarmed, Black Teenager Shot by Cops in California

The Trayvon Martin case is still unraveling, but across the country another shooting of a young, unarmed black teenager is already shaking California. Christine Pelisek reports.

As the fatal shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin roils the nation, residents of Pasadena, Calif., are trying to come to grips with their own needless death. It involves another youth who, in this instance, was shot by the Pasadena Police Department after they received a 911 call about an armed robbery on March 24. Kendrec McDade’s death took an even more tragic turn when, in the aftermath of the shooting, the police learned that the 911 caller had lied about 19-year-old McDade having a gun.

The case has drawn parallels to the Martin case because both of the dead teenagers were black and unarmed. “They were young black men who are, when the situation comes up, targets of violence,” says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, the president of the Los Angeles Urban Police Roundtable. But that is where the similarity ends, argues Lt. Phlunte Riddle of the Pasadena P.D. Self-appointed neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot Martin as he was walking home, whereas McDade and his juvenile accomplice allegedly attempted to break into a cash register at a restaurant prior to stealing a backpack and computer from a parked car, said Riddle. McDade acted as a “lookout” during the alleged burglary, according to Riddle.

“This wasn’t any type of profile, looking for someone of color,” she said. “This was a response to an armed robbery that had just occurred with a full description. That is significantly different than the Florida case. The officers are extremely upset. They believed their lives were in danger.”

The shooting of McDade has opened long-festering wounds in northwest Pasadena, where a majority of African-Americans say they have a bad relationship with police. Although Pasadena is known as a place with pockets of extreme wealth and the home of the Rose Bowl, northwest Pasadena is a neighborhood plagued by violence and poverty. There have been four shootings in the small community in the last year alone.

In a 2006 survey conducted by the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC), African-Americans living in northwest Pasadena said members of the Pasadena Police Department unjustly targeted them.

Officer-involved-shooting fatalities in northwest Pasadena are relatively rare, however. The last fatality occurred in 2009, when 37-year-old reputed Blood gang member Leroy Barnes was shot by officers 11 times—with seven of those rounds hitting him in the back—after a routine traffic stop. Barnes’s shooting was looked into by the County of Los Angeles Office of Independent Review, which questioned the tactical decisions made by the two officers involved in the shooting. The committee recommended better training of officers and better communication with the community. In 2010, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office concluded that the shooting by the officers was “lawful self-defense.”

As conflicting details of McDade’s death continue to trickle out, tensions are beginning to mount. Community members have criticized the police department for not keeping the neighborhood abreast of the police investigation, and questioned whether the shooting was justified. “The community is ready to go up in smoke,” said neighborhood activist William Greer. “The police department’s job is to serve and protect. They just can’t go around shooting people. It is the wild wild west here in northwest Pasadena.”

Raymond Cross, a friend of McDade’s, says that he is concerned that his friend's name will be tarnished during the scope of the investigation. “We want to make sure his name is cleared,” he said. “He was a good kid. His death was senseless. Don’t spin it like he was a bad kid.”

According to McDade family attorney Caree Harper, McDade “was the apple of his mother’s eye,” she said. McDade’s mother gave birth to another baby boy just 12 days before her son was killed. “He was a football superstar,” said Harper. “His entire living room is filled with trophies and awards.”

Police have admitted that McDade had no gang ties or prior arrests.

Los Angeles civil-rights activist Connie Rice says the community should not rush to judgment and should wait for the facts to surface before attacking the police. “Insisting on justice is different than doing a rush to judgment,” she said. “You don’t want a rush to judgment. You want the facts collected first. Let justice speak.”

To quell some of the neighborhood angst, the police department held a community meeting on Saturday at the New Revelations Missionary Baptist Church in northeast Pasadena to provide more details about what happened that bitter cold, rainy Saturday night.

According to Pasadena Police Department Chief Phillip L. Sanchez, a police dispatcher received a 911 call around 11 p.m. on March 24 from 26-year-old Oscar Carrillo, who told the dispatcher that two black men wearing black sweaters had stolen his computer and backpack from his car and one of them “put a gun in my face right now.” Carrillo told the dispatcher that he was following the two men. He said one fled west on Orange Grove Boulevard while the other, who Carrillo said had a gun, ran north on Raymond Avenue.

Moments later, police caught up with two teens about two blocks away in a Pasadena alleyway. McDade ran from the police until one of the officers used the police cruiser to block his path. When McDade allegedly made a move at his waistband, the officer in the cruiser opened fire. The other officer, who was on foot chasing McDade, also began shooting. Sanchez said McDade was shot multiple times. The college student died a short time later at a nearby hospital.

Both teens were later found to be unarmed. McDade’s 17-year-old friend was charged with two felony counts of commercial burglary, one felony count of grand theft property, and one misdemeanor count of failing to register as a gang member. Riddle said there was evidence that the teenagers were attempting to break into a cash register inside a Mexican restaurant before they allegedly stole Carrillo’s belongings from his car. Riddle said McDade, who had no gang ties or a criminal record, acted as a lookout for the younger teen who has a juvenile rap sheet.

Police said they later found Carrillo’s backpack but his computer was missing.

“It is just sad,” said McDade’s aunt Zara McDade, who attended the community meeting. “It was a tragic loss. He should have been detained and he should have had his day in court. It seemed like the police were his judge and jury that night on the street.”

However, soon into their investigation, the police realized that “things just did not seem to fit,” said Sanchez. Carrillo was brought back into the station for further questioning. He reconfirmed that he had been robbed at gunpoint, but after being confronted with video evidence at the scene that showed no contact between him and the teens, Carrillo admitted that he lied about them being armed so officers would respond faster. Carrillo’s lie, said Sanchez, “set the platform for the officers’ mindset.”

“I think Carrillo owns a great deal of culpability,” said Hutchinson. “If he hadn’t lied, Kendrec McDade would most likely be alive. They should throw the book at him.”

“It seemed like the police were his judge and jury that night on the street.”

On Wednesday, Carrillo was booked into the city jail on suspicion of manslaughter, and is being held on $25,000 bail. It is unclear if charges will be filed against him. Sandi Gibbons, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, said his case is currently under review.

Critics of the police investigation said that Carrillo would never have been arrested if not for public pressure from the McDade family and Harper, who held a press conference demanding the police apprehend Carrillo for filing a false police report.

On the same day Carrillo was arrested, the police chief announced that he had asked the Office of Independent Review to do an independent investigation.

Outside the church, near the makeshift memorial for McDade, a group of people stand and stare, saying a small prayer for the fallen teen. Inside, Riddle said sadly: “This was not the outcome we had anticipated.”