Bill Bratton Compares Trayvon, Pasadena Shootings

Two unarmed black youths. Two deaths. But former police chief Bill Bratton thinks the similarities may end there.

Is another Trayvon Martin case brewing in Pasadena, Calif.?

There are troubling similarities between the shooting death of Kendrec McDade, a 19-year-old college student who was killed in the Southern California city on March 24, and that of Martin, a 17-year-old high-school kid who died a month earlier in Sanford, Fla. Both were African-American and both were unarmed. The shooters in each case were nonblack (Caucasian in McDade’s case and Hispanic in Martin’s). In the aftermath of the deaths, members of the public, especially civil-rights activists, are alarmed and angry.

But Bill Bratton, the former top cop of neighboring Los Angeles and, before that, of New York City, says significant differences between the two incidents—especially the proactive response of Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez to community concerns—have thus far prevented the sort of boiling outrage that has characterized the Florida case.

“It is a very big local story, and whether it has any legs on the national level is up to the media and responsible community leaders,” Bratton told me about the Pasadena situation. “So far, Trayvon Martin is sucking up all the oxygen.”

In contrast to “an almost total lack of visibility” by Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee in the two weeks following the Martin shooting, Bratton praised Chief Sanchez’s attempts to engage the public and field tough questions about McDade’s death, most recently at an encouragingly calm community meeting on Saturday. “It’s an advantage to get out in front of it,” Bratton said, “and show that the police department is not trying to hide anything.”

Amid widespread outrage over his mishandling of the public-relations component, Lee was forced to step aside from the Sanford police department.

The underlying facts of the two incidents, while murky, are dissimilar in important aspects: Martin, who was walking home through a gated community after buying candy and iced tea, was shot by a self-appointed civilian crime-stopper who disregarded a police dispatcher’s directive not to pursue the teenager. The shooter, George Zimmerman, has yet to be charged with any crime. Bratton, however, doesn’t necessarily fault Chief Lee for not arresting Zimmerman immediately, noting that he apparently was relying on legal advice from the local prosecutor.

McDade, who police say acted as a lookout while an accomplice stole a backpack and laptop, was fleeing the cops when he was shot by two officers on a dark, narrow street. The complaining caller, Oscar Carrillo, who placed the initial 911 call, acknowledged that he lied to the dispatcher when he claimed to have been robbed at gunpoint—to get a quicker response, he explained. Carrillo was arrested last week on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter, but the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office Monday declined to file charges against him. Instead, they sent the case back to the Pasadena Police Department for further investigation. Carrillo remains jailed on an immigration hold placed by the federal Immigration Customs and Enforcement. He is believed to be in the United States illegally.

In both shootings, an exhaustive investigation is underway, and Bratton is confident that the Pasadena police will let the chips fall where they may.

“This thing will be investigated thoroughly,” he said, “which is the normal practice. And it will be done by an independent investigator.”