Family of Black Teen Killed by Pasadena Cops Alleges Racial Profiling

Pasadena police face a wrongful death suit in the shooting of Kendrec McDade. Christine Pelisek reports.

Damian Dovarganes / AP Photo

The family of a young African-American man shot to death by police in Pasadena, Calif., last month has filed a federal wrongful-death lawsuit, claiming racial profiling.

The shooting of Kendrec McDade has drawn parallels to the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida because both of the dead teenagers were black and unarmed. Today’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, accuses the Pasadena Police Department of mishandling the incident and the follow-up investigation into the March 24 shooting, alleging that the police chief continues to “vilify” McDade, who was a high-school football all-star, as a felon to “distract from the undeniable fact that his officers killed an unarmed man.”

The suit comes the day after the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges against the 911 caller who later admitted that he’d lied when he told authorities that the 19-year-old Citrus College student had been carrying a gun. Police responding to the call said that McDade and a juvenile accomplice had allegedly attempted to break into a cash register at a restaurant prior to stealing a backpack and computer from a parked car. According to police, McDade acted as a “lookout” during the alleged burglary.

The lawsuit alleges that after the shooting the Pasadena police chief asked an officer “who has been directly responsible for multiple controversial killings of young black men in pasadena” to investigate the shooting of McDade. The lawsuit does not specify what cases the officer was allegedly involved with.

“They have made a million mistakes in this case,” said Caree Harper, who is representing McDade’s parents. “The cover-up is always the worst.” The Pasadena Police Department declined to comment about the suit. Last week, the Pasadena police chief asked the County of Los Angeles Office of Independent Review to conduct an independent investigation.

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 best known as the home of the Rose Bowl and as a place with pockets of extreme wealth, northwest Pasadena, where the shooting occurred, is a neighborhood plagued by violence and poverty.

The events of the night still remain murky. According to the police, a dispatcher received a 911 call around 11 p.m. from 26-year-old Oscar Carrillo, who said that two black men wearing black sweaters had stolen his computer and backpack from his car, and that one of them “put a gun in my face right now.” Carrillo told the dispatcher that 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 in an alley about two blocks away. 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, according to police. The other officer, who was on foot chasing McDade, also began shooting. McDade was hit several times and died 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.

Lt. Phlunte Riddle of the Pasadena Police Department 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. Police said they later found Carrillo’s backpack, but his computer was missing.

A few days later, the police announced that Carrillo, the 911 caller, had admitted that he lied about the teens being armed so that officers would respond faster. Carrillo was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter. However, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office declined to file charges yesterday and sent the case back to the police for further investigation. Carrillo was detained on an immigration hold by the federal Immigration Customs and Enforcement but has since been released with an electronic monitoring device. He had been previously deported from the United States in 2006, according to ICE.

As conflicting details of McDade’s death continued to trickle out, community members have questioned why the officers apparently didn’t identify themselves that night or activate the vehicle’s lights and sirens, which would have turned on a camera that would have recorded the incident. At a community meeting last Saturday, Pasadena Police Department Chief Phillip Sanchez explained that officers didn’t always have time to yell “freeze.”

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The lawsuit alleges that as McDade lay on the ground dying, the officers handcuffed him and left him in the street “for a protracted period of time without administering first aid.”

The lawsuit also claims that the city of Pasadena “developed and maintained policies or customs exhibiting deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of black males” and cited a number of cases where African-Americans were allegedly beaten up, shot, or wrongfully arrested by the police department. One of those cases involved 37-year-old reputed Blood gang member, Leroy Barnes, who 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 investigated by the 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.”

“We knew it was coming,” says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, the president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, about the McDade family’s lawsuit. “My guess is it won’t go to a jury trial and there will be a hefty settlement."

“Hopefully, we will get some closure one way or another,” said Raymond Cross, a friend of McDade’s. “Hopefully, there will be some justice. That is all you can hope for.”