LOS ANGELES – On April 23, when 10,000 students return from spring break to classes at Citrus College, a tree-rich campus set below picturesque foothills in Glendora, Calif., they will be one short—Kendrec McDade.
McDade was killed the night of March 24 in Pasadena, about 17 miles to the west, when two Pasadena police officers shot him after being alerted to a possible armed robbery. McDade, however, was unarmed. And, as it turned out, the victim who reported the robbery to police later admitted that he never saw a gun.
The incident has provoked outrage in the African-American community in Pasadena and nearby Los Angeles as yet another example of young Black men losing their lives under questionable circumstances. McDade’s death occurred in the shadow of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in late February at the hands of Florida neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
Since McDade’s passing, Citrus College administrators have refused to comment or to allow the 19-year-old’s professors or coaches to speak out. Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez, however, has held several public and private meetings to explain
what occurred and to insist that his department’s investigation will be thorough. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Office of Independent Review, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office and the FBI also are conducting inquiries.
McDade’s family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit as well.
Kendrec Lavelle “Mac” McDade was a standout football player and track and field athlete, at Azusa High School, where a “No Guts, No Glory” award he won remains on display. According to family and friends, he was interested in a legal career.
What he was doing the night of his death remains murky. But what is known is that a 26-year-old man named Oscar Carrillo called police around 11 p.m. to report that two African-American males had rifled through his car and then stolen his backpack, laptop computer and mobile phones. Carrillo told dispatchers that at least one of the men had brandished a handgun.
Within minutes, Officer Jeffrey Newlen was chasing McDade. Soon after, Officer Mathew Griffin, in his police cruiser, blocked McDade’s path on a poorly lit street. According to police, the youth reached for his waistband and was then shot by both officers, who are White. No gun was found on McDade.
Carrillo was later arrested on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter on the basis that his false police report led to McDade’s eventual death. But the district attorney’s office tentatively opted against filing charges. Found to be an undocumented immigrant, Carrillo could be deported to Mexico if prosecutors make a final decision not to charge him, federal immigration authorities said.
The second youth Carrillo reported as an alleged thief is a 17-year-old juvenile who has not been identified. He could face prosecution on the theft of Carrillo’s property and unrelated charges.
At a March 31 community meeting, Sanchez said the video camera in the police cruiser was not activated because the driving officer had neither declared a high-level emergency Code 3 nor turned on the car’s lights and sirens. However, some in the crowd questioned how the officers, knowing an armed robbery had been reported, would be in anything but a hyper-vigilant mode that included turning on the car’s lights and siren.
There is a long history of antagonism between the Pasadena police and the city’s African-American community, including the 2009 officer-involved fatal shooting of Leroy Barnes. Those officers were not prosecuted. More than 10 percent of Pasadena’s 137,000 residents are African-Americans, according to the 2010 census.
McDade’s father, Kenneth McDade, said he and his son were stopped in their car by Pasadena police more than once in past years, according to the Pasadena Weekly. The older McDade instructed his son on how to act when in such situations. “I told him if he ever got stopped to keep his hands where they could see them and follow instructions,” he said.
“My son was a good boy,” McDade’s mother, Anya Slaughter, told the Weekly. “I want justice and I want his name cleared …. This has devastated me, and I want answers.”
Joe Brown, president of the Pasadena-branch of the NAACP, said McDade was running from the cops to get back to his father’s home by his 11:30 p.m. curfew. “He lived with his mother five days a week in Azusa, where he attended college,” Brown told the Pasadena Star-News. “He stayed with his father on Saturday and had an 11:30 p.m. curfew.”
Brown’s organization has formally asked the police department to release information related to the shooting, including the department’s policies on shooting from vehicles, the vehicle-mounted video system and McDade’s autopsy report.
Meanwhile, some in the region’s Latino community are questioning the focus on Carrillo, noting that he did not pull the trigger that led to McDade’s death. Carrillo’s attorney, Andres Bustamante, said his client had become a scapegoat. “(His) arrest was damage control,” Bustamante told the Star-News. “They had a lot of pressure from the community.”
Herbert A. Sample is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, Calif. He can be reached at [email protected]