Crime & Justice

Family says 'no justice' for unarmed man shot dead by security guard at his own apartment building

Isaac Kelly, a nursing assistant, was unarmed when fatally shot by a security guard at his apartment complex in Perris, California.
Isaac Kelly, a nursing assistant, was unarmed when fatally shot by a security guard at his apartment complex in Perris, California.
Courtesy of Kelly's family

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The family of an unarmed man who was fatally shot by a security guard in his own apartment complex is accusing the Riverside County District Attorney's Office of offering too light a sentence and treating the private guard as if he were a police officer.

Isaac Kelly was killed at around midnight on Oct. 3, 2015 at the Meadowview Apartments in Perris. Court records show security guard Steven Dillick told sheriff's deputies Kelly was reaching for his waistband. 

"I thought he had a gun, he wouldn't stop," Dillick said, according to court records.

A sheriff's investigation found Kelly, who worked as a nursing assistant, was unarmed. 

Around six months later, on March 29, 2016, Riverside prosecutors charged Dillick with voluntary manslaughter and using a gun during the crime, noting there was no apparent reason for him to be afraid. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 21 years.

"I was unable to show what, if any, threat Kelly posed to Dillick," a sheriff's deputy investigating the case wrote in the arrest affidavit. "Kelly only had a set of keys in his possession." 

Court dockets show prosecutors have not presented their case against Dillick at a preliminary hearing, a standard part of the criminal court process in which they must present evidence against him in open court. Instead, the court case has been repeatedly continued for months for "felony settlement conference."

Janice Sly, Kelly’s mother, said she wants a jury to decide the case. She flew to Los Angeles from her home in Texas and met with prosecutors last week to make her case, but said she was rebuffed.

She said prosecutors told her that they offered Dillick a reduced sentence of six months to one year -- which can be served on weekends -- in exchange for a guilty plea.

“That’s no justice for my son,” Sly said. She left a meeting Friday feeling like “I had no say.”

When asked whether Sly's description of the offer is accurate, officials the Riverside County prosecutor handling the case didn't respond and a spokesman declined to comment.

"I don't comment or confirm any possible negotiations in any case," John Hall, a public information officer with the Riverside County District Attorney's Office said in an email.

Dillick's criminal defense attorney didn't return calls for comment. An attorney representing Dillick and the security company, Star Pro International, in a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit filed by the family said Dillick was in "genuine fear for his life." 

"The property had a fairly substantial history of crime," said William Kronenberg, the lawyer. "Dillick was licensed by the State of California to carry a firearm.... That's for the security of the residents and the security of the guards themselves."

Donavan Caver, an organizer of the Inland Empire chapter of Black Lives Matter who said he attended the meeting with District Attorney officials at Sly's invitation, said prosecutors told them they couldn’t win at trial against Dillick’s claim of self-defense.

An attorney specializing in police use of force cases representing Kelly’s mother and father, Charles Roy, in the civil lawsuit said Dillick is being treated as if he were a member of law enforcement and giving Dillick “a pass.”

In a court filing, sheriff's investigator Matt Posson wrote: "Dillick saw the unknown person place his left hand behind his back as if he were reaching for a weapon. Dillick began giving verbal commands to the unknown man, such as "let me see your hands."

An autopsy found Kelly sustained six possible gunshot wounds: one to the right arm and the rest to the back.

Sly accuses prosecutors of racism. The security guard is white. Kelly was black.

Prosecutors and Dillick's defense attorney both deny race has anything to do with it.

"Unless the facts of the a case support an allegation of a hate crime, we do not consider race at all," said Hall, the spokesman.

The criminal settlement must be approved by a judge. The next court hearing in the case is scheduled for August 30.