Two weeks ago Saturday, Pasadena police shot and killed unarmed 19-year old black man Kendrec McDade in Pasadena after a 911 caller reported being robbed by two men who had a gun. It turned out that the man who made that call misled police when he said the alleged robbers had gun. His defenders say he only “exaggerated."
It was getting late Saturday, March 24, and as Oscar Carrillo was getting ready to go home, he decided to stop for tacos at a food truck in Pasadena. He says a couple of men approached him as he was about to give his order.
“I hear one of them say, ‘I’m hungry, buy me a taco,' but like rude.’”
What happened next prompted him to call 911 and set off a complicated sequence of events.
“Eh, miss, two guys just stole my backpack. They put a gun on my face right now," Carrillo told the 911 operator. "I’m on Raymond and Orange Grove. They just run away."
And when the 911 operator asked Carrillo if he remembered anything about the gun, he said, "Both have a gun, man! They both!”
Truth be told, neither 19-year-old McDade nor the 17-year old teenager he was with had a gun, but Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez said the emergency call probably affected the responding officers’ mindset when they found McDade nearby.
"What they saw was that McDade had his hands, or one of his hands, at his waistband," Chief Sanchez said at a news conference. "When McDade quickly approached the police car, the first series of shots were fired."
The details of the way that scene went down are in dispute. For example, it’s unclear how many times police fired their weapons.
In an effort to calm the waters, Police Chief Sanchez tried to answer questions from the community at a meeting held at the New Revelation Missionary Baptist Church near where his officers shot McDade. Many questions were asked about police use of force and procedures.
“Is it police procedure to shoot from their patrol cars?" one person asked. Chief Sanchez answered, "It’s a tactic.”
Officer Mathew Griffin shot from inside his patrol car. Sanchez said that’s allowed, but he said it is unusual.
The chief couldn’t answer whether the officers tried to call out to McDade before shooting. He did reveal however that those officers didn’t activate the squad car lights or sirens as they chased McDade, therefore no dash-cam video is available.
“They were responding to a robbery that had just occurred," Chief Sanchez explained to the audience about why the lights and sirens were not turned on. "There was no imminent... it was not shared with officers that there was imminent danger.”
Police arrested Carrillo March 28 after the shooting on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter. McDade’s attorney, Caree Harper, maintains that McDade was not involved in a crime on the night he died. She adds that she finds many contradictions and a possible cover-up in the police department’s version of events.
“Although Mr. Carrillo committed a felony in my opinion, that does not alleviate those officers from their duty to know when to shoot and know when not to shoot an unarmed man," Harper said. "They must independently justify their shooting.”
The Los Angeles County district attorney has, so far, declined to file charges against Carrillo. On April 3, the cell phone store employee shuttled between a Pasadena jail and federal custody after immigration authorities determined that he lives illegally in this country. Just as they were about to deport Carrillo to Mexico, Pasadena police asked federal agents to release him under electronic ankle bracelet surveillance.
“I would think that the DA would need him as a witness if they are going to file charges against the minor, the other minor that was involved in the case," Carrillo's attorney Andres Bustamante said.
That other minor, a 17-year old, faces two counts of burglary, one for grand theft and another for not registering as a gang member. He remains in jail, and because of his age, authorities haven’t disclosed his name.
Carrillo, who lives with his wife and their two U.S.-born children in Pasadena, will remain in the United States for up to six months while the legal proceedings play out. When his lawyer allowed him to speak late Wednesday by phone, Carrillo expressed relief that he's out of detention.
"They have me. I’m very happy because they give me the opportunity to see my kids again," he said.
Carrillo also gave a brief description of his side of the events, saying that he was scared when he made that call near Fair Oaks and Sunset Avenues.
"So I am not the cop," Carrillo told KPCC. "I don’t have the uniform with me. I don’t have the gun with me. So I don’t even know what happened on Sunset. They know, I don’t know what happened on Sunset. I just heard the shots."
As Carrillo’s circumstances changed, the family of Kendrec McDade sued the City of Pasadena and its police department claiming wrongful death and civil rights violations. The lawsuit alleges that the police force has followed a pattern of excessive force and harassment against African-American men. At a recent Pasadena City Council meeting, Pasadena resident LaRonda Hartfield agreed with those allegations.
“My heart goes out to the parents because I’m also a parent of injustice with my sons in this city," Hartfield said. "This city, Pasadena Police Department, is like the number one gang.”
The L.A. County district attorney continues to investigate the case.
Various groups are raising money to help the family of Kendrec McDade bury him on Saturday.