The decision to recommend criminal charges against one of his officers was difficult but “obvious,” Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said Tuesday.
In a rare move, he said he called L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey in late December to tell her he believed Officer Clifford Proctor committed a crime when he shot Brendon Glenn, an unarmed African American homeless man in Venice last May.
“I’ve reviewed hundreds of officer-involved shootings since I’ve been chief of police,” Beck told reporters. He’s served at the top of the department since 2011.
But this case was different.
The shooting occurred outside a bar, just steps from the famed Venice Beach boardwalk. Two LAPD officers were struggling with Glenn after complaints he’d been harassing people.
An attorney for Proctor says the officer believed Glenn was going for his partner’s gun when he shot him twice in the back.
An officer’s perception is important – the Supreme Court has ruled even if an officer’s perception is wrong, the shooting is legal if he or she reasonably believed lives were in danger. Reasonableness is based on what an officer with similar training and experience would do in similar circumstances.
Beck said the shooting failed to meet that standard.
“When there is not a preponderance of evidence that supports an officer's perception, when it’s a perception that’s wholly unsupported by other facts, then you may have a negligent act – a criminally negligent act,” he said.
Security video, witness accounts, the autopsy and other physical evidence played a role in his decision, said Beck.
Security camera video shows Glenn was not reaching for any gun, said City Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the Venice area and has seen the video.
“I didn’t see anything in the way of grabbing at a weapon or anything that seemed particularly hostile,” Bonin told KPCC.
“I support the chief’s recommendation,” he said. “The mood around this shooting in Venice was intense and heated.”
Beck said he would not release the video because its part of the evidence that may be presented in a a criminal case. He said it will be up to the district attorney to decide whether to show it in court.
Proctor, 50, has been with the department for eight years. He has been assigned to home but collecting pay since the incident.
Beck asked the police commission to delay any decision on whether Proctor violated department policy until District Attorney Jackie Lacey decided on criminal charges. That means Proctor will continue to receive full pay as any potential legal proceedings unfold.
A spokesman cited concerns the department’s administrative process of evaluating Proctor’s actions could taint witnesses prosecutors may need for any criminal case.
The president of the Los Angeles Police Commission indicated he supported that.
“I respect the chief’s judgment in these matters,” said Police Commission President Matthew Johnson.
At a police commission meeting Tuesday, activists praised the decision.
"But that’s just one recommendation,” said Melina Abdullah of Black Lives Matter. The chief needs to do the same with other LAPD officers who shot unarmed people, she said.
“We have not seen justice yet.”
Others were suspicious that the officer recommended for criminal charges is black.
Beck said race played no role in his decision. He acknowledged the roiling debate around police shootings across the country.
“This is a national conversation that has to be had,” he said. “Its important the public knows that I call them as I see them.”
Beck denied charges by Proctor’s attorney and the police union that his decision was a political one in response to public pressure over police shootings.
“I can understand why they say that. I do not agree with that,” he said. “Certainly if all it was about was political expediency, I could have picked any number of shootings that were more high profile than this one.”
He would not say what he thinks Proctor should be charged with – that’s up to the district attorney.
Charges could range from murder to manslaughter to none at all. It’s been 15 years since a police officer in Los Angeles County has been criminally charged in an on-duty shooting.
The chief acknowledged "99 percent" of the time he supports officer's in shootings.
“I am very protective of this organization, very paternal towards the members of this organization. I feel they need my support because they do such a difficult job," he said.
"But that support is not unconditional.”