Two Pasadena police officers who fatally shot a 19-year-old suspect after the theft of a man’s backpack in March acted lawfully and will not face any criminal charges, the district attorney’s office announced this week.
Kendrec Lavelle McDade’s shooting on March 24 led to an outcry from relatives and activists who claimed police used excessive force by opening fire on the unarmed man. Police, however, claimed the officers believed McDade had a weapon, because the man who reported the backpack theft falsely told a 911 dispatcher he had been robbed by armed assailants.
According to the district attorney’s Justice System Integrity Division, the officers acted in lawful self-defense and defense of others.
McDade’s father and others have filed a suit against Pasadena police, alleging that officers Jeffrey Newlen and Matthew Griffin caused the death “without lawful cause or justification, and acting under color of law.”
According to the report released by prosecutors Tuesday, Griffin and Newlen both told investigators they believed McDade was armed as they chased him–Griffin in a patrol car and Newlen on foot.
“At every point that I saw him, he was still clutching his waistband,” Griffin said, according to the report. “I felt that it was a gun that he didn’t want to give up.”
Newlen said that even when McDade fell during the pursuit, he kept his right hand at his waist, according to the report.
The two officers were on the scene in response to a 911 call reporting that two men, at least one of whom had a gun, had stolen a backpack from a car in front of Arturo’s Restaurant on Orange Grove Boulevard in Pasadena. The caller mentioned the presence of a gun eight times during the five-minute call, according to investigators.
The officers spotted McDade, who matched the armed suspect’s description and took off after him.
Griffin removed his own weapon from his holster with his right hand as he steered the patrol car with his left.
Newlen was running north on Sunset Avenue after McDade when Griffin tried to box McDade in with the car. McDade ran a few steps past and then “suddenly turned into the street heading directly at Griffin,” according to the report.
“He left the sidewalk and he’s running at me,” Griffin said, according to investigators. “This . . . this scares the crap out of me. I don’t know why he’s running at me. He’s still clutching his waistband. I think he’s got a gun. I’m stuck in the car. I got nowhere to go.”
Griffin said he fired four times through the driver’s side window as McDade moved down the side of the car.
Newlen, standing 10 to 15 feet behind McDade, heard shots and thought the suspect was firing at him. Newlen said he fired his gun four to five times until McDade fell to the ground.
When McDade was searched, an officer found a cell phone in his front pocket, but no weapon. He was taken by ambulance to Huntington Memorial Hospital and into surgery, but died of his wounds just after midnight.
Surveillance footage from the restaurant shows McDade standing behind a car during the theft and fleeing on foot with a juvenile suspect who tried to open an unattended cash register and then grabbed the backpack. But the footage also shows no weapon and no confrontation as described by the robbery victim, Oscar Carrillo.
Carrillo later recanted his earlier statements and admitted that he never saw a gun, but lied to 9-1-1 because he was mad and believed that the police would respond more quickly if they believed a gun was involved.
Carrillo was arrested on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter for his lie to the 911 dispatcher, but prosecutors declined to file charges.
Investigators found there was no reason for Griffin and Newlen to doubt the information they had from dispatch of an armed suspect. Both men fired in fear for their life, they concluded.
“Once the officers perceived that McDade posed an apparent lethal threat, their response with deadly force was justified,” the letter, signed on behalf of District Attorney Jackie Lacey, concludes.