Three young men could not be any more different.
One became a Marine after graduating from high school in Ohio in 2001 and saw bloody combat in Iraq shortly after the war began. He later attended some college classes then joined the Pasadena Police Department in 2007 before doing another tour of duty in Iraq in 2009 as a reservist.
Another came from Colorado, graduating from high school there in 1994 then heading off to the University of Colorado, from which he graduated after studying micro-cellular biology and biochemistry, before joining the Navy. After his stint in the service, the then-aspiring scientist worked as a lab technician before hitching up with the LA County Sheriff’s Department in 2005, working as a guard at the Twin Towers Jail before taking on a new assignment with the Pasadena police force the following year.
The youngest of the three was a 19-year-old junior college student and former football standout from Azusa who was visiting with his single dad in Pasadena on March 24, 2012, the Saturday evening when the lives of all three men intersected briefly but tragically at the corner of North Fair Oaks Avenue and Orange Grove Boulevard, shortly after a supposed armed robbery of a man’s backpack was reported on a nearby street.
Within a few minutes of first laying eyes on one another, the third man, Kendrec McDade, was chased down and mortally wounded in the middle of Sunset Avenue — less than three blocks from his father’s home, located on that very street. He had been hit by seven of eight shots fired by the two Pasadena officers, Jeffrey Newlen and Matthew Griffin. Newlen and Griffin are white. McDade was African American
Both officers acknowledged never issuing warnings or verbal commands to McDade to show his hands or to lie on the ground just prior to shooting him. Neither did they turn on the lights and siren in their patrol car while in pursuit of McDade. They actually shot their weapons toward each other, one even firing in the direction near occupied homes during the incident, maintaining they believed McDade was responsible for the robbery and had a weapon.
However, McDade was not in possession of a backpack, and the gun believed to be in his waistband was never found. The teenager, authorities eventually concluded, was not armed.
The two officers — one whose deposition testimony indicates a number of complaints lodged against him, and the other with at least one citizen complaint on his record — denied hearing McDade say much of anything after being shot, except “I don’t have anything,” as Newlen recalled.
But the attorneys for the family maintain that one witness said McDade’s final words to them while en route to Huntington Hospital were “Why did they shoot me?” He died shortly after arriving at the hospital’s emergency room.
The OIR Report
Newlen and Griffin have long been cleared of any wrongdoing in separate investigations conducted by the US Justice Department, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, the county Sheriff’s Department and Pasadena police.
On Oct. 14, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge will decide whether all, part or none of a final report prepared on the shooting by the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review Group (OIR) should be released to the public. City Manager Michael Beck at first said portions of the report dealing with personnel issues would not be released. But attorney Richard Shinee, representing the Pasadena Police Officers’ Association (PPOA) argues in his lawsuit against the city that none of the report should be made public because it potentially contains confidential information about the officers.
Judge James Chalfant at first sided with the PPOA and issued a temporary restraining order, but then the judge briefly rescinded his decision a week before reinstating it so he could read the document and decide for himself what could and could not be released.
The injunction is opposed by McDade’s mother, Anya Slaughter, the NAACP Pasadena Branch, local ACLU board member Kris Ockershauser, the influential Pasadena political action group ACT, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Greater Pasadena, and the Los Angeles Times.
“They [the city] gave the officer’s internal affairs statements to their opposition,” the PPOA, said local attorney Dale Gronemeier, who is representing Slaughter and all the plaintiffs except the Times in a separate lawsuit against the city aimed at acquiring an unredacted copy of the report. “You can’t give something to your adversary and claim it remains confidential. There is nothing remaining to withhold,” Gronemeier said. “The claim that they can redact 14 pages of the OIR report is frivolous. The whole position of the city that there should be any redactions is completely BS.”
Both Newlen and Griffin were deposed in mid July 2013 as part of two separate federal lawsuits filed by Slaughter and McDade’s father, Kenneth McDade. The Pasadena Weekly, which has filed a number of California Public Records Act requests for access to the OIR report, this week obtained the sworn statements, links to which are provided at the bottom of this story. The two lawsuits led to a more than $1 million settlement between the city and the young man’s parents.
The primary reason why the investigative agencies cleared Newlen and Griffin is the two men appeared to genuinely believe McDade was armed and dangerous that night — even though neither man actually saw McDade do anything more suspicious than hitch up his baggy pants with his right hand while running from them. However, just before opening fire, Newlen said he saw a muzzle flash near the car his partner was in, and “I believed he was firing on me after firing at my partner.”
The two officers were responding to a call of an armed robbery at a taco stand near the corner of Raymond Avenue and Orange Grove Boulevard, all based on the false story provided by the alleged victim of the robbery, who later admitted to lying about the gun to dispatchers in order to hasten the officers’ response to his call for help just before 11 p.m. the night of the shooting.
Although US District Judge Dolly Gee critically touched on several elements of the two depositions in her written analysis of the case issued in late April, the two legal documents obtained by the Weekly contain more information than previously released on the incident — as seen through the eyes of the two officers involved.
The McDade case has taken on even more social and political significance in the wake of a number of similar incidents in which African-American men and women have been either treated abusively or shot and killed by white law enforcement officials over the past several years. In cities across the country — including Pasadena — such incidents have led to calls for better civilian oversight of local police agencies.
During deposition testimony, lawyers for Slaughter and the elder McDade focused their attention on the local Police Department’s use-of-force and pursuit policies, the former similar to training both Newlen and Griffin received in the Armed Services. That’s because during the pursuit of McDade, an armed robbery suspect, the officers did not turn on their emergency lights or siren, as might be expected in a situation in which a supposedly armed and dangerous man was running around a densely residential neighborhood. They also did not use the spotlight mounted on the car, and only Newlen issued a single command for McDade to stop, specifically “Stop, this is the police.” But Newlen shouted that command only after he had gotten out of the car to give chase on foot. Newlen himself said he did not consider McDade to be an immediate threat at that time.
Three years out of high school in Ohio, and six years before becoming a police officer, midsized and moderately athletic Newlen was a Marine rifleman serving in Iraq one year after the United States invaded that country. In his first of two tours of duty, Newlen said he was forced to use his government-issued weapon in 2004 “four to five times,” as he explained in his testimony related to the McDade wrongful death lawsuit.
In response to questions by Slaughter’s attorney, Dale Galipo, Newlen said that in those four to five incidents in Iraq, he struck four to five people. He was unsure if any of them lived or died. While in the service, Newlen earned an unknown number of medals and was considered an expert marksman, the highest grade possible for shooting proficiency in the Marines. Thanks to his 20/20 eyesight, Newlen’s police shooting range scores earned him the distinction of being a top shooter, or a “blue max,” joining roughly 10 percent of the department’s 300 sworn officers to earn that distinction.
It was only after questioning by Galipo and a grilling by civil rights attorney Caree Harper, representing McDade’s dad, that Newlen acknowledged that he and Griffin did not turn on their red light and siren during a vehicle pursuit of McDade the night of the shooting; that neither he nor Griffin gave McDade any commands to comply until Newlen was within a few yards from the youth during a foot chase just prior to the shooting; that the patrol car’s dashboard camera was not turned on; that Newlen recorded people with a concealed tape recorder but did not turn it on the night of McDade’s shooting; and that he was disciplined one time since coming to the department over an incident in which his partner — not Griffin, his full-time partner of 1½ years who was off work that night, but another officer — “took down” a suspect. While he knew about other such incidents, the McDade death was the first time Newlen had been a party to an officer-involved shooting. He acknowledged the complaint without providing details but insisted his partner was the one who subdued the suspect during the incident.
“There’s one complaint that I can recall, and I think it was before the incident but technically wasn’t on force I had used. It was on force that somebody had used, and I was there as well,” Newlen said under questioning by Galipo.
“I’m not going to spend much time with this, but what type of force was used?” Galipo asked.
“It was a takedown and — takedown,” Newlen responded.
“But are you saying that there was another officer or officers involved in the takedown, and you just happened to be present?” Galipo queried.
“Yes. It was my partner, but he’s the one that did the takedown,” Newlen said.
“And so when the complaint was made, it was just made against both of you?”
“Yes,” Newlen said.
But apparently no amount of prodding by Harper could make Newlen acknowledge that he felt any remorse for firing four of the seven shots that killed McDade that night.
Harper started her line of questioning by asking Newlen if he noticed Slaughter, McDade’s still grieving mother, sitting in the conference room during his deposition testimony on July 17, 2013, at Galipo’s office in Woodland Hills.
“Yes,” Newlen answered.
“And your attorney said, ‘are you okay?’” Harper continued. “Am I mistaken to say that there was pain in your eyes seeing that?”
“I can’t answer that,” Newlen said.
At that point, Newlen’s attorney, Kevin Gilbert, objected, but told his client to go ahead and answer if he could.
“I can’t answer the question,” Newlen said again.
“Are you sorry that an unarmed man was killed by your own hand?” Harper pressed.
“I can’t answer that question,” Newlen said.
“Do you feel any remorse?” Harper went on.
Gilbert objected again, but Newlen spoke, but only to say he could not answer.
“Do you feel by answering that in some way — I mean a life is lost. I’m not asking you to say you’re right or wrong, but do you have feelings that a 19-year-old having passed away by your hand?”
Gilbert objected, but again told his client to answer if he could.
“I can’t answer that question,” Newlen repeated.
“Why can’t you answer?” Harper asked.
“I haven’t been able to think about that one way or the other. I can’t answer that question.”
“You haven’t been able to think about it? Has it been too difficult to think about?” inquired Harper, a former police officer.
“He’s answered the question,” said Gilbert.
“You said you haven’t been able to think about it; right?” Harper said.
“I haven’t thought about it,” said Newlen.
“You haven’t — have you, in the course of the four to five shootings you’ve been involved in, has any been remotely similar to this particular incident we’re here for today?” said Harper
“No,” Newlen said flatly.
“Have you made a conscious decision not to think about the shooting?”
“I haven’t thought about it one way or the other,” Newlen said.
“Why haven’t you thought about it, sir?” Harper pressed.
“Just haven’t thought about it one way or the other.”
“ … Okay. Have you cried over this incident since the killing of Kendrec McDade? Have you shed any tears? Yes or no.”
“Can’t answer your question,” said Newlen.
“You don’t know if you’ve shed tears?”
“Can’t answer the question.”
‘Doesn’t Ring a Bell’
The day before Newlen testified, Griffin gave his account of what happened that night, saying there was little time to do what officers might normally do in such circumstances. The 5-foot 10-inch 205-pound six-year veteran also acknowledged having seen his share of complaints during his time on the local force.
In his testimony, Griffin, a football lineman in high school and onetime intelligence officer in the Navy, explained some of the issues he’s faced while on the force.
“First of all, are you aware that there had been some complaints lodged against you as a police officer?” Galipo asked.
“Yes, sir,” Griffin responded.
“Was one of them relating to the shooting of a dog?”
“I wasn’t aware of a complaint.”
“Did you shoot a dog at some point?”
“Yes, sir,” responded Griffin.
“And was that before or after this incident?”
“Before,” he said.
“At what point? I’m not doubting it, but I don’t know to what you’re referring.”
“Let me ask you this: Do you have an estimate as to how many times you and Officer Newlen had to use force to take someone into custody? … Anything more than just handcuffing? I mean punching, kicking, Taser, pepper spray, baton,” Galipo explained.
“Including control holds or no?” asked Griffin.
“Not control holds.”
“I don’t recall ever being partnered with him and striking somebody or kicking somebody or using a baton or anything like that. I use control holds,” Griffin said.
“Okay. When there is a complaint filed against you. If you know, is it brought to your attention in some way by the department?”
“Were you aware that there had been several African Americans that had filed complaints against you?” Galipo inquired.
“I know of one for sure, but that wasn’t with Officer Newlen. I don’t know. That was from quite a number of years ago,” Griffin said.
“The African-American complaint that you’re thinking of is which one?” Galipo asked.
“I think it was sometime in 2007. Maybe it was at the outset of our dash cam technology. I know that because it was caught on tape, the entire episode. That was with a different officer,” Griffin said.
“What happened in that incident just basically?”
“We pulled a car over for having what, I believe, was a broken taillight or broken brake light, and the gentleman was most unhappy with our traffic stop, and he complained on us,” Griffin said.
“The shooting of the dog, what happened with that?”
“I responded to a — I haven’t read this report or refreshed myself, but I responded to some kind of a call of a dog being loose, a large dog, and I got to the area. I saw the dog. I was friendly with the dog. It actually came up, jumped up on me in a friendly manner, and its head was at about chest height. One of its paws, actually, tore the grip on my duty gun that day,” Griffin recalled.
“I tried to escort the dog,” he continued. “I tried to entice it back in my car until animal control arrived. Somebody was walking their two little dogs down the sidewalk and decided to watch me try to entice this dog into my backseat, but my idea was put it in the backseat and until animal control could come and deal with the situation. I threw Doritos in my backseat I had handy. The dog refused. He saw these little dogs on the side of the street. He went from the No. 2 lane of — I think was No. 2 lane – of southbound San Gabriel. I think it was across the No. 2, the No. 1. The No. 1 and No. 2 of northbound and he attacked one of these dogs. But the owner refused to let go, and I was afraid the large dog that I was there for was going to attack the human being, the owner, and so I discharged my weapon twice.”
“Did you strike the dog?” asked Galipo.
“To your knowledge, did the dog die?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Did the dog ever actually attack the owner?”
“Now,” Galipo said, switching gears, “there’s a complaint of a (name withheld). Does that ring a bell? There was some incident where it was reported that a gentleman may have locked his girlfriend outside the apartment and was inside with a child and a gun, and then there turned out to be no gun, but he complained that you or other officers present had pointed a gun to his head?”
“I’m not familiar with that name. Can you give me a date maybe or location?
“Sure,” said Galipo. “Let me see, May 4, 2007, at (location withheld).”
“That doesn’t ring a bell. I’m sorry,” answered Galipo.
“Okay. Do you sometimes have to give an interview to internal affairs when requested?”
“For internal affairs investigation, yes, sir,” Griffin said.
“With respect to this particular shooting incident with Mr. McDade, were you in any way disciplined?”
“No, sir,” Griffin answered.
“Did you receive any retraining as a result of this incident?”
“No, sir,” Griffin said.
“Did you ever go back to the scene and do a walk-through?”
“No, sir,” Griffin responded.
On the night of the shooting, Griffin explained how he and Newlen took a report at the taco stand before rolling south toward Orange Grove, turning right and then right again on Fair Oaks, where Griffin and Newlen came face-to-face with the muscular 5-foot 5-inch McDade, who was staring through their windshield from the street’s east sidewalk.
McDade crossed Fair Oaks and took off through the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant on the corner. Griffin was driving and followed until he hit a wall in the parking lot as McDade made it to the street. Although the car’s dash cam is supposed to come on automatically when a Code 3 is declared or when there is an accident, a Code 3 was not called and the collision apparently did not activate the dash-cam.
Griffin managed to get the car through a narrow exit way and “spilled out” onto Sunset, as he described it in his testimony. From there, he spotted McDade again, this time heading south on Sunset toward Orange Grove. He continued following when he saw McDade turn west at the corner on Orange Grove. Griffin was in pursuit, but then McDade suddenly stopped and doubled back to Sunset.
At that point, Newlen jumped out of the car and chased McDade on the street’s west side sidewalk while Griffin put the car into reverse and cut north up poorly lighted Sunset, eventually passing Newlen at high speed in an effort to catch up to the fleet-footed McDade, which he quickly did in the narrow two-way street’s 700 block.
Griffin said he did not corner McDade, but instead paralleled his movements while controlling the steering wheel with his left hand and holding a .45 caliber handgun in his right hand. He had another smaller caliber handgun tucked into his waistband.
Under questioning by Galipo, Griffin said at the time the first shot was fired by him, he had stopped the car and was close enough to McDade to touch him through the car’s open window as the car idled in park.
“So your window is down. You see Mr. McDade initially about 20 to 25 feet from you on the sidewalk?” Galipo inquired.
“About that, yes,” Griffin replied.
“Why don’t you give him a command?” Galipo asked.
“I don’t have time to give him a command.” Griffin said, claiming McDade cut into the street and suddenly sprinted at the car’s front door, directly facing Griffin when the officer shot.
“And how close was he to the car when you shot him?” Galipo asked.
“He was close enough that I could almost reach out and touch him. He was about a foot and a half, two feet,” Griffin said.
Griffin hit McDade in the stomach, or his “center mass,” as officers are trained to fire at. He then kept firing out the window behind him as McDade moved laterally toward the rear of the vehicle. In all, Griffin fired four rounds, all while moving his body into the passenger seat of the car, away from any possible line of fire. He hit McDade three times. Griffin said he didn’t see McDade when he fired the last shots in the direction he believed the teen would be moving.
By the time Griffin was finished firing, Newlen had come to within 10 yards of McDade. Not knowing the muzzle flash was from Griffin’s gun, and unable to see the teen’s right hand in the dim light, Newlen opened fire. By this time, McDade was directly facing Newlen in a “crouched” position at the rear of the car. Newlen fired his .40-caliber Glock handgun four times, hitting McDade with each round. When the shooting stopped, Griffin exited the car and his first thought was that he had struck Newlen with one of his rounds, but he hadn’t.
Before the shooting started, Griffin threw the car into reverse, but kept his foot on the brake as he fired at McDade. In his haste to get out of the car, Griffin said he forgot to put the vehicle back into park and it rolled backwards, almost hitting the still-breathing McDade. The still-open car door hit Griffin in the back as he was putting his left hand on McDade’s left shoulder and his knee into his back. But he did not search the teenager for a weapon. After Newlen jumped into the car and threw it into park, he handcuffed McDade and swept his waistband as an ambulance arrived and police officials whisked the two officers away from the scene and back to the police station for interviews.
During her turn to question Griffin, Harper asked the officer if he felt any remorse about killing an unarmed man. Like Newlen, he also refused to answer.
“I don’t know.”
“Estimate, please,” Harper pressed.
“Maybe a couple. Maybe,” Griffin said.
“Okay. And has — can you give me an idea what specifically has been said?”
Harper was curious because witnesses in civil and criminal proceedings are not supposed to talk to one another about the cases they are involved in.
“I said I was glad I didn’t end up shooting him. Pretty sure he was glad he didn’t shoot me. I mean I don’t know what you’re really asking for, I guess,” Griffin said.
“No one said that you were sorry that you actually killed an unarmed person though; right?”
“I didn’t say that, and I don’t think he said it,” Griffin said.
“Are you sorry you killed an unarmed person?”
“I can’t answer that for you.”
“Not for me. Are you sorry you killed an unarmed teenager?” Harper asked again.
“I’m telling you I don’t have an answer for you.”
“As you sit here today, do you care that you killed a 19-year-old kid without a weapon?”
After Gilbert objected, Harper changed her line of questioning.
“Misstates testimony,” Gilbert cried out.
“Are you just glad you didn’t shoot Officer Newlen?” Harper said.
“Among other things I’m glad I didn’t shoot Officer Newlen,” Griffin said.
“What other things?”
“I’m just glad I didn’t shoot Officer Newlen.”
“Do you regret any of this happening? Do you feel any remorse?” Harper asked.
“Asked and answered,” Gilbert noted. “He’s told you he can’t answer those questions.”
“I have a mother of a 19-year-old kid who’s passed away sitting here. Do you care that you’re the one who shot him? Do you even care?” Harper continued.
“Argumentative,” Gilbert chimed in again. “If you want to move on to factual questions, please proceed.”
“Do you even care?”
“He’s told you he can’t answer,” Gilbert said.
“Are you instructing him not to answer?” Harper asked Gilbert.
“I told you I don’t have an answer for you, ma’am,” Griffin concluded.
“He didn’t show any remorse or anything,” Slaughter, McDade’s mom, said of Griffin. “He just didn’t care. He wouldn’t even answer the question. That is the feeling that I have gotten all along from the city, is that they didn’t care that they killed my son.”
“I am not surprised,” said NAACP Pasadena Branch President Gary Moody. “The sad part is the chief [Phillip Sanchez] seems to be disconnected regarding what these officers are doing in the community and what they bring to the table. When they talk about following policy and procedures — neither one of these cats followed policy and procedure.”