Police shooting of unarmed homeless man provokes grief and anger

By Joe Piasecki and Gary Walker

Corey “C. R.” Gowan mourns friend Brendon Glenn, an unarmed homeless man shot by police, during a candlelight vigil last Thursday in Venice. Photo by Ted Soqui.

Corey “C. R.” Gowan mourns friend Brendon Glenn, an unarmed homeless man shot by police, during a candlelight vigil last Thursday in Venice. Photo by Ted Soqui.

The fatal police shooting of an unarmed homeless man in Venice has touched off a public outpouring of grief and anger, with few answers emerging as to why officers employed lethal force.

The weeknight shooting occurred at around 11 p.m. on May 5 in front of the Townhouse & Del Monte Speakeasy near Windward and Pacific avenues, where two LAPD patrol officers were responding to a report of a man fighting with a bouncer and harassing passersby. Police say the officers confronted the man and shot him during an ensuing altercation that injured one of the officers.

Coroner’s office investigators have identified the man as 29-year-old Brendon Glenn.

According to multiple friends and acquaintances, Glenn struggled with alcohol abuse and bouts of intense sadness but had been seeking gainful employment and a fresh start in life after recently arriving in Venice from upstate New York. Several people said Glenn, who often went by the nickname Dizzle and cared for a dog named Dozer, was drunk and emotionally distraught — but showed no signs of aggression — in the hours before he died.

Police are reviewing surveillance video footage of the altercation as part of an internal affairs and use-of-force investigation, LAPD Inspector General Alexander Bustamante said last Thursday during an LAPD-organized community meeting at Westminster Avenue Elementary School that drew some 500 people.

Many among the largely hostile crowd shouted frequently at officials to release videotape of the incident. Demonstrators who marched through Venice earlier that day to denounce the shooting and others who gathered at an outdoor memorial for Glenn that night also called on LAPD to release the videotape.

Video footage has not been released because it could interfere with the recollections of witnesses, LAPD Deputy Chief Beatrice Girmala said during the meeting at Westminster Avenue Elementary. Police are actively seeking additional witnesses, she said.

“We cannot taint the memories of witnesses. We want them to be absolutely sure of what they saw or heard,” Girmala said.

Speakers during the meeting also included L.A. Police Commission President Steve Soboroff, LAPD Pacific Division Capt. Nicole Alberca and L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin.

Stories circulating among Venice’s homeless community offer vastly different accounts of the shooting, with much of the discussion fueled by confusion, speculation and hearsay.

Two people who claimed to witness the altercation told The Argonaut last week that one of the officers ordered Glenn to produce identification, stepped away from Glenn and then shot Glenn as Glenn reached into his back pocket.

One of them, an 18-year-old girl who said she had met Glenn at a nonprofit social services center, has since contacted the paper through a caseworker to recant her story, saying her account relied heavily on secondhand information.

The Los Angeles Times reports that sources who have reviewed video footage of the altercation say it does not clearly show any action by Glenn that would explain why the officer discharged his weapon. The unnamed sources said footage shows Glenn struggling with and being subdued by the officers, with one officer stepping away and firing at Glenn after he began struggling with the second officer.

“We have a copy of the video in my office and are breaking it down slide by slide,” Bustamante said.

Some who knew Glenn described him as being in a turbulent emotional state prior to the shooting.

Glenn became visibly upset after placing a call to his mother just before 8:30 p.m., said Timothy Pardue, manager of The P.A.D (Protection and Direction), a nonprofit homeless resource center a few doors down from where the shooting occurred.

“When [Glenn] would drink he would decide he wanted to go home, but the next day he’d be like, ‘I’m in Venice, man. I got it made. I know that night he called his mom. He was pretty upset. He was crying,” Pardue said. “Brandon comes in on a daily basis. He gets food and uses the computer. He was looking for a job so we helped him put a resume together.

The P.A.D., funded by the nonprofit transitional housing group The Teen Project, hosted the evening vigil for Glenn.

Jared Essig, a Venice street musician, said he did not witness the shooting but had encountered Glenn on the same block less than an hour before he died.

“He was wanting to talk to me about his life and his problems. He was depressed. He was about ready to cry. … He was getting drunk, but [said] he wanted to get sober; he wanted to stop,” Essig said. “It’s a shame some people don’t know how to deal with a young man whose maybe drunk and a little bit confused.”

Police involved in the altercation with Glenn were not wearing body cameras, Soboroff said last Thursday.

“We can’t wait for the day all of our officers get body cameras,” Soboroff said. “We want the truth.”

Girmala said that the officers have been removed from field duty pending investigation of the shooting.

Several people who attended the meeting at Westminster Avenue Elementary accused officials of trying to placate community anger without giving much information in return.

“People want answers. They want solution. They’re tired of the rhetoric, and they’re tired of these staged events,” said Venice community activist Nick Antonicello, frequently a critic a city hall.

“We’re here to listen, not to be talking heads or pontificate. … This is at the top of Chief [Charlie] Beck’s agenda, and it will remain so until we get answers,” Girmala told the crowd.

“This is the first of what we hope are a series of meetings. We took no offense and had not animosity toward anything said here because we understand that emotions are high and the sensitivity is so raw,” Girmala said later.