Video release in Banko Brown killing by DA Jenkins doesn't quell controversy

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Monday May 15, 2023
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An image from the Walgreens security video shows Banko Brown, top left in white shirt, as he's confronted by security guard Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony, in black. Photo: SF DA's Office
An image from the Walgreens security video shows Banko Brown, top left in white shirt, as he's confronted by security guard Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony, in black. Photo: SF DA's Office

[Editor's note: Warning that the video embedded below is graphic and may be disturbing to some viewers.]

The attorney for the family of Banko Brown says the security camera video released by San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins doesn't show that the killing of the unarmed 24-year-old outside a San Francisco Walgreens last month was justified.

Brown, a Black trans man who was a volunteer organizer with the Young Women's Freedom Center, was killed April 27 by a Walgreens security guard. Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony, 33, was arrested on suspicion of one count of homicide but, on May 1, Jenkins decided not to charge him.

The video — which Jenkins previously said she wouldn't release, citing an ongoing investigation — was released Monday along with a 25-page report explaining why she declined to charge Anthony in Brown's death.

But the Brown family's attorney disagreed.

"First off, I don't think it's a justification for the shooting," John Burris, the longtime Bay Area civil rights lawyer who's now working for the Brown family, told the Bay Area Reporter. "I don't agree with the DA's decision not to charge — at the very least, it could be a manslaughter case."

The case has caused an uproar in San Francisco and the biggest controversy thus far of Jenkins' tenure since she took over from ousted District Attorney Chesa Boudin a little less than a year ago. Last week, the city's Board of Supervisors — including allies of the new DA — voted unanimously on a nonbinding resolution asking Jenkins to release the video. That resolution was introduced by District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, a straight ally, whose office has not immediately responded to a request for comment for this report.

Jenkins said in a phone call Monday the supervisors' vote had no bearing on her decision to release the video.

"It did not whatsoever," she said when asked by the B.A.R. about if the vote impacted her decision. "I had already assured the public we'd be transparent and would go the extra mile with this case and draft a report and release the material at that time."

Already, at least one supervisor agrees with Burris.

"I have watched the video several times, Banko Brown was clearly walking backwards, after being thrown to the ground, punched, and abused by the security guard for several seconds," stated District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, the only Black member of the board and a straight ally who represents Bayview-Hunters Point. "The security guard successfully subdues Banko and lets him go. Banko walks backwards and is executed. The security guard had the upper hand the entire time and even told Banko that he was letting him go as stated in the transcript released by the DA. Where is the perceived threat? DA Jenkins' decision to not charge gives every armed security guard in San Francisco a license to have an open season to shoot and kill Black and transgender people for alleged shoplifting."

Walton announced he plans to join board President Aaron Peskin (District 3) in calling on California Attorney General Rob Bonta and the federal justice department to launch a review of Jenkins' decision.

The video

The 5-minute, 58-second video was taken from an overhead security camera at the Walgreens at 875 Market Street on the evening of April 27. It shows that Brown, trying to leave the store, was pushed by Anthony, who punched Brown and subdued him as the latter tried to get away.

Other people can be seen nonchalantly going about their shopping.

Brown was subdued for about 50 seconds, at which time Anthony let him go. Then Brown grabbed his bag and left the store, facing in the direction of the store and Anthony, pointing. He then put his arms to his side and moved slightly, at which point Anthony shot him.

Jenkins' report states, in part, "During the struggle, Anthony reports that Brown repeatedly threatened to stab him. Anthony had Brown pinned down and released Brown after telling Brown repeatedly that he would let Brown go if Brown calmed down. Anthony released Brown, stepped back, and drew his firearm because of the stabbing threats, but pointed the firearm at the ground. Brown grabbed the bag of goods off the floor, made for the exit, then turned and lunged in Anthony's direction, after which the shot was fired. Anthony said he shot because he was in fear for his safety."

Burris suggested that the alleged stabbing threat — which was not mentioned in a San Francisco Standard interview with Anthony — could've been "just made up afterward."

"He was agitated, afterward I hear, about constant petty theft," Burris said, seemingly referring to Anthony's remarks during that interview about the pressure of the job. "It seems to me the officer [Anthony] was being aggressive, physically controlling and beating up on Banko who ultimately broke loose and went out the door. He turned and was facing him and he was shot. I haven't seen any evidence Banko was lunging toward the officer. It seems the use of deadly force was unconscionable and unnecessary."

Jenkins told the B.A.R. that not releasing that key detail was part of maintaining the integrity of the investigation.

"We, of course, had not related specific facts of the incident prior to today because we wanted to flesh out the investigation and make sure it was done in an ethical way," Jenkins told the B.A.R. "I've talked very generally before but no specifics until now."

Gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, an ally of Jenkins' who voted she should release the video and who represents the district where Brown was killed, stated, "I've learned over the years to never assume for myself the role of juror unless and until I actually serve on a jury. Even as a non-juror, however, I've certainly sat through my share of trials, and I am well aware that video evidence and summary witness statements are only a small portion of the evidence that an actual jury would consider in doing justice and deciding a case's fate.

"While it appears criminal charges won't be forthcoming here, civil causes of action may still arise from this tragedy that juries may consider," he continued. "So, I'm disinclined to speculate on decisions that prosecutors, plaintiffs' counsel, and others are more qualified than I to make. While I know today's outcome doesn't feel like justice to many who knew and loved Banko Brown, I pray that time and God's loving grace can heal the trauma of this tragedy for all who've been touched by it."

'Hands-on' approach

The report states that Anthony was interrogated by police for about 2 hours, 45 minutes early the following morning at 850 Bryant Street, and Anthony said at that time the stabbing threat came as they wrestled on the floor after Anthony asked Brown to return some items to the store's shelves.

"Anthony told inspectors that Brown was telling him as they 'wrestled' that Brown said repeatedly: 'I'm going to stab you! I'm going to stab your ass!'" the report states. "Anthony told inspectors that while he did not see anything in Brown's hand, he was not certain that Brown did not have the ability to make good on the threat."

Kingdom Group Protective Services, the agency that employed Anthony, had switched its recovery policy for stolen merchandise that day to a "hands-on" policy, he said, according to a transcript of the SFPD's interrogation of him. The security guard service, headquartered in Manteca, told the B.A.R. a statement would be forthcoming Monday.

The statement deadnames Brown, as initial reports of the incident did, though these were corrected by the San Francisco Office of the Chief Medical Examiner five days later.

Marlon D'Oyen, speaking on behalf of Kingdom Group, issued the following statement: "We are fully cooperating with law enforcement in the investigation of this extremely unfortunate incident and are deeply saddened by the loss of [Banko] Brown's life. At this time, we are not permitted to comment further."

During the interrogation, Anthony mentioned that his company's policy had just changed.

"Our policy ... uh, it has changed," he said. "Um, first it was a hands-off policy; then they um, changed it to a hands-on policy."

The Young Women's Freedom Center, which has facilitated a number of events protesting Jenkins' decision, did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this report as of press time.

Updated, 5/15/23:This article has been updated with comments from Supervisor Matt Dorsey and a statement from the security company.

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