Brown family sues Walgreens, security guard, and company in son's death

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Friday May 26, 2023
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Attorney John Burris points to an enlarged photo of the Walgreens security guard and Banko Brown just before Brown was shot. Photo: John Ferrannini
Attorney John Burris points to an enlarged photo of the Walgreens security guard and Banko Brown just before Brown was shot. Photo: John Ferrannini

Longtime civil rights attorney John Burris announced that the family of Banko Brown is suing Walgreens, the security guard who killed the 24-year-old unarmed trans man killed outside a San Francisco location of the pharmacy chain, and the company that employed him.

"This is a young person whose life was taken unnecessarily so, because of what Walgreens did," Burris said at a news conference at his Oakland office Friday afternoon.

Specifically, the suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, is being brought by Banko Brown's father Terry Brown and his mother Kevinisha Henderson against Walgreens, Kingdom Group Protective Services, and Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony, the security guard who killed Banko Brown on April 27.

San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins opted not to prosecute Anthony, despite his arrest on suspicion of homicide by police, in the most controversial move of her tenure. In a report earlier this month, Jenkins' office stated, "Anthony is not criminally liable for the death of Brown."

California Attorney General Rob Bonta's office will be investigating if Jenkins' decision is an "abuse of discretion," after Burris and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors requested he do so, as the Bay Area Reporter reported earlier this week.

Walgreens stated May 26 that it will not be commenting for this report. Kingdom Group Protective Services did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Anthony could not be reached for comment.

The suit states that Banko Brown died as a result of the defendants' actions.

"As a consequence of defendants' conduct, plaintiffs suffered non-economic damages, including, but not limited to, loss of love, affection, care, society, service, comfort, support, right to support, companionship, solace or moral support, expectations of future support and counseling, other benefits and assistance of Decedent Banko Brown, in an amount in excess of the jurisdictional minimum, but no less than $25,000,000," states a copy of the complaint.

Burris, 78, said this is one of "the most, most, most disturbing" cases he's seen over the course of his career, which also included the Rodney King, Oscar Grant, and Mario Woods cases. King, a Black man, was severely beaten by Los Angeles police officers in 1991, which led to riots in the city. Grant was a young Black man fatally shot by a BART police officer in 2009. Woods was a young Black man who was fatally shot by San Francisco police officers in 2015.

"This death case seems so woefully unnecessary because it was a choice that was made," Burris said of Banko Brown's killing. "It wasn't in the heat of the moment, when one person pulls out a weapon. This was not that kind of situation."

Burris said the case "has all the evidence of a homicide, clearly, of murder."

"He [Anthony] said, 'It's a lot of pressure,'" Burris said, quoting remarks Anthony made in a police interview. "It's very important he says, 'It's a lot to deal with. It's a lot of pressure. A person can only take so much. When you're limited to certain options something will happen.' That's the state of mind he had when he approached Banko at the door — tired of people like [him], people like them. He's the one with an agitated state of mind. Banko didn't have that state of mind. He wasn't the aggressor."

Anthony was attempting to stop Banko Brown from leaving the store with unpaid items. According to store video released by the DA's office, Anthony confronted Banko Brown, tackled him on the ground, then appeared to let him leave. As Banko Brown is walking backward outside the store, Anthony shot him, the video shows.

During that police interview, Anthony said Kingdom Group had switched its recovery policy for stolen merchandise just that day to a "hands-on" policy.

"Walgreens is responsible — it's Banko's blood on their hands, because they put in motion hiring these security guards," Burris said. "Of course you have the security guard company, because they sent a person out there who was not emotionally fit to be there."

Burris said that Terry Brown and Henderson would not be speaking, when the B.A.R. directed a question to them about what they hope to get out of the suit other than the money they are seeking.

"They don't want to talk — they have answered a lot of questions already — but I can tell you what they've said, what they want, they want the officer prosecuted for murder, period," Burris said. "They don't want manslaughter, they want murder. He was backing up, he had a gun out, he could've walked away, he chose not to do so."

Burris said Banko Brown was "not a lost soul" and was proud of his trans identity. He said that his parents "accepted him," though they continued to refer to him by his name at birth.

"They accepted him and her as she was and loved how confident he was and who he was and the family accepted him and her as he was and that's the part that is most damning here," Burris said. "This was a young person who was confident as to who he was. We all know stories and have read stories of trans people going through various challenges, trying to get their identity together and be comfortable in new skin. [Banko] was not that way, he was confident in who he was."

Banko Brown had struggled financially in the weeks before his death and was unhoused, according to friends. He had been an intern at the Young Women's Freedom Center.

Banko Brown's funeral was held May 25 at Third Baptist Church in the Western Addition. According to media reports, disputes erupted during part of the service between family members. According to the San Francisco Standard, the dispute was about who should be referred to as Banko Brown's mother, as his stepmother was also present.

Regarding the state attorney general's office, Burris said he hasn't heard anything from Bonta since he announced his intention to investigate earlier this week.

"Petty theft has become a systemic problem but deadly force is not the way to handle it," Burris said. "They have a right to protect property but not to kill people."

Walgreens cut ties with Kingdom Group Protective Services last week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Kingdom Group CEO James Vierra told the Chronicle that, "We enjoyed working for them."

Updated, 5/27/23: This article has been updated with a response from Walgreens.

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