Civil rights attorney John Burris comforts Kevinisha Henderson, Banko Brown's mother, at a press conference to announce the wrongful death lawsuit against Walgreens and Kingdom Group Protective Services, after a security guard shot and killed Brown in April. (Kori Suzuki/KQED)
The family of 24-year-old Banko Brown, who was shot and killed by a Walgreens security guard on San Francisco’s Market Street in late April, has filed a wrongful death suit against Walgreens and the security firm, Kingdom Group Protective Services.
The lawsuit (PDF), which seeks at least $25 million in damages, claims that Walgreens security guard Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony wrongfully took Brown’s life when he shot and killed him for allegedly shoplifting from the pharmacy chain. The complaint argues against Anthony’s claim that he feared for his life and acted in self-defense. It also alleges that Walgreens’ policy of hiring armed security guards fueled the problem and that dangers “were amplified by Walgreens’ instructing its security guards to confront suspected shoplifters physically,” according to a press release (PDF).
“Anthony was on edge, a powder keg waiting to explode. Banko’s apparent shoplifting was the spark that set Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony off,” said civil rights attorney John Burris, who is representing Brown’s family in the lawsuit. “Walgreens and Kingdom Protective Services ordered their security to be more aggressive, causing their unfit security guard to blow up and kill Banko over nothing.”
Brown was allegedly shoplifting when Anthony confronted Brown at the door as he tried to leave the store. After the two exchanged blows, Anthony can be seen on security camera video wrestling Brown to the ground briefly, then letting him up. As Brown backs out of the Walgreens’ doorway onto the sidewalk, Anthony raises his gun and fires once, killing Brown.
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins declined to press charges against the security guard, saying Anthony had a credible case for self-defense. After pushback from city leaders and the public, Jenkins released security video of the incident, as well as police reports and other evidence.
Burris said the family’s civil lawsuit will not be affected by Bonta’s decision.
Brown’s family — his mother, Kevinisha Henderson, father, Terry Brown, and stepmother, Barbara Brown — were present Friday at a press conference announcing the lawsuit but did not speak to reporters.
Burris said the killing could have been avoided if Anthony had not been armed and if Walgreens and Kingdom Group Protective Services (KGPS) had provided less confrontational instructions to their guards.
“The value of a human life cannot be diminished because of a station in life. This was a young person, 24 years old, whose life was taken unnecessarily as a consequence of what Walgreens did, to put in these policies that caused this officer to think for whatever reason that he can shoot and kill a person over petty theft,” Burris told reporters at the press conference.
“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,” Marlon D’Oyen, spokesperson for KGPS, said in an email. “At this time, we are not permitted to comment further.”
Walgreens did not respond to requests for comment.
“Everything the family has lost, every relationship they had with him, has been taken from them by a security guard who had no reason to shoot. And really, why he had a gun, we don’t understand that either,” Ben Nisenbaum, an attorney who filed the lawsuit with Burris. “We do think that the directives from Walgreens and Kingdom Security Group could have played a role to be more aggressive.”
In testimony released by prosecutors, Anthony, the security guard, told police the use-of-force policies he was expected to enforce were changed by his security company just before he shot Brown to encourage confronting shoplifters.
Anthony also told investigators that Brown had threatened to stab him as they fought, which he said ultimately led to his decision to shoot. However, police did not find a knife at the scene and witnesses could not corroborate the alleged claim.
A trans man, Brown grew up in the foster care system and spent years struggling to find housing, and was at times unhoused. When he died, he had been sleeping on BART train cars and in his workplace, the Young Women’s Freedom Center, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. He was also an advocate there, protesting for causes on global and local scales, including for women’s rights in Iran.
Brown’s death drew public outcry, especially from the city’s transgender community, who point to statistics that show transgender people are more likely to experience poverty and violence. In the weeks following his death, advocates have protested in front of the Walgreens where Brown was shot and outside City Hall.
“No one deserves to be killed for shoplifting or arguing with a security guard. The security company put pressure on the guards to more actively physically detain shoplifters,” said Nisenbaum. “It’s clear Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony felt that pressure, and Anthony cracked under the pressure and shot and killed someone who posed no significant threat to him. He should be in jail.”
Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin told KQED that recent policy changes at Walgreens around shoplifting may have been at fault, but a lack of criminal charges against Anthony is perhaps the larger issue.
“Clearly, Walgreens and the security company helped create the circumstances where this guard, he wasn’t supplied with a baton, and the lack of training, and the changing of rules are all deeply troubling,” Peskin said. “There may be a larger societal message about the culpability of Walgreens and the security firm, but I think the most important thing for society to see is that the government’s justice function is meting out justice fairly.”
“Very welcoming, very loving, very caring,” he said.
Brown’s mentor, Xavier Davenport, said Brown was an advocate for marginalized people and that the world was lesser without him in it. Brown was “a very quiet person, but also funny. But in it all, experienced a lot of disenfranchisement in his own life while trying to stand up for others.”
KQED’s Billy Cruz contributed to this report.
This story has been updated.
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