A former armed security guard charged with murder in the shooting of one man and attempted murder for leaving another paralyzed began trial Tuesday with a new lawyer: himself.

They have badges, uniforms and guns. And every day across the country, they are thrown into volatile situations. Security guards are everywhere: banks, clubs, grocery stores, office buildings, universities, even elementary schools. There are more security guards in the U.S. than local law enforcement officers.

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Lukace Kendle, 29, told the courtroom that he was charged with a crime only because of the case against George Zimmerman, whose fatal shooting of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin in Florida three years ago sparked nationwide protests. Kendle, who is white, claims that he should be immune from prosecution under the state’s “stand your ground” law.

He stands accused of shooting two unarmed black men in the parking lot of a Miami strip club in June 2012, even as one man crawled toward safety under a truck. The shooting left Kijuan Byrd dead and his best friend, Michael Smathers, paralyzed from the waist down.

The case was the focus of an investigation by Reveal and CNN, which found that most states do a poor job of screening armed guards with severe mental health problems.

After his arrest, Kendle attempted to represent himself several times, only to be found incompetent to stand trial by a judge and court-ordered psychiatrists. At one point, Kendle went on a fast, refused to wear clothes and threatened to kill himself and an officer. After a new series of evaluations, however, a judge deemed Kendle competent to represent himself.

Kendle has frequently tested the patience of the court, and Tuesday was no exception. According to the Miami Herald, Kendle began his trial by alleging that the evidence against him was fabricated.

“The reason the evidence was fabricated is because I’m white,” the pony-tailed, pointy-goateed Kendle said to jurors during the start of his murder trial on Tuesday.

Seconds later, Kendle went where the judge had warned him not to go.
“The subjects I shot were African American. I can prove that,” Kendle said. “What they’re not allowing me to tell you is that I was arrested because of the George Zimmerman shooting.”

Prosecutors howled in objection. Relatives of the slain man, 29-year-old Kijuan Byrd, shook their heads. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dava Tunis chastised Kendle.

“We discussed this at length,” Tunis said. “This is the only warning I’m giving. I ruled according to the law.”

Smathers is expected to testify in the case. Byrd’s family has attended every court hearing. At a hearing last year, Byrd’s father flew into a rage when he saw Kendle for the first time in the courtroom. An online petition started by Byrd’s sister Shamara calling for federal regulations and oversight of the armed security industry has garnered more than 40,000 signatures.

This story was edited by Amy Pyle and copy edited by Sheela Kamath.

Shoshana Walter can be reached at swalter@revealnews.org. Follow her on Twitter: @shoeshine.

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Shoshana Walter was a senior reporter and producer at Reveal, covering the criminal justice and child welfare systems. She's working on a book for Simon & Schuster about the failures of our country's addiction treatment system. At Reveal, she reported on exploitative drug rehab programs that require participants to work without pay, armed security guards, and sex abuse and trafficking in the marijuana industry. Her reporting has prompted new laws, numerous class-action lawsuits and government investigations. Her stories have been named finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, Selden Ring and National Magazine Awards. She has also been honored with the Livingston Award for National Reporting, the IRE medal, the Edward R. Murrow award, the Knight Award for Public Service, a Loeb Award and Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting. Her Reveal podcast, "American Rehab," was named one of the best podcasts of the year by The New Yorker and The Atlantic and prompted a congressional investigation.

Walter began her career as a police reporter for The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida, and previously covered violent crime and the politics of policing in Oakland, California, for The Bay Citizen. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she has been a Dart Center Ochberg fellow for journalism and trauma at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim fellow in criminal justice journalism. She is a fellow with the Watchdog Writers Group at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and is based in Oakland, California.