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.

Few shootings by security guards get reported or investigated

Results may be deadly when armed guards don’t get mental health checks

When bad cops become bad security guards

Armed guard paralyzes unarmed teen over stolen Cheetos

Here’s how states can improve the security industry

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.

Shoshana Walter

Shoshana Walter is a reporter for Reveal, covering criminal justice. She and reporter Amy Julia Harris exposed how courts across the country are sending defendants to rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry. Their work was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting. It also won the Knight Award for Public Service, a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting, and an Edward R. Murrow Award, and was a finalist for the Selden Ring, IRE and Livingston Awards. It led to numerous government investigations, two criminal probes and five federal class-action lawsuits alleging slavery, labor violations and fraud.

Walter's investigation on America's armed security guard industry revealed how armed guard licenses have been handed out to people with histories of violence, even people barred by courts from owning guns. Walter and reporter Ryan Gabrielson won the 2015 Livingston Award for Young Journalists for national reporting based on the series, which prompted new laws and an overhaul of California’s regulatory system. For her 2016 investigation about the plight of "trimmigrants," marijuana workers in California's Emerald Triangle, Walter embedded herself in illegal mountain grows and farms. There, she encountered an epidemic of sex abuse and human trafficking in the industry – and a criminal justice system focused more on the illegal drugs. The story prompted legislation, a criminal investigation and grass-roots efforts by the community, including the founding of a worker hotline and safe house.

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. Her narrative nonfiction as a local reporter garnered a national Sigma Delta Chi Award and a Gold Medal for Public Service from the Florida Society of News Editors. 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 based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.