In 1994, a drunken bar fight left 24-year-old gang member Derek Eugene Pettis tied in the back seat of a squad car, but the Los Angeles constable who put him there had no intention of taking him to jail.
Pettis was driven home to sober up by volunteer chaplain Bruce Bryan, age 39, and constable Terrence Wenger, age 31.
As soon as Pettis was free of his handcuffs, he whacked Wenger over the head instead of saying thank you.
“They took him home instead of taking him to jail, and that’s the hardest part to understand,” Bryan’s brother, Floyd Bryan, told Fox News Digital. “They dropped him off a block from where he lived, and when he got out he hit the deputy, grabbed his gun and shot him in the head.”
According to Bryan, Pettis was given a life sentence with a 40-year parole eligibility period. Pettis has already been granted parole more than ten years earlier than the family had anticipated thanks to a change to state laws on “youth offender” status.
On June 18, 1994, Pettis took Wenger’s revolver while he was unconscious and shot at him several times. Only one of the shots connected, costing the constable an eye. Bryan attempted to run away as the killer then turned on him.
“He chased my brother, shot him in the back,” Floyd Bryan said. “He had a vest on, so as he was on his knees trying to get up, he shot him again straight down between his shoulder there where there wasn’t a vest and killed him.”
According to his brother, Pettis knew Bryan in some capacity. The neighbouring residence of the ordained preacher, who conducted a youth mission for disturbed young men and boys, was where another man who belonged to the same gang lived.
Pettis, who is now 54, was apprehended, found guilty, and given a life sentence. He first qualified for release in 2018, and according to records, the parole board eventually approved it on September 6.
However, the victim’s brother claimed that under the original sentence, Pettis shouldn’t have been eligible for 11 more years. State laws have been updated, increasing the age of “youth offender” status from 18 to 23 and now 26 during the past few decades. The status has been conferred retroactively, and the murderer was 24 at the time, he claimed.
“I just have a major problem with the law changes affecting people of this nature,” Bryan told Fox News Digital. “This was a violent crime. This is the top of violent crimes other than maybe rape. Anybody who shoots anybody in law enforcement is really making a statement that they don’t care who they kill because if you’re going to kill law enforcement, you’re going to kill anybody.”
Additionally, he claimed that the parole board session was closed to testimony from deputies and attorneys.
Supporters of law enforcement and the Bryan family are hoping that Gov. Gavin Newsom will overturn the board’s decision, which will be sent to him for review in accordance with state law.
“In all cases, the Governor carefully reviews parole cases to determine whether a parole grant is consistent with public safety,” Newsom’s office said in a statement. “This process can take up to 150 days. More information on the parole suitability process can be found here.”
“We’re going to call him a youthful offender? That is not what anybody intended,” said John Lewin, a longtime deputy district attorney in Los Angeles County and a vocal critic of soft-on-crime progressive policies. “This is a guy who intentionally and violently executed a chaplain, who was begging for his life and was not even a police officer.”
One of those rules prohibits prosecutors from participating in parole hearings or making a case against a convict’s release. It was implemented by Lewin’s superior, District Attorney George Gascon.
Those who advocate against the victims’ release face a crushing weight as a result. The case file for the defendant, which includes a psychological assessment, is available to defence lawyers and members of the parole commission, according to Lewin. If prosecutors were present, they would also have that, but family members are not.
“Family members, they don’t have half the information, so it means that they can’t make coherent arguments,” he said. “In addition, you don’t have anybody who is up there representing the victims and representing society at large.”
Bryan acquired the moniker “Chaplain of the Hood” due to the amount of time he spent counselling juvenile offenders on the hood of a squad car, according to a memorial plaque at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Carson Station.
“Chaplain Bruce was a full-time service volunteer doing the work of God,” the Carson Station said in a 2016 tribute to the slain minister. “He visited youthful offenders at juvenile detention facilities, opened his home to troubled men and participated in ride-alongs several times a week.”
According to his brother, Bryan maintained a nonprofit halfway house for problematic young people out of his residence. He helped them get back into school or discover new vocations and offered them jobs at a landscaping company.
He was engaged to be married when he passed away, according to a Los Angeles Times article published shortly after his death.
“An individual who’s this cold-hearted, who is this brutal, this maniacal, we’re going to let him free?” Lewin added. “What happens when he gets mad at the next person?”
As for Wenger, he underwent significant surgery, and lost an eye, but recovered. He then went back to work at the sheriff’s office until he eventually retired.
The survivor spoke out against Pettis’ release and described the double shooting as “extremely vicious, sadistic, and cruel” in a statement to the parole board that was made public by the Los Angeles news outlet The Current Report. Bryan claimed he does not remember hearing it read aloud at the hearing.
“How can we know this evil will not again erupt following a sudden outburst of anger on his part?” Wenger wrote. “It happened once, and there is zero guarantee it won’t happen again.”
Bryan has similar concerns, particularly if Pettis resumes his previous vices.
“I’m beside myself even talking about it,” he said. “I really have a problem if he gets out and hurts somebody because it doesn’t take much to have a drink or do drugs.”