LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Protesters rallied today outside Los Angeles police headquarters in reaction to the weekend fatal shooting of a homeless man by police on Skid Row, while multiple investigations continue into the gunfire that was caught on camera and viewed millions of times online.
The homeless man, identified by acquaintances only as “Africa,” was shot around midday Sunday while struggling with a group of officers near the Union Rescue Mission at 545 S. San Pedro St.
This morning’s rally, which began at 9 a.m., followed a march to LAPD headquarters from the area in skid row where the shooting occurred, and preceded a scheduled 9:30 a.m. Police Commission meeting inside the building.
Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck said Monday the man was struggling with police and grabbing at one officer’s holstered pistol, prompting the shooting. Beck also insisted officers who approached the man acted “compassionately” toward him until he began reaching for the weapon.
“When police approached the suspect, he repeatedly refused to comply with officers’ commands and then began to fight with them,” Beck said Monday at LAPD headquarters.
Beck said the officers used Tasers “in an attempt to subdue the man.
However, the Tasers appeared to have little effect and he continued to violently resist.”
As the struggle continued, the man “forcibly grabbed one of the officers’ holstered pistols, resulting in an officer-involved shooting,” police said.
Beck provided the media with photos of the officer’s handgun, showing the weapon’s slide pulled forward and a round partially ejected from the chamber — an indication that the suspect was pulling at the gun during the struggle. He also provided an enhanced photo from a widely viewed cell phone video of the shooting appearing to show the suspect reaching at the officer’s waist.
“This is an awful tragedy,” Beck said. “The officers took, on the face of it, reasonable steps to avoid it. If the individual had not grabbed the officer’s pistol, we would not be having this discussion.”
Three officers, including a sergeant, fired their guns in the struggle, police said. The man was suspected of theft and battery. A total of four officers, all from the LAPD’s Central Station, were involved in the struggle, much of which was captured on a cell phone video that was viewed 3.2 million times in 10 hours.
Beck said two officers were injured in the struggle. He also said all the officers were assigned to the department’s Safer Cities Initiative and were “specially trained on dealing with homeless people and mental illness issues.”
“All of the officers had had training to some extent in dealing with the mentally ill,” Beck said.
Witnesses to the shooting screamed “he had no gun” as police struggled to control the chaotic scene in the shooting’s aftermath. Some witnesses interviewed by television reporters said officers could have overpowered the suspect without resorting to lethal force, and one called the killing murder.
On the video, someone is heard yelling, “Drop the gun,” just before the shots are heard.
One Skid Row-area resident told the Los Angeles Times the man who was shot had spent about 10 years in a mental hospital before arriving recently in the downtown area. The man died at the scene.
The LAPD announced that the department’s Force Investigative Division had started an investigation in coordination with the LAPD’s Office of the Inspector General. The findings will be submitted to the Police Commission, the civilian panel that oversees the police Department, so it can determine if resorting to deadly force was consistent with department policies.
Additionally, the Justice System Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office will “conduct a comprehensive review of the facts,” the statement said.
“We feel great compassion in the LAPD for people who live in conditions of homelessness and often (with) mental illness with no treatment,” Beck said. “We prepare our officers to deal as best they can with them. … I’ve reviewed the other videos. It appears to me the officers acted compassionately up until the time force was required.”
Beck said two of the officers involved in the struggle were wearing body cameras, which will offer “a unique perspective that we believe will be crucial to determining the propriety of the officers’ actions.” He said that footage would not immediately be made public, saying, “At this point in the investigation it would not be proper for us to release it.”