POLICE shot and killed a homeless man on Skid Row Sunday afternoon, March 1 during a struggle where he “forcibly grabbed” a rookie officer’s gun, Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck said.
Los Angeles Police Department officers were responding to a robbery call on the 500 block of South San Pedro Street near the Union Rescue Mission when the incident took place, officials said.
When police attempted to arrest the man, he “repeatedly refused to comply with officers’ commands,” Beck said, and then the scuffle ensued.
A witness recorded and posted footage of the incident on Facebook, where the man is seen swinging his arms at four police officers who have cornered him on a sidewalk lined with tents. One officer drops his nightstick, begins punching the man and knocks him to the ground. Then the officer straddles the man as two more officers arrive.
Officers also fired stun guns at the man, which Beck said “appeared to have little effect and he continued to violently resist.”
In the video, which has since apparently been removed, five gunshots are heard in rapid succession before the man is seen lying motionless on the sidewalk.
“They were shaking the tent trying to get him out of there,” homeless resident Ceola Waddell, who watched as officers tried to get the man out of his tent, told Los Angeles Daily News. “When he came out, he came out aggressively like what’s going on. Police tased him because they didn’t know what to do. The tasers didn’t work. Finally, all five of them rushed him and threw him to the ground and the next thing, pop, pop, pop, pop. They killed him.”
At a news conference Monday afternoon, March 2, Beck showed large images from a video and said it showed the suspect was apparently reaching for an officer’s gun. He also said the officer’s gun was found partly cocked and jammed with a round of ammunition in the chamber and another in the ejection port, which was indicative of a struggle for the weapon, the Associated Press reported.
“I have reviewed the video and the audio, and preliminarily you can hear the young officer who is primarily engaged in the confrontation saying, ‘He has my gun, he has my gun,’” Beck said. “He said this several times.”
“It appears to me that the officers acted compassionately up until the time that force was required,” Beck added. “These are very difficult situations.”
Police have not yet identified the man who is Black – as is the rookie officer who was just shy of completing his probationary year on the force – and known as “Africa” on Skid Row.
Sunday’s incident has received backlash from activists with the #BlackLivesMatter protests.
Among those outraged and saddened by the shooting includes civil rights and social justice organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles.
“Advancing Justice – LA calls for a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation in the interest of justice. We also stand in solidarity with those who are calling on the Mayor, the Office of the Inspector General, and the City of Los Angeles Police Commission to assert greater leadership in holding the LAPD accountable for the death of Brother Africa,” the organization said in a statement.
A rally in response to the shooting also took place Tuesday morning near the site of the scuffle in response to the incident, with protestors carrying signs that read, “Stop Modern Day Lynchings,” “End the Police State” and “End the Safer Cities Initiative,” a community policing program.
More than 150 people marched to the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters for a police commission meeting attended by Beck. Among speakers included community activists and people living on Skid Row.
During a news conference following Tuesday’s commission meeting, Beck said investigators are still looking to speak with more witnesses, NBC reported. He also acknowledged the anger of some of the speakers at the meeting.
“The group today was pretty irate,” Beck said.
The incident is being reviewed by the LAPD’s Force Investigation Division with the Police Commission’s Inspector General, and by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, Beck said.
In addition to footage taken by bystanders, two police officers were equipped with body cameras and recordings from dozens of stationary cameras at the intersection of 5th and San Pedro are being reviewed by officials.
Steve Soboroff, president of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, said the wealth of evidence would be invaluable in the investigation in determining whether or not the actions of police were justified.
“There’s a tendency to try to group this with the incidents in Ferguson and the incidents in New York,” he told The New York Times. “We are not the same police force, we don’t have the same procedure, and these cases were not similar. It’s really important for every one of us – the citizenry, law enforcement – not to jump to foregone conclusions.”
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, at a news conference, defended the police department, which is now broadly perceived positively by residents and police watchdogs after a long history of corruption and rough relations with minority communities.
“At this early stage, we are still very far away from a determination about everything that happened,” he said.
“This is one of the most progressive forces anywhere in the world,” he added. “Is this a force that never makes a mistake? Of course not.”
Sunday’s incident occurred amid a time the city is struggling to deal with its homeless population, which is spread across the region but is particularly concentrated in Skid Row, where an estimated 1,700 homeless people live.
The three officers who fired their weapons were veterans of the beat and underwent special training to deal with the homeless and mentally ill, according to the Associated Press.
“They were trained to work with homeless,” said Police Commission President Steve Soboroff, according to the news agency. “It wasn’t a SWAT team looking for problems.”
People living on Skid Row, however, have expressed less positive feelings toward police.
“The cops don’t want us here,” Ernie Soto, 34, who lay in a blanket near the location of the shooting, told The New York Times Monday morning. “They tried to make an example out of him.”
Jesse Hayes, 39, told the Times that police did not have to kill Africa.
“They are trained in martial arts, weight lifting. Come on man. Police are harassing people every day,” he said.
(With reports from Associated Press, CBS, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Times, NBC, The New York Times)
(LA Midweek March 4-6, 2015 Sec. A pg.4)