Deadly LAPD shooting of homeless man is caught on video

Written By kolimtiga on Senin, 02 Maret 2015 | 12.56

In a dramatic confrontation caught on video, Los Angeles police shot and killed a homeless man in the heart of downtown's bustling skid row Sunday.

A video of the incident posted on Facebook (contains foul language) shows a group of officers getting into a scuffle with a man standing on a sidewalk littered with tents and other debris.

During the struggle, one officer drops his nightstick, which is picked up by a woman on the street. Two officers handcuff the woman.

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The man continues to scuffle with four of the officers, even after he's wrestled to the ground. What appears to be one of the officers is heard saying "Drop the gun. Drop the gun."

Then, at least one of the officers opens fire on the man, who remained on the ground with at least two officers near him.

Five gunshots are heard on the recording. 

Police have not identified the dead man or said how many officers were involved, or how many shots were fired. The man was declared dead at a hospital shortly after the shooting, which occurred about noon, according to police spokesman Sgt. Barry Montgomery.

The officers had responded to a robbery call in the 500 block of San Pedro Street, Montgomery said. He added that at one point during the struggle a Taser had been deployed, but investigators did not know if it was  used on the man who was subsequently shot.

No officers were injured during the altercation, Montgomery said.

Witnesses at the scene identified the victim by his street name, "Africa", and gave conflicting accounts of what they saw.

Dennis Horne, 29, said Africa had been fighting with someone else in his tent when police arrived.

When Africa refused to comply with a police order to come out of the tent, officers used the Taser on him and dragged him out, Horne said. The officers tackled Africa to the ground, where he continued to fight, which led to the fatal shooting, according to Horne.

"It's sad," Horne said. "There's no justification to take somebody's life."

Another witness, Lonnie Franklin, 53, said five to six officers pulled up in three to four cars as Africa was lying face down on the sidewalk. The officers approached with guns drawn yelling, "Down, down," according to Franklin.

When Africa got up and started fighting, the officers "went straight to lethal force," Franklin said.

But Jose Gil, 38 , said he saw the man swinging at the police and then heard one of the officers say, "Gun, gun, he's got my gun!" before police fired multiple shots.

Another witness, who asked not to be identified, said the man punched and kicked the officers and reached for one of their service weapons before the officers fired at least seven times.

An area resident, who identified himself as Booker T. Washington, said police had come by repeatedly to ask Africa to take down his tent. People are allowed to sleep on the streets from 9 p.m to 6 a.m., but they are supposed to remove their tents in the daytime under a court agreement.

"This man got shot over a tent," Washington said.

Ina Murphy, who lives in an apartment nearby, said Africa had arrived in the area about four or five months ago. He told her he had recently been released after spending 10 years in a mental facility, Murphy said.

Police Commission President Steve Soboroff first saw the video of the shooting via social media. He was watching it again when reached by a Times reporter Sunday evening, trying to hear what exactly the officers had said to the man.

"My heart just started pounding just watching it," Soboroff said. "I feel the adrenaline. These situations are just so horrific."

Soboroff said a key issue would be whether the man did in fact try to grab the officer's gun, as some witnesses have told reporters. Otherwise, he said, it's unclear what might have prompted the use of deadly force.

"To me, that would be the only explanation that something would happen that quickly," Soboroff said. "It escalated. It escalated right in front of our eyes."

He stressed that the LAPD, the independent inspector general and the district attorney's office would all investigate the shooting "very, very carefully."

"Of course I would encourage people not to rush to judgment. It's not fair to anybody. It's not fair to the family of the victim or the victim or the officers," he said. "We'll find out what happened."

Montgomery said Sunday evening that investigators were in the process of interviewing "loads of people" who were in the area at the time of the shooting. He said there would potentially be more video recordings of the incident, noting that he could see two surveillance cameras mounted on buildings at the scene.

It was still unclear how many officers fired their weapons or what was said to the man before he was shot, Montgomery said.

Montgomery said the video of the events leading up to the shooting appears to back the initial report that a Taser was used. He said the "click-click-click" sound that accompanies the use of the device can be heard on the recording.

According to a Times data analysis, there have been 12 fatal officer-involved shootings in downtown Los Angeles since 2000. There were none in 2014 and one in 2015 before Sunday's violence. 

Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson and other activists on Sunday called for a special police commission meeting on the shooting.

Twitter: @geholland


Times staff writers Kate Mather and Armand Emamdjomeh  contributed to this report.


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