LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Los Angeles police officers were justified when they fatally shot a homeless Black man on Skid Row six times, including twice in the chest, a civilian oversight panel said Tuesday.
The Los Angeles Police Commission issued the finding in the shooting of Charly “Africa” Keunang after discussing it in a closed-door meeting. The commission found that one of the officer’s tactics violated policy, but it did not explain how.
The decision led to outcries from about a dozen activists in the room who have criticized the shooting and repeatedly called on police to release body-camera footage that captured it. Afterward, the group held hands and prayed outside police headquarters.
“We’re extremely, extremely disappointed,” activist Hamid Kahn said. “We’re not surprised because the police commission is such a rubber-stamp body. But there’s always this one flicker of hope that their own humanity will kick in and they will look at these things not to protect the police officers, but really to protect the community and speak the truth.”
Commission President Matthew Johnson said Keunang’s death “is nothing short of tragic” and that Tuesday’s decision came after an intense 11-month investigation and analysis that was deliberate and compassionate.
He said state law barred him from explaining why the commission reached the decision.
Mayor Eric Garcetti expressed confidence in the commission in a statement and said his office is working with LAPD to “make deadly encounters between police and citizens less frequent.”
The March 1 death of the 43-year-old Keunang was captured on video by a bystander and has been viewed millions of times online. The killing prompted protests and drew comparisons with the death of Black men in other officer-involved shootings across the U.S.
Police Chief Charlie Beck has said the shooting was justified because Keunang grabbed for a rookie police officer’s gun after ignoring commands and becoming combative. He said the officer’s gun was later found partly cocked and jammed with one round of ammunition in the chamber and another in the ejection port, indicating a struggle for the weapon.
An autopsy showed Keunang had methamphetamines and marijuana in his system when he died.
Keunang’s family has filed a $20 million lawsuit against the city and police department, calling the shooting “a classic case of abuse of power and deadly force.”
Joshua Piovia-Scott, the attorney representing Keunang’s family in the lawsuit, said he was frustrated by the commission’s finding.
“This is a cop-created killing,” said. “It’s hard to believe that six heavily armed and trained officers and one unarmed, lone homeless man on a sunny street on a sunny day results in those officers holding the man down to the concrete and shooting him in the chest and killing him.”
He said the police commission’s finding will have no effect on the lawsuit and that he’s “confident that a jury in Los Angeles is going to be outraged by this.”
Also Tuesday, the commission found that an officer violated policy in the fatal shooting of a man who led police on a pursuit that ended when his car collided with a police vehicle. An officer opened fire, killing the man. That shooting came four days after the shooting of Keunang.
Keunang’s death is among several involving the LAPD that have gained national attention in the last couple of years.
Last month, Chief Beck recommended that prosecutors file criminal charges against an officer who fatally shot an unarmed homeless man in the back in Venice on May 5. It’s the first time Beck recommended charges against an officer who fatally shot someone while on duty. More than 100 such shootings have occurred since Beck became chief in late 2009.
Beck has defended the officers involved in another high-profile fatal shooting, that of 25-year-old Ezell Ford. Ford was killed in August 2014 after police say he knocked an officer to the ground and tried to grab his gun.
The police commission found that Officer Sharlton Wampler was unjustified in shooting Ford and that Officer Antonio Villegas was wrong to draw his weapon but acted appropriately in firing it because he believed Wampler’s life was in danger.