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District Attorney Says 2015 LAPD Shooting Of Homeless Man Was Justified
The district attorney's office has cleared the LAPD officers who were involved in the 2015 Skid Row shooting death of Charly Leundeu Keunang, reports the L.A. Times.
Keunang—a homeless black man known to many as "Africa"—was shot and killed by LAPD officers during a struggle on Skid Row. The incident happened in broad daylight and was captured on camera by a bystander. The video was widely-shared and raised questions about, among other things, the LAPD's use of force among the homeless and mentally ill.
The D.A.'s office released a memo detailing their investigation, as well as its findings. In the memo, which is dated November 9, the D.A.'s office said that it had determined that the officers had "acted lawfully in self-defense and in defense of others." Prosecutors say that footage from a body camera worn by one of the officers—as well as the recording made by the bystander—show that Keunang had reached for a firearm belonging to Joshua Volasgis, who was a rookie cop at the time of the incident. The gun was in a holster worn by Volasgis. The memo adds that, in reaching for the gun, Keunang "presented an apparent, present, and immediate lethal threat that needed to be dealt with instantly." It goes on to say that:
At the instant Keunang was shot, he had virtually removed Volasgis' firearm from the holster, and the barrel was pointing in the direction of Sergeant Syed and the crowd gathering behind him. Keunang had pulled the firearm almost entirely free of the holster. Although Volasgis was still struggling to maintain partial control of the firearm, Keunang could well have caused the gun to discharge.
According to the memo, Sergeant Chand Syed and officers Francisco Martinez and Daniel Torres had fired shots at the scene. Martinez had also discharged his taser before the shooting, but the memo claims that there was no evidence suggesting it had struck Keunang.
There are accounts that seem to conflict with claims that Keunang had a grasp of Volasgis' gun. According to the Times, an enhancement of the bystander's video showed that Keunang had reached for the firearm, but did not show that he'd made contact with it. The Times also noted that the firearm was still in Volasgis' holster after Kuenang was shot. In 2015, GQ writer Jeff Sharlet said that he was shown the body camera footage, and maintained that Keunang did not have control of the firearm.
The memo also details the events that lead up to the confrontation. According to the D.A.'s office, on the day of the shooting, a homeless man had called 9-1-1 saying that Keunang had assaulted him and threatened to steal from him. Officers arrived at the scene and ordered Keunang to get out of his tent and to put his body against a wall. The officers said that he would be Tased if he didn't comply, adding that "the Taser's gonna hurt." At some point, Keunang, who was by his tent entrance the entire time, retreated into his tent and concealed himself. The officers then attempted to take down the tent, which later led to the physical confrontation between Keunang and the officers.
In August of 2015, Keunang's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the department and the city of Los Angeles today.
Keunang, who was 43 at the time of his death, was born in Douala, Cameroon. He reportedly moved to France sometime in the '90s, and then later to America to pursue a career in acting. According to an acquaintance, Keunang said that he'd been treated for mental illness in the past.