City News Service
LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck
said today a homeless man who was fatally shot by police on Skid Row was
violently struggling with police and grabbing at one officer’s holstered
pistol, prompting the shooting.
Beck also said officers who approached the man, identified only as
“Africa,” acted “compassionately” toward him until he began reaching for
“When police approached the suspect, he repeatedly refused to comply
with officers’ commands and then began to fight with them,” he said.
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
As the midday struggle near the Union Rescue Mission continued, the man
“forcibly grabbed one of the officers’ holstered pistols, resulting in an
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
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,
which occurred in the center of a homeless community that has grown in
population in recent years. The man was suspected of theft and battery and was
seen violently resisting arrest just before gunshots rang out.
A total of four officers, all from the LAPD’s Central Station, were
involved in the struggle, much of which was captured on an amateur 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
“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.
First one shot, and then four others, were heard in quick succession on
the video. Police moved back and attempted to calm the crowd that had formed,
and people started yelling that the man had been killed while unarmed. Insults
were shouted at the officers.
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.
Civil rights leader Earl Ofari Hutchinson called for the Police
Commission to hold a special hearing on police use of force on skid row.
“The killing of a homeless man identified as `Africa’ underscores the
need for the police commission to hold a special hearing to fully examine
police tactics and training in the use of deadly force by LAPD officers
involving skid row residents, many of whom have major mental challenges,” he
said. “The special hearing would be an unprecedented effort by the commission
to set a firm protocol and standard LAPD officers use to minimize the use of
deadly force in encounters on skid row.”
Another civil rights advocacy organization, the National Action Network,
called for an emergency meeting with police Beck.
“Tensions are very high throughout the skid row community with this
latest shooting of another unarmed mentally ill African American man,” said
NAN Political Director Najee Ali. He said Beck needs to demonstrate “that his
office values the lives of the weakest members of society — the homeless.”
The video, apparently shot on a phone, was posted on websites within
hours of the death by a man named Anthony Blackburn. It was downloaded 1.7
million times in six hours, and 3.2 million times four hours later, according
to Facebook’s counter.
It shows the man swinging wildly at four Los Angeles police officers who
surrounded him on the sidewalk in front of the Union Rescue Mission at 545 S.
San Pedro St.
“During that struggle, at least one less-than-lethal device, a Taser,
was deployed,” said Sgt. Barry Montgomery of the LAPD’s media relations
office. “However, at this time we do not know if that Taser struck the
The video does not show the Taser use, but a clicking sound typical of a
stun gun can be heard.
The man could be seen being pushed to the sidewalk as four officers grab
his flailing limbs and his torso. Then the command “Drop the gun” is heard
before shots ring out.
“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.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti has watched the video, a spokesman said. The mayor
was expected to hold an early afternoon news conference to discuss the
City News Service