Homeless Man Grabbed a Cop's Gun Before Being Shot, LAPD Chief Says

Homeless Man Grabbed a Cop's Gun Before Being Shot, LAPD Chief Says

The homeless man fatally shot by police yesterday had grabbed a cop's gun, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck told reporters today.

While brass and the police union routinely tell the public to withhold its judgement in cases like this so that investigators can get to the bottom of things (a nicety not afforded those accused of wrongdoing by cops), it's clear that the department is spinning this as a "good" shooting.

Given the evidence so far in this case, it's probably right. At least one cop is heard on video saying repeatedly, "Drop the gun." And Beck today said the suspect "forcibly grabbed one of the officers' holstered pistols."

Beck displayed after-the-fact images of the gun in question:

"As you can see, the slide is partially engaged and a round has been partially ejected and fouled the firing chamber," he said. "This is indicative of a struggle over the weapon. As you can also see, the magazine is dislodged from its resting place. This is also indicative of force used on the weapon."

The bigger question will be what officers might have done to prevent the situation from escalating. The chief said the homeless man known as Africa was dealt with "compassionately" before violence ensued.

As is the case in way too many officer-involved shootings, it was the deadly potential of a suspect reaching for a cop's gun that triggered the instant death sentence. In this instance the suspect, said to be 45, reportedly was mentally ill.

A Taser was used on the man, police said, but it either didn't connect or didn't have an effect. Two of the cops on-scene had training in how to deal with the mentally ill, a common experience for officers working downtown's Skid Row, where the deadly confrontation took place.

"This is an extreme tragedy," Beck said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti today agreed, telling reporters at City Hall, "Tragically, someone who struggled to find his place in our town lost his life."

He said two of the officers were wearing body cameras during the shooting. Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, called on the Los Angeles Police Commission to release "footage from body-worn video as quickly as possible."

The confrontation happened about noon yesterday on San Pedro Street near Fifth Street downtown, after police received a robbery report and singled out the suspect.

Witnesses said the report stemmed from a dispute that had been quashed before police arrived. The suspect, however, didn't want to come out of his tent when cops asked him to, they said.

Video shows the man swinging wildly at cops before going down, with officers piling on him.

After shouts of "drop the gun," weapon fire erupts. The man was declared dead at the scene, police said.

Investigations by the department, the independent police inspector and the District Attorney's office have been launched.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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