UPDATE on Monday, March 2: Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck tells reporters that the homeless man fatally shot by police had grabbed a cop's gun.
UPDATE at 11:12 p.m. Sunday, March 1: See multiple updates, including a statement from the Los Angeles Police Department, at the bottom.
The fatal shooting of a homeless man by cops on the streets of downtown Los Angeles today became an instant lightning rod for critics of the Los Angeles Police Department tonight.
The confrontation was captured on video that has been viewed more than 3 million times. The graphic and disturbing footage, below, was recorded on the mobile phone of a witness named Anthony Blackburn, who posted it to his Facebook page.
LAPD Commander Andrew Smith told L.A. Weekly the suspect and cops “struggled over one of the officers' handguns,” precipitating the shooting. Audio from the clip appears to demonstrate that at least one officer shouted, “gun,” and then, “Drop the gun, drop the gun, drop the gun” before shots rang out.
The confrontation happened on San Pedro Street near Fifth Street about noon today, police said. Officers were responding to “a citizen call of a robbery,” Smith said:
After making contact with the suspect, he began fighting physically resisting the officers' attempt to take him to custody.
Video shows officers taking down a suspect after he swung wildly at them, and multiple officers piling on him on the ground. A couple other cops take care of a person, possibly female, who tried to intervene. The scene is chaotic and at least two batons ended up on the ground.
The electric sound of a Taser is heard during the confrontation, and it looks like one officer manually struck the suspect who was ultimately shot.
A woman who said she was a witness told Fox 11 News, “He didn't have no weapon. They could have just wrestled him down.”
Those angry with police believed that the situation could have been resolved without deadly force. But that question will ultimately be decided by “thorough” use-of-force investigations by LAPD and by the independent Office of the Inspector General, said Steve Soboroff, president of the L.A. Police Commission.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents rank-and-file city officers, tonight urged “everyone to reserve their judgement” until investigations are completed.
In a statement the union said that audio “clearly suggests that the officers felt that they were in life-threatening danger.”
Protesters gathered in pouring rain at Pershing Square tonight.
The suspect who was killed — he was reportedly declared dead at a hospita l —was known on the street as 45-year-old Africa, according to reports.
UPDATE at 10:35 p.m., Sunday, March 1: Police told Fox 11 News tonight that a body camera worn by one of the officers involved in the confrontation shows the suspect reaching for a gun belonging to one of the cops.
UPDATE at 10:48 p.m., Sunday, March 1: In a statement tonight, LAPD says, “The suspect and officers struggled over one of the officer's handguns and then an officer-involved shooting occurred.”
The department says the suspect continued to fight after a Taser was used and that “the suspect continued to fight and resist the officers and fell to the ground.”
After the shooting the man was declared dead at the scene by Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics, police said.
“Two of the responding officers involved in the incident suffered minor injuries and were treated and released,” the statement says.
Multiple investigations have been launched, the department says:
As in all officer-involved shootings, LAPD's specialized Force Investigative Division (FID) personnel responded to preserve and collect evidence and interview witnesses to the incident. Portions of the incident captured on video from various sources will be reviewed and analyzed as part of the ongoing use of force investigation. FID's comprehensive investigation will be conducted in coordination with the LAPD's Office of Inspector General and presented to the Board of Police Commissioners to determine whether the use of deadly force was consistent with Department policies and procedures. Additionally, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Justice System Integrity Division will conduct a comprehensive review of the facts of the officer involved shooting.
UPDATE at 11:06 p.m., Sunday, March 1: The Skid Row activist known as General Jeff told a crowd at Pershing Square that the suspect was a mentally ill man from Cameroon. He said the robbery call was the result of a dispute between the suspect and another man, not involving an actual robbery, which was settled by the time officers arrived.
Jeff said that responding officers wanted the suspect to come out of his tent to talk about the report but that he did not want to come out and apparently did not trust police.
The man was not a troublemaker but was rather a peacemaker who helped to guard a nearby store late at night, Jeff said.
Political commentator Jasmyne Cannick captured video of Jeff's words and posted it to her Facebook page.
Police, meanwhile, said three officers, including at least one supervisor, opened fire, according to ABC Eyewitness News.
UPDATE at 11:24 p.m., Sunday, March 1: Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson tonight called on the Los Angeles Police Commission, which oversees LAPD, to hold a special hearing on the shooting.
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. 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.
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