LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Police Commission ruled Feb. 2 that all officers involved in the fatal shooting of an unarmed homeless man on Skid Row last year followed department policy in the use of deadly force, but one officer violated policy in the tactics used.
All officers involved in the March 1, 2015, shooting of 39-year-old Charly Keunang, who was known on Skid Row as “Africa,” were found by the civilian panel to have acted within department policy in their use of lethal force.
The commission found that each officer involved was within policy in four out of five categories — the drawing and exhibiting of weapons, the use of non-lethal force, use of less-than-lethal force, and use of lethal force.
In the category of tactics, the commission departed from the police chief’s and inspector general’s recommendations by finding, in a 3-2 vote, that one officer violated policy.
The decision was announced by Commission President Matthew Johnson following an hours-long closed-door meeting.
Johnson said the commission heard “thorough and complete” reports from police department investigators, Chief Charlie Beck and the inspector general, who answers to the commission.
Johnson said nine interviews were conducted with the officers who were involved in the shootings. Investigators also spoke with 14 witnesses and looked at footage from cell phone video, surveillance from nearby buildings and body-worn cameras, he said.
Johnson said “the loss of Mr. Keunang is nothing short of a tragedy, for the family, relatives, loved ones, friends and the community of Skid Row,” and offered the commission’s “sincere sympathies for your profound loss.”
But he said that the review of the shooting, which took 11 months to complete, was conducted by skilled and qualified investigators, with the inspector general monitoring the initial response to the shooting and the review board discussions that led to the police chief’s decision.
The inspector general also got “unfettered access” to investigative materials, Johnson said.
Johnson directed the department “to use this tragic case as a tool of evolution to move forward in providing law enforcement services to the city of Los Angeles that is effective fair and at the forefront of American policing.”
Again, our thoughts remain with those impacted by this tragic incident,” he said.
The decision quickly drew criticism from community activists. The Rev. K.W. Tulloss, president of the National Action Network Los Angeles, said the organization is “disappointed” by the commission’s determination.
“We believe the shooting of an unarmed homeless man could have been prevented,” Tulloss said. “The LAPD needs to use more restraint when dealing with the mentally ill. Otherwise these tragic situation will unfortunately happen again.”
Activists with Black Lives Matter-LA, the Los Angeles Community Action Network and Stop LAPD Spying Coalition issued a joint statement alleging there were “attempts to paint him [Keunang] as a career criminal in pursuit of justifying his killing.”
The groups’ statement said “Keunang’s killing was also just one of a string of incidents last year involving LAPD fatally shooting homeless residents.”
Mayor Eric Garcetti said he understands “there will be many points of view” about the Police Commission’s decision, adding that Keunang’s death “has been particularly painful for many in our city.”
“The events that led to it drew a bright red line from our homelessness crisis to some of the most difficult tasks that we ask the men and women of the LAPD to perform everyday,” Garcetti said.
He added he was “encouraged” by the Police Commission’s “sharp focus on reducing use-of-force.”
“My hope is that we continue a candid, compassionate and productive dialogue about how our officers interact with the communities they serve,” the mayor said. “We can’t be a city that allows people to live on the streets in often violent conditions, with rampant mental health and drug abuse issues. We will continue working hard to solve this crisis, to make sure these tragedies are prevented.”
Keunang’s parents and sister filed a lawsuit against the city and Chief Beck in August in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging wrongful death, negligence and civil rights violations.