Crime & Courts

LAPD has yet to release names of police in fatal skid row shooting

LAPD hasn't ID'd police who killed a homeless man but say the three had never before fired their guns on duty

Los Angeles police have yet to release the names of the two officers and a sergeant who fatally shot a homeless man on skid row but said Wednesday the three had never before fired their weapons on duty during their combined 25 years with the LAPD.

Top department officials were briefed on the deadly encounter on Wednesday, after which LAPD Chief Charlie Beck decided the officers could return to administrative duties, out of the field.

LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said the department would not release the officers' names until investigators had completed their evaluation of any threats made against them. The California Supreme Court ruled last year that police departments must generally provide the names of officers in shootings unless they can demonstrate there are credible threats to the officers' safety.

The sergeant involved in the shooting has spent eight years with the LAPD, Smith said. One of the officers had 11 years on the force; the other had six.

A rookie officer, who has less than a year's experience in the field, was recovering from an injury he sustained during the struggle immediately before the shooting, said Smith, who declined to elaborate.

Sunday's shooting drew international attention after a bystander recorded video of the incident and posted it to Facebook, where it was viewed millions of times. The LAPD said the officers were responding to a 911 call when the suspect refused to comply with directions and instead tried to fight. Beck said the man grabbed the rookie officer's holstered pistol, prompting the three others to open fire.

The incident highlighted the often-tense relationship between police and residents on skid row, the stretch of downtown L.A. that is heavily populated by homeless people. Police point to the difficulties of patrolling an area where many inhabitants struggle with mental illness and drug abuse. But many who live in the tent encampments, as well as their advocates, criticize police tactics they say are too aggressive.

The man killed was known to others on skid row as "Africa" or "Cameroon." Authorities used his fingerprints to identify him as Charley Saturmin Robinet, a man convicted of robbing a bank in Thousand Oaks in 2000.

But on Tuesday, French officials said Robinet was "alive and well in France." The man killed by police had stolen Robinet's identity and used it to acquire a French passport to come to the United States in the late 1990s — a discovery made when U.S. officials attempted to deport him to France near the end of his 15-year prison sentence for the robbery.

Federal immigration officials said Wednesday that the man was a Cameroonian national but that they could not deport him to Cameroon because authorities "repeatedly failed to respond to requests" for the necessary travel document.

Because Immigration and Customs Enforcement could not get the appropriate paperwork, a spokeswoman said, the agency had no choice but to release Robinet from the agency's custody. He was ordered to regularly check in with immigration authorities, the spokeswoman said. She said he had done so, with his next report scheduled for Thursday.

Authorities provided no further details on the man's real identity.

On Wednesday, just days after the fatal encounter, four LAPD officers were involved in another struggle with a man who grabbed a television news crew's camera, a police spokeswoman said. Police were called after the man began scuffling with the crew.

When officers arrived, they had their own altercation with the man, who grabbed an officer's holster, the spokeswoman said. The officers, she said, used a Taser to help subdue him. No shots were fired, she said.

kate.mather@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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