LAPD fatal shooting of man caught on tape

Video on Facebook shows LAPD officers fatally shooting homeless man on skid row on Sunday

Authorities said Sunday night that Los Angeles police fatally shot a man on skid row during a struggle over an officer's weapons.

Police officials offered a detailed account of what they say prompted the Sunday morning shooting, which was captured on video by a bystander.

Cmdr. Andrew Smith said officers assigned to the LAPD's Central Division and Safer Cities Initiative — a task force focused on skid row — responded to the location about noon Sunday after receiving a 911 call reporting a possible robbery.

UPDATE: Get the latest on the LAPD's fatal shooting of a homeless man on skid row

Smith said the officers approached the man and made contact with him, at which point he "began fighting and physically resisting the officers." The officers attempted to take him into custody and at one point, attempted to use a Taser that Smith said was "ineffective."

The man continued to resist police, Smith said, and the man and some of the officers fell to the ground.

"At some point in there, a struggle over one of the officer's weapons occurred," Smith said. "At that point an officer-involved shooting happened."

Two officers and a sergeant fired at the man, who was pronounced dead at the scene, Smith said. It was unclear how many times the officers fired, although at least five shots can be heard on the video recording that captured the shooting.

No other gun was recovered at the scene, Smith said. It was unclear if the man had any other weapons among his possessions — investigators were still combing the scene late Sunday night.

The man has been tentatively identified, but Smith said it was unclear if he was homeless.

Two officers were treated and released for injuries sustained in the struggle, Smith said. The extent of those injuries was unclear.

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The woman seen in the video recording picking up an officer's baton was detained and is expected to be arrested, Smith said. She had not been booked as of 9 p.m. Sunday, and it was unclear what charges she would face, but Smith said the arrest would stem from her picking up the baton.

Smith said that, based on the video recording, it was unclear what the officers told the man before they fired. He said investigators would use audio enhancement software to determine what exactly was said and when.

"Of course we're aware of the video," he said. "Any video that shows someone losing their life in an altercation with police is going to be disturbing. It's disturbing for police officers to watch."

"It's always tragic when there's a loss of life in one of these situations," Smith continued. "It's not an incident taken lightly by any police officer. But we are committed to everyone involved and to the public to conduct a thorough and complete investigation."

Smith said investigators were looking for any other video that captured the incident, including footage from the body cameras some of the officers may have been wearing. Officers assigned to the Safer Cities Initiative were part of the LAPD's pilot program for the new technology and are equipped with the devices.

At least one officer involved in the incident was wearing a body camera, Smith said.

The dramatic confrontation was caught on video, which was later posted on Facebook (the video contains foul language). It shows a group of officers getting into a scuffle with a man standing on a sidewalk littered with tents and other debris.

During the struggle, one officer drops his nightstick, which is picked up by a woman on the street. Two officers handcuff the woman.

RELATED: How many people are killed in officer-involved shootings? Some answers

The man continues to scuffle with four of the officers, even after he's wrestled to the ground. What appears to be one of the officers is heard saying "Drop the gun. Drop the gun."

Then, at least one of the officers opens fire on the man, who remained on the ground with at least two officers near him.

Five gunshots are heard on the recording. 

Police have not identified the dead man or said how many officers were involved, or how many shots were fired. The man was declared dead at a hospital shortly after the shooting, which occurred about noon, according to police spokesman Sgt. Barry Montgomery.

He said that at one point during the struggle a Taser had been deployed, but investigators did not know if it was  used on the man who was subsequently shot.

Witnesses at the scene identified the victim by his street name, “Africa”, and gave conflicting accounts of what they saw.

Dennis Horne, 29, said Africa had been fighting with someone else in his tent when police arrived.

When Africa refused to comply with a police order to come out of the tent, officers used the Taser on him and dragged him out, Horne said. The officers tackled Africa to the ground, where he continued to fight, which led to the fatal shooting, according to Horne.

“It's sad,” Horne said. “There's no justification to take somebody's life.”

Another witness, Lonnie Franklin, 53, said five to six officers pulled up in three to four cars as Africa was lying face down on the sidewalk. The officers approached with guns drawn yelling, ”Down, down,” according to Franklin.

When Africa got up and started fighting, the officers “went straight to lethal force,” Franklin said.

But Jose Gil, 38 , said he saw the man swinging at the police and then heard one of the officers say, “Gun, gun, he's got my gun!” before police fired multiple shots.

Another witness, who asked not to be identified, said the man punched and kicked the officers and reached for one of their service weapons before the officers fired at least seven times.

An area resident, who identified himself as Booker T. Washington, said police had come by repeatedly to ask Africa to take down his tent. People are allowed to sleep on the streets from 9 p.m to 6 a.m., but they are supposed to remove their tents in the daytime under a court agreement.

“This man got shot over a tent,” Washington said.

Ina Murphy, who lives in an apartment nearby, said Africa had arrived in the area about four or five months ago. He told her he had recently been released after spending 10 years in a mental facility, Murphy said.

Police Commission President Steve Soboroff first saw the video of the shooting via social media. He was watching it again when reached by a Times reporter Sunday evening, trying to hear what exactly the officers had said to the man.

"My heart just started pounding just watching it," Soboroff said. "I feel the adrenaline. These situations are just so horrific."

Soboroff said a key issue would be whether the man did in fact try to grab the officer's gun, as some witnesses have told reporters. Otherwise, he said, it's unclear what might have prompted the use of deadly force.

UPDATE: Get the latest on the LAPD's fatal shooting of a homeless man on skid row

"To me, that would be the only explanation that something would happen that quickly," Soboroff said. "It escalated. It escalated right in front of our eyes."

He stressed that the LAPD, the independent inspector general and the district attorney's office would all investigate the shooting "very, very carefully."

"Of course I would encourage people not to rush to judgment. It's not fair to anybody. It's not fair to the family of the victim or the victim or the officers," he said. "We'll find out what happened."

Montgomery said Sunday evening that investigators were in the process of interviewing "loads of people" who were in the area at the time of the shooting. He said there would potentially be more video recordings of the incident, noting that he could see two surveillance cameras mounted on buildings at the scene.

It was still unclear how many officers fired their weapons or what was said to the man before he was shot, Montgomery said.

Montgomery said the video of the events leading up to the shooting appears to back the initial report that a Taser was used. He said the "click-click-click" sound that accompanies the use of the device can be heard on the recording.

According to a Times data analysis, there have been 12 fatal officer-involved shootings in downtown Los Angeles since 2000. There were none in 2014 and one in 2015 before Sunday's violence. 

Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson and other activists on Sunday called for a special police commission meeting on the shooting.

 About 9:30 p.m., dozens of people gathered at Pershing Square to protest the police shooting.

"The heavens are crying right now," said General Jeff Page, known around skid row as the "mayor" of the poverty-stricken neighborhood, as rains poured on the crowd gathered around him. He went over the events of the day that led to the fatal shooting of Africa, whom Page called "one of our loved ones."

In the crowd was Yannick Babou, 34, a street vendor who works in skid row. Babou said he came out to show his frustration and anger with law enforcement.

"I'm not anti-police. I think we need police in society," Babou said. "But I think we need to hold police accountable when they do something wrong."

Twitter: @geholland

@jackdolanLAT

@katemather

Times staff writers Kate Mather, Matt Hamilton and Armand Emamdjomeh  contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

Update

6:35 p.m.: This post was updated with new comments from Police Commission President Steve Soboroff.

7:30 p.m.: This post was updated with new information from police.

10 p.m: This post was updated with new information from police. 

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