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L.A. approves $2-million settlement over police shooting of homeless man on skid row

L.A. approves $2-million settlement over police shooting of homeless man on skid row
Heleine Tchayou, right, mother of Charly Leundeu Keunang, a homeless man shot and killed by LAPD on skid row, weeps as Keunang's sister Line Marquise Foming addresses a news conference about the family's lawsuit in 2016. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The city of Los Angeles will pay $1.95 million to the family of Charly “Africa” Keunang, an unarmed homeless man whose fatal shooting by LAPD officers in 2015 set off days of protests and denunciations of the department’s treatment of skid row's mentally unstable population.

The City Council on a 12-2 vote Tuesday approved the settlement, which had been reached tentatively after a federal jury in May found two officers liable in Keunang’s videotaped death.

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Councilmen Joe Buscaino and Mitchell Englander cast the “no” votes. Buscaino’s spokesman noted that the city’s civilian Police Commission had found the shooting justified. The district attorney declined to file criminal charges against the officers, stating that the officers "acted lawfully in self-defense and in defense of others."

A cellphone recording that captured the March 1, 2015, shooting, which took place on a Sunday morning in broad daylight, was viewed millions of times around the world. Keunang, a native of Cameroon with a history of mental illness, was shot five times on the sidewalk outside his tent in the middle of skid row.

Police Chief Charlie Beck defended the officers, saying Keunang had grabbed one of their guns during a melee that erupted after they arrived to investigate an attempted robbery and assault against another homeless person. The officer yelled, “He’s got my gun,” during the incident

Attorney Dan Stormer, who represented Keunang’s family in the civil lawsuit, said the homeless man’s DNA was not found on the gun, as Beck had contended early in the investigation. Stormer said footage of the shooting, including from surveillance cameras and police body cameras, showed that officers had precipitated the violence.

“They escalated step by step to the point it became a melee,” Stormer said.

After the shooting, the LAPD intensified mental health training for all officers, including those who patrol skid row.

“This was a tragic situation. We hope Mr. Keunang's family will find some solace in this resolution,” Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer, said in an emailed statement.

The settlement will go to Keunang's parents, Heleine Tchayou and Isaac Keunang, his sister, Line Marquise Foming, and their attorneys.

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