L.A. Now

Skid row shooting: Autopsy shows man shot six times, had meth in system

A homeless man killed by Los Angeles police officers earlier this year on downtown's skid row was shot six times and had methamphetamine in his system at the time of his death, according to an autopsy report.

The March 1 death of Charly Leundeu Keunang, 43, drew international attention after a bystander posted a video of the shooting on Facebook, where it was watched millions of times. 

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Los Angeles County coroner's officials determined that Keunang died of multiple gunshot wounds: two shots hit his chest, two elsewhere on his torso and two others on his left arm. The shots to the chest were deemed "contact gunshot wounds" that left gunpowder on his skin and soot inside the wounds.

The death was classified as a homicide, the coroner's standard classification for the death of someone by the hand of another.

Craig Harvey, the chief of coroner investigations, said Wednesday that the public release of the autopsy's findings was delayed until Tuesday while coroner's officials waited for toxicology tests and finished writing the report.

Those toxicology tests revealed meth and marijuana in Keunang's bloodstream at the time of his death, according to the autopsy report. 

Dr. Judy Melinek, a San Francisco-based forensic pathologist, said the results suggested "marijuana exposure" -- that Keunang may have used the drug within days of his death, but was not acutely intoxicated at the time. But, she said, there was "evidence of methamphetamine intoxication."

"The methamphetamine is at a significant level that has been seen in intoxicated individuals who have been arrested for driving under the influence," she said.

However, Melinek said, it was difficult to determine how the drugs may have affected Keunang's behavior based solely on autopsy report.

"More information would be needed about his drug use history, which helps establish tolerance, the circumstances and his behavior prior to death," she said.

An attorney representing Keunang's family did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but told reporters Wednesday that the encounter highlighted the need to help the city's homeless, who often have difficulty accessing programs or medication that may help address drug and alcohol use or mental health issues. 

"The combination of mental illness and drug abuse on skid row leads to multiple violent confrontations, and it appeared to have an impact on this confrontation," he said. "It is a tragedy, and one of the things that makes addressing homelessness in Los Angeles so important."

Police said officers shot Keunang, a Cameroonian immigrant known to others on skid row as "Africa," after he grabbed an officer's holstered gun when they tried to take him into custody on suspicion of robbery. Witnesses at the scene gave conflicting accounts of what they saw.

The shooting stoked long-simmering tensions and anger among skid row inhabitants and advocates who accuse Los Angeles police of being too quick to resort to heavy-handed, violent tactics.

The LAPD's investigation into Keunang's death is ongoing. The shooting will also be reviewed by the district attorney's office, the Police Commission and its independent inspector general.

Follow @katemather for more LAPD news.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE:

2:04 p.m.: Updated with comments from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, mention of family's attorney.

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