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Skid row shooting: Nearly 20 witnesses interviewed in probe

Skid row shooting: Inspector general says his office recently contacted 20 witnesses to fatal encounter

The independent inspector general tasked with investigating the LAPD's shooting of a homeless man on skid row said Tuesday that his office recently interviewed nearly 20 people who said they saw at least part of the fatal encounter.

Inspector General Alex Bustamante, who reports directly to the civilian Police Commission, told commissioners that although his staff was on the scene immediately after the March 1 incident, investigators went back to skid row on Sunday looking for more witnesses. They spoke to about 100 people, he said, 18 of whom said they saw "a portion or all of the shooting."

"Everybody was very cooperative," Bustamante said. "I believe the canvassing effort was actually quite productive."

Bustamante told the commission that his office was also reviewing video of the incident, including footage from body cameras that a sergeant and officer were wearing. The officer and the sergeant were among those who responded to a 911 call of some type of robbery or assault.

One of those body cameras, Bustamante said, captured a conversation with the reported victim, who identified another man whom the officers approached and later shot.

The man killed was known by others on skid row as "Africa" or "Cameroon." He was later identified by coroner's officials as Charly Leundeu Keunang, 43.

Bustamante said the body camera footage showed the incident "from beginning to end." Between those recordings and the civilian-captured video that was posted online, the inspector general said his office had "quite a bit of information to examine."

The March 1 killing drew international attention after a witness recorded the incident and posted the video on Facebook, where it was viewed millions of times.

Police said Keunang refused to follow the officers' commands and instead tried to fight. At one point, police said, he grabbed a rookie officer's holstered pistol, prompting three others to open fire.

The shooting has highlighted the difficulties police say they face in patrolling skid row, where many inhabitants struggle with mental illness and drug abuse. But it has also reignited anger from those living in the tent encampments and their advocates, who say police tactics are too aggressive.

Authorities said Keunang, a Cameroonian national, was involved in a 2000 bank robbery in Thousand Oaks and was convicted for the crime under an identity he had stolen in France.

On Tuesday, activists gathered outside LAPD's downtown headquarters and called for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Keunang's death. They also demanded a reallocation of resources to skid row: instead of more police officers, they said they wanted things like more counselors and permanent housing. 

Dozens of people also addressed the Police Commission with similar demands.

After the commission meeting, Chief Charlie Beck told reporters that the LAPD's own investigation into the incident -- which is separate from the inspector general's -- was "progressing well." 

"These things take time," he said. "But the investigation is on schedule."

The chief said the department would probably release the names of the officers involved in the shooting "within the next couple of weeks" after investigators had looked into "various threats that have come forward."

The California Supreme Court ruled last year that police departments must generally provide the names of officers involved in shootings unless they can demonstrate there are credible threats to the officers' safety.

"It's important to us to release the names," Beck said. "But the safety of the officers involved, given the huge furor and publicity relative to this shooting, is very important to me."

Follow @katemather for more coverage of the LAPD's fatal shooting on skid row.

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