Family of homeless man killed by police on L.A.’s skid row will sue

A woman weeps during a public memorial for Charley Leundeu Keunang, a homeless man shot and killed during a struggle with the LAPD on skid row.
A woman weeps during a public memorial for Charley Leundeu Keunang, a homeless man shot and killed during a struggle with the LAPD on skid row.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The family of an unarmed homeless man shot and killed by police on skid row is poised to bring legal action, claiming officers used excessive force in the deadly confrontation, a spokesman for the family said Thursday.

David Singui said Charley Leundeu Keunang’s mother and sister, who are from Cameroon, had no idea he was homeless when they watched video of the shooting on TV. They were horrified when they saw his photograph and made the connection.

“They see what everybody else sees and they’re feeling anger, rage,” said Singui, a West Los Angeles businessman and leader in the local Cameroonian community. “It was not a justified use of force.”


Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said Keunang, a Cameroonian national, was shot after he grabbed an officer’s holstered gun during an intense struggle. Several witnesses disputed the account, and the video, which was viewed by millions online, was inconclusive.

Police officials on Thursday said Sgt. Chand Syed and Officers Francisco Martinez and Daniel Torres opened fire during the encounter.

This was the first time the officers, who had not been identified previously, had fired their weapons on duty, officials said. LAPD records showed Martinez had been with the department for 12 years, Syed for eight years and Torres for six.

Also Thursday, 100 skid row activists and friends gathered at the shooting site on San Pedro Street to remember Keunang, who was known on the street as “Africa” or “Cameroon.”

The event had been billed as a memorial but took on the tone of a protest when family members decided to delay Keunang’s wake and memorial service until next month.

Speakers including Pete White of the Los Angeles Community Action Network renewed calls for an independent investigation and release of police body-camera footage of the shooting.


“Wait means never,” said White, whose organization represents skid row residents and those living in poverty. White also assailed Mayor Eric Garcetti for meeting with black leaders from other communities to discuss the shooting while refusing to receive skid row representatives.

“For the mayor, any black folks will do,” White said.

White and General Jeff Page of Issues and Solutions, another skid row group, said the LAPD needed to deploy specially trained police and clinicians to skid row, the destination of last resort for many mentally ill homeless people.

“Where is the department of mental health … the grief counselors … when we need them?” Page said. “I haven’t seen one person come out here and try to help us heal.”

Keunang entered the U.S. in 1997 on a stolen passport and lived as a Frenchman named Charley Saturmin Robinet. He was convicted of armed bank robbery in 2000 and sent to prison in Rochester, Minn., where the government sought his involuntary commitment to an inpatient mental health unit. Keunang waived his objections and was moved to the unit in 2005.

Singui said Keunang hid his conviction from his family, who searched for but could not find him during his imprisonment.

After his 2014 release on probation from a federal halfway house in east Hollywood, Keunang reunited with his mother and sister, who are on the East Coast and thought he was living with a friend in Canoga Park, Singui said. The sister, a nurse, was sending him money, Singui added. He declined to give their names.


“In our country, going to jail comes with great shame,” Singui said. “Nobody knew he was living on the streets.”

Singui said the family is planning a private autopsy as soon as the weekend. Keunang’s body was moved from the coroner’s office to a private mortuary Wednesday, a coroner’s spokesman said.
Twitter: @geholland

Times staff writer Kate Mather contributed to this report.