Federal immigration officials said Wednesday that the homeless man shot and killed by Los Angeles police on skid row was a Cameroonian national but provided no other details about the man’s true identity.
Authorities had initially used fingerprints to identify the man as Charley Saturmin Robinet, the name he was using when he was convicted of a 2000 bank robbery in Thousand Oaks.
But French officials came forward late Tuesday and said Robinet is a law-abiding citizen who is “alive and well in France.” The man killed during Sunday’s altercation with LAPD officers, they said, had stolen Robinet’s identity and used it to acquire a French passport to come to the U.S. in the late 1990s.
The man who called himself Robinet in the U.S. was set to be deported in 2013, near the end of his 15-year prison sentence for the bank robbery, said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Because of his claims of French citizenship, she said, U.S. officials contacted their counterparts in France to get the necessary travel document to deport him.
Kice said French officials initially issued the document but “then rescinded it after determining the subject was, in fact, a national of Cameroon.”
After that, Kice said, ICE officials reached out to authorities in Cameroon, but they “repeatedly failed to respond to requests for a travel document.”
Because ICE couldn’t get the documents needed to deport the man, Kice said, he was released from custody in November 2013. Under a Supreme Court ruling, individuals must be released from ICE custody if they have been detained for six months and “the actual removal cannot occur within the reasonably foreseeable future,” Kice said.
After the fake Robinet was released from custody, he was required to regularly report to immigration officials, Kice said. She said he had done so, with his next check-in scheduled for Thursday.
Axel Cruau, the French consul general in Los Angeles, said the identity theft was discovered during the initial deportation process. He said his office had contacted LAPD officials Tuesday to let them know the man identified as Robinet was an impostor.
“He fooled a lot of people — including us — years go,” Cruau said.
It remained unclear Wednesday what the man’s true name was.
His death drew international attention after a bystander recorded LAPD officers fatally shooting the man and posted the video on Facebook. The LAPD has said that the officers made contact with the man during their response to a 911 call but that he refused to follow their commands and instead tried to fight. At one point, police said, the man grabbed a rookie officer’s holstered pistol, prompting three others to open fire.
The shooting has highlighted the difficulties police 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.
Those who knew the man on skid row said he went by the name “Africa” or “Cameroon.”