LAPD skid row shooting: Once a weapon is grabbed, ‘all bets are off’


An officer-involved shooting on Los Angeles’ skid row has captured nationwide attention with cellphone video that shows the incident.

Three officers opened fire on a man just before noon Sunday on San Pedro Street in downtown L.A. As the L.A. Times gathers more information and details surrounding the shooting, here are some of the key factors we are looking at.

The shooting victim


The man shot dead by officers Sunday has been identified by only his street name, “Africa.”

According to Andy Bales, president of the Union Rescue Mission, Africa “helped mission employees clean up every day.” But, he said, the man sometimes acted out.

Africa’s family -- Bales believes they are in Africa -- had tried unsuccessfully to get him to return home, he said.

“One day, he came flying out of his tent and knocked some stuff out of the hands of passersby,” Bales said. “The people on the street are in an untenable position and that puts officers in an untenable position when it comes to policing.”

According to witnesses at the scene of the shooting, Africa had been living in a tent on skid row for a few months after spending a long stretch at a mental health facility.

An estimated 3,500 homeless people live on skid row, including 1,500 who sleep in sidewalk encampments. L.A.'s skid row -- concentrated in a one-square-mile section of downtown L.A. -- is one of the largest homeless enclaves in the nation, as the L.A. Times previously reported.

By one estimation, 25% of L.A.'s homeless are mentally ill.

The video -- what it does and doesn’t reveal

A man spins around as he is surrounded by officers, his arms outstretched. He is thrown to the ground.

An officer drops his nightstick. A woman behind him picks it up. A voice is heard: “Get my stick! Get my stick! Get my stick!”

Officers push her to the ground. Meanwhile, four officers surround the man on the ground. Someone yells: “Drop the gun!” three times.

Five shots ring out.

The confrontation is clear, but the footage doesn’t show an obvious grab for a gun. Consequently, investigators are seeking additional video that may bring more light to the actions by the shooting victim and officers.

Use of force

Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said a crucial issue was the alleged grab for a weapon. Otherwise, it’s unclear what may have prompted the LAPD’s use of deadly force, he said.

“To me, that would be the only explanation that something would happen that quickly,” Soboroff said.

Use-of-force expert Ed Obayashi, a legal advisor to several California sheriffs’ departments, said officers were dealing with “a chaotic scene ... It is very dynamic involving a robbery call.”

Obayashi said there was “a heightened sense of alert given the location on skid row” and the shooting victim’s behavior.

But once the officers perceived he’d allegedly gotten control of a gun, “At that stage, all bets are off.

“Any reasonable officer is not just within their rights but they have a duty at that point to protect life.”

Police procedures for using deadly force and dealing with the mentally ill

What guidelines govern how officers behave in situations like the one that occurred Sunday, and what directives do police follow when dealing with the mentally ill?

We’ll look at these factors as well as SMART -- the LAPD’s Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team -- which has trained social workers to work with people suspected of being mentally ill. How does this unit fit in -- or not fit in -- in situations that escalate quickly?


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