A homeless services commissioner on Thursday called for an independent investigation into the death of a man who was shot and killed by Los Angeles police during a confrontation on skid row.
The Rev. Kelvin Sauls, pastor at Holman United Methodist Church of Los Angeles, called Charly Leundeu Keunang “one of many unarmed black men who have died at the hands of the LAPD” and said his death should not be overlooked because he was homeless.
“What we see is the LAPD continues to shoot to kill and blame the victim,” said Sauls, whom former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority commission in 2013. “Even the homeless people have dignity. There needs to be a thorough investigation by the appropriate agency.”
Sauls spoke after a news conference outside LAPD headquarters to announce a $20-million claim that the Keunang family filed Wednesday against police and the city over the March 1 shooting.
Since 2002, the city has paid out more than $30 million to settle 31 lawsuits brought on behalf of people who were injured or killed in police shootings, according to a Times analysis of city data.
Keunang, 43, a Cameroonian national, spent 14 years under an assumed identity in a U.S. prison on a bank robbery conviction. After his 2014 release, he reunited with family in Massachusetts but ended up on skid row while awaiting immigration papers to return to his country, family members said.
At the news conference, attorney Dan Stormer called on Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey to investigate and criminally charge the officers involved.
Lacey, through a spokeswoman, said her office joined the LAPD’s pending investigation but declined further comment. Citing its investigation, a police spokesman also deferred comment.
Sauls, who plans to preside over a funeral service for Keunang next month, said several other pastors are mobilizing support for Keunang and his family. Pastor Lovell Anu of All Nations Prayer Worship Center, who was introduced at the conference as a spiritual leader of the local Cameroonian community, told reporters that he wants Mayor Eric Garcetti to initiate an independent investigation.
A spokeswoman for the mayor said Garcetti was confident the LAPD and its inspector general would fully investigate the shooting, including footage from body cameras worn by two of the officers. The LAPD has refused to release the body camera video publically.
Police Chief Charlie Beck has said the shooting was justified because Keunang struggled with one of the officers over his gun. Stormer said the weapon was still in its holster after Keunang died, and accused the officers of shooting the homeless man point-blank in the chest while holding him down and beating him on the sidewalk next to his tent.
“Charly had made some mistakes in his life but he was working hard to get back on his feet,” Keunang’s sister, Line Foming, said at the conference, as her mother, Heleine Tchayou, sobbed by her side.
Times staff writer Ben Welsh contributed to this report.