Controversy has erupted from downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row as police officers with the Los Angeles Police Department were caught on tape fatally shooting an unarmed homeless man during a physical altercation on Sunday. The above-linked Reuters video notes that police have yet to release the name of the man who was shot, but bystanders told Los Angeles Times that the man goes by the moniker “Africa.”
According to LAPD Commander Andrew Smith, officers arrived on the scene that morning in response to a 911 report of a robbery. Bystander Dennis Horne said that, when police arrived, Africa was fighting with another individual in the tent in which he had been living at the time. Police then ordered the homeless man out of his tent, and, when he refused, officers deployed a Taser and dragged him out into the street. Africa then began struggling with the officers, throwing punches and kicks. The video below, which contains extremely graphic footage and language, shows what happened next.
At the beginning of the scuffle, six officers appear in the video, with four seen overpowering Africa as two others break away to respond to a female bystander who attempted to pick up a police baton that had been dropped. Africa drops immediately to the ground, and four officers hover over him, pinning him down. Then, a sound consistent with a Taser being fired can be heard in the video.
Moments later, an officer reportedly said, “Drop the gun. Drop the gun.” A single shot rang out, then four more, and Africa lay dead in the street, prompting uproar from angry bystanders who immediately noted that the homeless man was unarmed when police shot him multiple times. An unidentified eyewitness told Los Angeles Times that Africa had reached for an officer’s gun.
Others painted a different story. Bystanders in the above-embedded raw video can be heard immediately protesting the shooting, commenting on the fact that Africa was unarmed. Another witness who goes by the name Booker T. Washington told Los Angeles Times that the initial altercation had actually broken out over the illegal placement of Africa’s tent, rather than a robbery, contradicting police accounts of the incident. He said that police would frequently come by and evict Africa from his tent, which was not allowed to remain there after 6 AM each morning.
Ceola Wadell, who witnessed the incident, said it began when police shook Africa’s tent and deployed a Taser on him, prompting him to become violent. Bystander Ina Murphy said that Africa had been living in the area for several months following his release from a ten-year stay in a mental health facility. In response to the shooting, a spontaneous protest erupted at 9:30 PM on Sunday at the scene of the altercation.
Two of the cops on the scene were reportedly treated for injuries, and the female seen picking up the baton in the above video is expected to be charged with a crime.
Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said that it is unclear based on the video as to why the officers used deadly force. Said Soboroff, “To me, [the theory] that [Africa reached for an officer’s gun] would be the only explanation that something would happen that quickly… It escalated right in front of our eyes.”
LAPD Commander Smith says that the district attorney’s office and an independent inspector general will be investigating the case and noted that two surveillance cameras and at least one police body camera also caught footage of the incident. LAPD investigators are asking eyewitnesses to come forward and provide any additional videos that could help with the investigation. Said Commander Smith, “It’s not an incident taken lightly by any police officer. But we are committed to everyone involved and to the public to conduct a thorough and complete investigation.”