Originally published on March 3, 2015, at NationofChange.org
Responding to a 911 call on Sunday, LAPD officers fatally gunned down a homeless man resisting arrest on Skid Row. While attempting to subdue the suspect on the ground, officers opened fire at least five times when he allegedly grabbed one of their weapons. After a witness recorded the shooting and uploaded the video online, the LAPD began searching for footage of the incident recorded on witnesses’ cell phones, nearby surveillance cameras, and the two body cameras worn by officers involved in the shooting.
According to Officer Jack Richter, spokesman for the LAPD, officers assigned to the LAPD’s Central Division and Safer Cities Initiative had been dispatched to the area of East Sixth Street and South San Pedro Street in Downtown Los Angeles around 11:36am on Sunday. Although Richter initially reported that the officers had been responding to a 911 call about two people fighting on Skid Row, Sgt. Barry Montgomery announced during a later news conference that the officers were investigating a report of a robbery.
Eyewitnesses recalled seeing a homeless man known as “Africa” fighting with someone else inside his tent when the officers confronted him. According to a witness named Dennis Horne, officers ordered Africa to exit his tent but he refused. After several officers dragged him out of the tent, Africa resisted arrest and began struggling with them.
Concerned about the homeless man’s safety, a bystander named Anthony Blackburn took out his cell phone and recorded the rest of the incident.
“I had my phone out, you know, videotaping the whole thing ’cause we’ve been hearing on the news about police brutality,” Blackburn told reporters. “I just wanted to film it and just make sure everything was alright. But I ended up seeing a tragedy.”
In the video, a probationary officer with less than a year on the force places his baton on the sidewalk while Africa rushes toward another officer. As Africa begins spinning around with his arms outstretched, the rookie officer who dropped his baton throws Africa to the ground and attempts to punch him. At that moment, a homeless woman picks up the officer’s baton and takes an aggressive stance towards them.
While squatting on Africa’s chest, the rookie can be heard frantically yelling, “Get my stick! Get my stick! Get my stick!”
Two officers immediately disarm the woman and knock her down, while four other officers struggle to subdue Africa on the sidewalk. As the two officers cuff the woman’s hands behind her back, the other officers try using a Taser to incapacitate Africa. Suddenly, the probationary officer who dropped his baton can be heard repeatedly shouting, “Drop the gun!”
According to Cmdr. Andrew Smith, no other gun was recovered at the scene. The rookie officer claimed that Africa attempted to unholster his firearm, but footage from the video remains partially obscured. At a press conference on Monday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck presented evidence suggesting Africa had reached for the officer’s gun but could not prove that his hand actually touched the weapon.
“As you can see, the slide is partially engaged and a round has been partially ejected and fouled the firing chamber,” Chief Beck observed while displaying a photo of the officer’s gun. “This is indicative of a struggle over the weapon. As you can also see, the magazine is dislodged from its resting place. This is also indicative of force used on the weapon. There’s also a screen grab from a privately taken video. If you examine that, it appears that the suspect’s hand is reaching for the officer’s waistband in the area where his pistol would be located.”
Two officers and a sergeant fired at least five shots at Africa. Paramedics from the Los Angeles Fire Department responded and later pronounced him dead at the scene.
A nearby resident named Ina Murphy recalled Africa appearing in the neighborhood roughly four or five months ago. Africa told her that he had moved to Skid Row after being released from a mental facility where he had spent the last 10 years.
Police are reviewing footage from surveillance cameras mounted on buildings near the scene. A security camera from the nearby Union Rescue Mission also recorded the incident. The video reveals Africa flipping another homeless man’s tent off the curb with the inhabitant still inside the tent before the police arrive. The video was initially posted on Facebook but has been removed.
According to Chief Beck, two of the officers involved had been wearing body cameras at the time of the incident. The officers involved in the shooting have been placed on paid administrative leave, while Chief Beck will decide whether they return to active duty pending a 72-hour review. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Justice System Integrity Division has also launched an investigation into the shooting.