Family Receives Settlement Following Fatal Shooting of Homeless Man
Charly “Africa” Keunang, 43, an unarmed homeless man, was the victim of a fatal shooting by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) in 2015. His death set off a slew of protests regarding the department’s treatment of the impoverished and mentally unstable community, and following the incident, Keunang’s family sued the city. Their claim indicated six LAPD officers “attacked Mr. Keunang, Tasing him, tackling him to the concrete and repeatedly striking him with their fists and batons” and then shooting Keunang “six times from point-blank range as they held him down on the sidewalk.”
A cellphone recording that captured the March 1, 2015, shooting, went viral and was viewed millions of times around the world. The slogan, “Justice for Africa” emerged as a result. The settlement terms had been tentatively reached after a federal jury found two officers liable in Keunang’s videotaped death. The City Council approved the final settlement with a 12-2 vote this month.
Keunang, a native of Cameroon with a history of mental illness, was shot several times on the sidewalk outside his tent on skid row. In 2016, the Los Angeles police commission ruled the fatal shooting and use of lethal force against Keunang was justified and that the officers had killed him in self-defense. They said Sgt. Chand Syed and Officers Francisco Martinez and Daniel Torres fired their weapons during a dangerous confrontation.
According to Chief Charlie Beck, Keunang grabbed one of guns after the police arrived to investigate an attempted robbery and assault against another homeless person. The body cam footage showed one officer warning Keunang he would be hurt if he did not comply with their orders. “The taser is going to hurt,” says the officer. A struggle ensues, and the officer then yells, “He’s got my gun,” during the taped incident.
“When you watch that video in real-time, it is difficult to see the suspect’s hand on the officer’s gun,” Beck said. “But when you slow it down, frame by frame, it is quite easy to see.” An autopsy showed Keunang had methamphetamine in his system at the time of his death.
Attorney Dan Stormer, who represented Keunang’s family in the civil lawsuit, said the homeless man’s DNA was not found on the gun and he challenged the claim the weapon had been grabbed by the man. Stormer said footage of the shooting, including that taken by surveillance cameras and police body cameras, showed officers had incited the violent encounter. “They escalated step by step to the point it became a melee,” he said.
“This was a cop-created killing. This did not need to happen,” attorney Joshua Piovia-Scott added of the fatal shooting. “And the reason it did happen is because of the conduct of these officers.”
After the shooting, the LAPD intensified mental health training for the entire department. “This was a tragic situation. We hope Mr. Keunang’s family will find some solace in this resolution,” said Rob Wilcox, a spokesperson for City Attorney, Mike Feuer. The settlement will go to Keunang’s parents, Heleine Tchayou and Isaac Keunang, his sister, Line Marquise Foming, and their attorneys, who originally filed a $20 million lawsuit.