Outside the Bubble 3/5/15

Video Shows LAPD Officers Shooting Man


Video has emerged of an altercation between four Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers and an allegedly homeless man that resulted in the fatal shooting of the man. While the Chief of Police has publicly stated his belief that the officers involved followed the necessary procedural steps to avoid use of deadly force and argued that the man’s actions precipitated the use of such measures, others remain critical of the officers’ actions.

According to Commander Andrew Smith, who leads the city’s task force in “Skid Row,” the incident began after the police officers had received a call about a potential robbery in the area. The Los Angeles Times reports that Smith described how, following the initial contact with the man, he “began fighting and physically resisting the officers.” (“LAPD fatal shooting of man caught on tape,” 03.01.15) Police reports state that officers then attempted to take the man into custody and, when unable to restrain him through other methods, sought to subdue him using a taser, which Commander Smith said was “ineffective.” (LA Times)

Both LAPD reports and the witness video show that following attempts to restrain the man, multiple officers and the victim struggled to the ground. At this point, officers claim, the man tried to take one of the officer’s guns. After this, The LA Times reports, officers shot at least five times, killing the victim. Two of the officers sought treatment for injuries stemming from the altercation.

The police have tentatively identified the individual as a man who went by the street name “Africa” and are investigating claims that he was homeless. Witnesses have confirmed their belief that the victim lived with mental health issues. Further investigation is underway to determine if the officers followed procedure, Burke stated, by both the police department and the Los Angeles district attorney’s office.

According to NPR, LAPD Chief Charlie Burke has refused to release the officers’ body camera videos to the public. The video in wide circulation on the Internet is that of a witness who stated he turned on the camera after officers threatened to taser the victim. The police investigation will also utilize witness testimony, as investigators have stated that many people saw the incident transpire.

Beck said in a press conference, “I think that this is an awful tragedy, but the officers took—on the face of it—reasonable steps to avoid it. Had the individual not grabbed the officer’s pistol, certainly we would not be having this discussion.” (CNN, “Witness who took video: Man killed by LAPD didn’t reach for officer’s gun,” 03.02.15) On Monday, after reviewing the footage, Burke said, “It appears to me the officers acted compassionately up until the time when force was required.” (NPR)

Among the most contested aspects of this shooting was that of the allegation that the man struggled for an officer’s gun, which the police say elicited the use of deadly force. In evidence presented in a press conference on Sunday night, Beck showed pictures of the alleged weapon and stated that it showed that the slide had been partially engaged and the magazine had been dislodged. However, some witnesses to the shooting reject this narrative. A friend of the victim told CNN that the man was never known to be violent nor would he have reason to try to harm the officers.

This case has also gained notoriety because of its links to the treatment of those with diagnosed and undiagnosed mental health issues. According to witnesses, the victim lived with severe depression; witness and acquaintance of the man Tonya Edwards told local reports, [he had] a lot of mental issues,” while a friend said, “He was very depressed, very very depressed, very depressed. But he had a good side to him, a good heart.” (CNN)

In the aftermath of the shooting, local organizers held a night-time protest in Pershing Square to highlight their belief in the unnecessary nature of the bloodshed. General Jeff Page, a man identified by the Los Angeles Times as the “mayor” of the neighborhood, said “The heavens are crying right now…[Africa was] one of our loved ones.” (LA Times)


– Bethan Johnson, Contributing Editor

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