LOS ANGELES (AP) — The family of a mentally ill homeless man killed by Los Angeles police on Skid Row sued the city and police department on Wednesday, contesting officers’ claim that the man reached for one of their guns and calling it “a classic case of abuse of power and deadly force.”
The lawsuit filed by the family of Charly Keunang, a native of Cameroon, seeks unspecified damages and also names as defendants police Chief Charlie Beck and the three officers who fired the six bullets that hit Keunang, including two to the chest.
The 43-year-old Keunang’s March 1 death was captured on video by a bystander and has been viewed millions of times online. The killing prompted protests and drew comparisons with the death of black men in other officer-involved shootings across the U.S.
Attorney Joshua Piovia-Scott, who represents Keunang’s parents and sister in the lawsuit, said the officers involved showed a shocking disregard for human life.
“We have six heavily armed, trained police officers and one unarmed homeless man who was trying to retreat, trying to defuse the situation, and in a matter of moments, they’re holding him down to the concrete pavement, shooting him in the chest and killing him,” Piovia-Scott said.
The officers then handcuffed Keunang without trying to render any medical aid “and looked on while he bled to death in pain and terror,” the lawsuit said.
The police department did not immediately return a request to speak with Beck or comment on the lawsuit.
Beck has previously said the shooting was justified because Keunang grabbed for a rookie police officer’s gun after ignoring commands and becoming combative.
“Had the individual not grabbed the officer’s pistol, certainly we would not be having this discussion,” Beck told reporters in March.
Beck said the officer’s gun was later found partly cocked and jammed with one round of ammunition in the chamber and another in the ejection port, indicating a struggle for the weapon.
An autopsy showed Keunang had meth and marijuana in his system when he died.
Piovia-Scott said if police have nothing to hide, they should release footage from body cameras worn by the officers.
The department has declined to release the videos.
Police have said Keunang was a robbery suspect. However, the lawsuit said another homeless man had called 911 on Keunang over an argument.
The department’s inspector general and the county district attorney are investigating the shooting.
Piovia-Scott said Keunang came to Los Angeles to follow his dream of becoming a Hollywood actor.
He served 13 years in prison after being convicted of robbing a bank and pistol-whipping an employee in 2000 in an effort to pay for acting classes at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.
Keunang found his sister, who lives in Boston, on Facebook soon after his release and took a bus in June back East, where he was reunited with his family and met his nephew and niece for the first time.
His family said he was planning to get off the streets.
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