LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Protesters rallied Tuesday, March 3, outside Los Angeles police headquarters in reaction to the weekend fatal shooting of a homeless man by police on Skid Row, while multiple investigations continue into the gunfire that was caught on camera and viewed millions of times online.
The protesters, who marched from Skid Row to LAPD headquarters just before a Police Commission meeting, chanted “hey, hey, ho, ho, Chief Beck’s got to go!” and also lashed out at the commission.
“Who’s accountable? Is it a mentally challenged individual, or poorly trained officers? … Is it a mentally challenged person being tackled by four peace officers, beat up, Tasered, finding himself surrounded by those whose job is to protect and serve?” asked Rev. K.W. Tulloss, the Los Angeles chapter president of the Al Sharpton-led National Action Network.
Another protester blew a whistle into the microphone and called police Chief Charlie Beck and Commission President Steve Soboroff cowards.
Mystery Over Victim
The background of the man who was fatally shot by Los Angeles police on Skid Row got a little more mysterious.
Authorities have not released the man’s name, but the Los Angeles Times identified him as 39-year-old Charley Saturmin Robinet and initially labeled him a French national.
Late Tuesday, however, The Times reported the man identified as Robinet was not actually a French citizen, but had stolen another man’s identity to obtain a French passport in the 1990s to enter the United States.
He was convicted in March 2000 of bank robbery stemming from a heist at a Wells Fargo bank branch in Thousand Oaks, according to federal court records.
The man was apparently released from prison in May after serving about 15 years.
An official with the U.S. Marshal’s Service told ABC7, however, there was a warrant out for his arrest for violating his probation.
Axel Cruau, the French consul general in Los Angeles, told The Times the real Charley Saturmin Robinet “is alive and in France,” according to a story posted on the paper’s website.
Cruau said French authorities notified U.S. law enforcement officials — who were preparing to deport him in 2000 — that Robinet was not the man’s real name.
He said he did not know what became of the man after that.
Beck said Monday, March 2, the man was struggling with police and grabbing at one officer’s holstered pistol, prompting the shooting. He also insisted officers who approached the man acted “compassionately” toward him until he began reaching for the weapon.
Beck said the officers used Tasers “in an attempt to subdue the man. However, the Tasers appeared to have little effect and he continued to violently resist.”
As the struggle continued, the man “forcibly grabbed one of the officers’ holstered pistols, resulting in an officer-involved shooting,” police said.
At the protest, Steve Diaz, a member of poverty advocacy group Los Angeles Community Action Network, urged the Police Commission to prosecute the officers involved in the shooting and to disarm police officers, “starting on Skid Row.”
Diaz placed the blame on the LAPD’s Safer Cities Initiative, which he says has grown from 15 to more than a hundred officers in the program’s nearly nine years.
He called the shooting a “modern day lynching” that was the result of the initiative’s policy “of having extra deployment in our neighborhood and nothing better to do than to target homeless individuals, people of low income, in the name of gentrification.”
Tulloss said any policy that led to the homeless man’s death “has no place in the city of Los Angeles.” He questioned placing the blame on the victim, who was thought to have been mentally ill.
“Life is valuable, regardless of the challenges. He didn’t have to die,” Tulloss said.
The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), a California-based immigrant rights organization, called on the LAPD to launch an immediate, exhaustive, and independent investigation into the incident .
“We mourn the loss of a homeless man at the hands of armed police officers this weekend. Los Angeles is a diverse city and the issues of homelessness and mental health disorders must be approached humanely and comprehensively,” said
Xiomara Corpeno, CHIRLA’s director of Education and Outreach.
“There is already plenty of distrust between the LAPD and People of Color, immigrants and the homeless community, and these types of disturbing incidents sever that relationship even more.
“We ask the LAPD to set up an immediate independent task force to investigate what happened Sunday and establish credible and enforceable mechanisms that limit incidents like this from ever happening again.”
“Every time a member of our community loses his/her life in an incident like this, we all lose a little bit of our humanity. There has got to be better ways to engage with the homeless, People of Color, immigrants, and mental health issues that do not lead to results like these,” added Apolonio Morales, CHIRLA’s Political Director.
Beck and Soboroff asked the public again to refrain from making premature judgments about the case, but protesters balked at the request. Some criticized the department for dispatching five officers to subdue the man, and others questioned the chief’s motives for releasing photos apparently showing the homeless man reaching for an officer’s gun while withholding other footage and evidence.
Beck also provided the media with photos of the officer’s handgun, showing the weapon’s slide pulled forward and a round partially ejected from the chamber — an indication that the suspect was pulling at the gun during the struggle.
A total of four officers, all from the LAPD’s Central Station and assigned to Safer Cities, were involved in the struggle, much of which was captured on a cell phone video that was viewed 3.2 million times in 10 hours. Three of them, including a sergeant, fired their guns, police said.
“All of the officers had had training to some extent in dealing with the mentally ill,” Beck said.
Witnesses to the shooting screamed “he had no gun” as police struggled to control the chaotic scene in the shooting’s aftermath. Some witnesses interviewed by television reporters said officers could have overpowered the suspect without resorting to lethal force, and one called the killing murder.
On the video, someone is heard yelling, “Drop the gun,” just before the shots are heard.
One Skid Row-area resident told the Los Angeles Times the man who was shot had spent about 10 years in a mental hospital before arriving recently in the downtown area. The man died at the scene.
The LAPD announced that the department’s Force Investigative Division had started an investigation in coordination with the LAPD’s Office of the Inspector General. The findings will be submitted to the Police Commission, the civilian panel that oversees the police department, so it can determine if resorting to deadly force was consistent with department policies.
Additionally, the Justice System Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office will review the case to determine if criminal charges will be filed.
Jeretta Sandoz, a director of the LAPD police union, defended the officers’ actions, saying attempts to take an officer’s gun “will not end well.”
“Don’t think that when a person is taking an officer’s gun, it’s to hand it back to them,” she said.
She also urged the public to “let this investigation take its course.”
The San Fernando Valley Sun contributed to this report.