The parents and a sister of a man from Cameroon who was fatally shot by Los Angeles Police during a videotaped struggle on Skid Row filed a lawsuit against the city and Police Chief Charlie Beck Wednesday.
Charly Leundeu Keunang, 43, was killed March 1 when he struggled with police who approached him about a robbery call in the 500 block of South San Pedro Street. Police said Keunang tried to remove an officer’s gun from its holster during the scuffle, leading to the shooting.
The 13-page suit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging wrongful death, survivorship, negligence and civil rights violations. The plaintiffs are Keunang’s parents, Isaac Keunang and Heleine Tchayou, and his sister, Line Marquise Foming. Their suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
A spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office did not immediately return a call for comment.
“The killing of Charly Keunang represents a classic case of abuse of power and deadly force by a supposedly trained police force, resulting in what Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck himself characterized as a tragic death and which the coroner’s office labeled a homicide,” the suit states. “The inexplicable volatility with which the defendant officers accosted Mr. Keuang resulted in the deprivation of life, a mother and father of their son and a loving sister of her only sibling.”
Officers fired six shots into Keunang even though video footage and reports from eyewitnesses cast doubt on the LAPD’s claims the decedent grabbed an officer’s weapon, the suit states.
Other defendants named are four LAPD sworn personnel: Sgt. Chand Syed and officers Francisco Martinez, Daniel Torres and Joshua Volasgis.
A recently released autopsy found that Keunang was shot six times. It also found that he had methamphetamine, ecstasy and marijuana in his system. Cell phone video of the struggle and shooting was posted online and viewed millions of times.
The shooting exacerbated tensions between police and community activists who have criticized officers’ interactions with the homeless and mentally disabled.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a deportation order for Keunang was issued in April 2013 “while he was incarcerated and serving a sentence in federal prison for armed robbery and firearms convictions.”
He was placed in the custody of ICE in June 2013, and the agency tried to deport him, but immigration officials initially believed he was a French citizen. When French officials realized he was not French, the deportation process was halted. Keunang was then determined to be from Cameroon, but officials in that Central African country failed to respond to repeated efforts to have him deported, federal officials said.
Before he was killed Keunang regularly reported to ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations office as required by his order of supervision, according to ICE. He was also under the supervision of the U.S. Probation and Trial Services System, authorities said. For a few months before he died, Keunang lived in a Skid Row tent, the suit states.
“Though a relative newcomer to the street, Mr. Keunang did what he could for others, for example, volunteering on occasion at a soup kitchen feeding Los Angeles’ large homeless population,” according to the lawsuit. “A religious man, he purposefully planted his tent beneath a cross affixed to a large church ministering to the poor and homeless near the corner of San Pedro and Fifth streets.”
Within a minute of being dragged from the tent, Keunang, a “homeless, unarmed black man whom the officers had reason to believe suffered from a mental illness, lay dying,” the suit states.
—City News Service