Warning: Graphic video accompanies this story.
Police shot and killed a man on Sunday in downtown Los Angeles during an apparent struggle over an officer’s weapons.
Officers responded to 911 calls regarding a potential robbery about noon on San Pedro Street near the Union Rescue Mission, Los Angeles police officer Dave Romero told The Washington Post. He said that when police arrived at the scene in what’s referred to as the city’s “skid row” — a homeless community lined with tents, trash and old grocery carts — they said they encountered a suspect and “use of force” ensued. He said the incident then escalated into an officer-involved shooting. A police official said it’s unclear whether the victim was homeless, though some witnesses claim he was.
A bystander captured the incident on a video, which soon spread over social media. Footage shows what initially looks like a fist fight between a black police officer and the victim, who was also reportedly black, according to witnesses. Then at least three other officers helped wrestle him to the ground.
Los Angles police commander Andrew Smith told the Los Angeles Times the man “began fighting and physically resisting the officers.” He said that at one point police tried to restrain him by using a taser, which as “ineffective.” He said the man continued to fight the officers, some of whom fell down — but that scenario is not clear in the video footage.
During the incident, it appears the black officer may have dropped his baton and a woman on the street grabbed it. The officer can be heard shouting: “Get my stick! Get my stick! Get my stick!” Then two officers take her down and handcuff her.
“At some point in there, a struggle over one of the officer’s weapons occurred,” Smith told the Los Angeles Times. “At that point an officer-involved shooting happened.”
Smith said three officers, one of whom was a sergeant, fired at the victim. Someone in the video can be heard yelling, “drop the gun,” followed by at least five gunshots. The victim was reportedly pronounced dead at the scene.
For several minutes afterward, witnesses can be heard shouting profanities, calling officers a “coward” and “sellout” — one man claiming that a black cop shot and killed another black man. As the crowd grew more restless, police put up crime scene tape and several officers lined up, holding out their clubs.
Smith said at least one officer was wearing a body camera, according to Fox News KTTV. Both videos will be used in the police investigation, he said.
Warning: The video below, posted to Facebook, contains graphic language.
Police have not released the victim’s name but witnesses have identified him by a nickname, “Africa,” and said he was homeless, the Los Angeles Times reported. That could not be immediately confirmed.
Yolanda Young told CBS Los Angeles the victim was fighting with another man inside a tent and, when police arrived, started fighting them.
“Next thing I know,” she said, “dude swung on a cop and the cop swung back. And they were hitting on him and then two other cop cars pulled up and they got out of the car and ran over there, and they had three tasers out.”
But Young told Fox News KTTV the man was not armed.
“He didn’t have no weapon, they just shot him,” she said. “They could have just wrestled him down and took him to jail, but they shot him five times. ”
Another witness, Jose Gil, told the Los Angeles Times he saw the man swinging at police. Then he heard an officer shout, “Gun, gun, he’s got my gun!”
On Sunday night, a small group of protesters gathered in Los Angeles’s Pershing Square.
“It’s awful. I mean you see it online, that’s where I saw it first. It’s ridiculous,” protester Sal Shama told CBS Los Angeles. “The problem here is we have a police chief who doesn’t have any answers to what’s going on.”
Local civil rights leaders, including Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable president Earl Ofari Hutchinson, are urging the Los Angeles Police Commission to hold a hearing on this incident and others like it, the news station reported.
Smith told the Los Angeles Times authorities have seen the video.
“Any video that shows someone losing their life in an altercation with police is going to be disturbing,” he said. “It’s disturbing for police officers to watch.”
“It’s always tragic when there’s a loss of life in one of these situations,” he added. “It’s not an incident taken lightly by any police officer. But we are committed to everyone involved and to the public to conduct a thorough and complete investigation.”
This story has been updated.