LOS ANGELES: The Los Angeles police chief defended officers who fatally shot a man in the Skid Row homeless district, saying the victim had tried to grab one of their guns.
Police Chief Charlie Beck is under intense pressure after Sunday’s shooting — just the latest to put police tactics in the United States under the spotlight — was caught on amateur video that went viral and triggered widespread condemnation.
“While on the ground and struggling with the officers, the man forcibly grabbed one of the officers’ holstered pistols, resulting in an officer-involved shooting,” Beck told reporters.
In what could become a test case, two of the officers were wearing body cameras, part of a force-wide project designed to help bring clarity in just such disputed situations, he said.
The officers’ video has not been released.
“At this point in the investigation it would not be proper for us to release it,” Beck said, adding that he believed the officers “acted compassionately up until the time force was required.”
Graphic amateur video footage which appeared on Facebook shows a violent altercation between a man and several officers in Skid Row, an area near downtown Los Angeles where many homeless people live.
The video appears to show the man flailing at officers as they try to subdue him.
A voice apparently yelling “Drop the gun!” can be heard before several shots ring out and onlookers cry out in alarm.
Beck said he had reviewed video and audio in which one of the officers repeatedly shouted “He’s got my gun!”
The Los Angeles Police Department earlier said three police officers — a sergeant and two officers — fired at the man.
Police were called to the scene over a reported robbery and were attempting to detain the suspect, who had been fighting, Beck told reporters at LAPD headquarters, the morning after the shooting.
During the struggle, police also used a Taser, but “to little effect,” he said.
The man, whom US media reported to be living in one of the area’s many tents, was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics, an LAPD spokesman said.
Skid Row is a run-down area that houses many hostels and services for the region’s homeless people, some of whom pitch tents on the sidewalks.
Investigations into the deadly incident will be conducted by an independent inspector general, the district attorney and the LAPD Force Investigation Division, spokesman Andy Smith said.
Two officers sustained minor injuries, and those who fired on the man have been removed from the field and assigned home for the time being, Smith added.
It was not yet known how many times the man was shot or how many officers were at the scene, the spokesman said.
He added that the coroner would release the individual’s identity after his next of kin are notified.
The video comes against a backdrop of highly publicized police shootings of black men that sparked weeks of protests late last year.
Some media reported that the man in the Skid Row shooting appeared to be black, but this was not clear from the video. At least one of the officers at the scene was black.
A local CBS television affiliate reported that tensions in the area remained high for hours after the shooting.
The video also shows police grabbing a woman after she picks up a baton that an officer dropped, then appears to raise it.
The woman is being detained, but has not yet been booked in jail, Smith said.