On Thursday, May 10, a federal jury found two LAPD officers liable for their conduct in the shooting death of Charly “Africa” Keunang, an unarmed, mentally ill homeless man who was killed in front of his tent on skid row in March 2015. HSR attorneys Josh Piovia-Scott, Dan Stormer, and Shaleen Shanbhag represented the family of Mr. Keunang in their claim that LAPD officers unreasonably escalated their confrontation with Mr. Keunang, resulting in his death.
After several days of deliberating, the eight-member jury unanimously decided that Officer Francisco Martinez, who Tased and shot Mr. Keunang, used excessive force and found that Sergeant Chand Syed, the first officer at the scene, breached his duty to intervene. The parties reached a $1.95 million settlement before the damages phase of the trial began. The settlement will go to Mr. Keunang’s parents, Heleine Tchayou and Isaac Keunang, and his sister, Line Marquise Foming.
The first phase of the trial lasted five days, during which the jury was shown video evidence recorded on Officer Martinez and Sergeant Syed’s body-worn cameras, a bystander’s cellphone, and a surveillance camera. The footage reveals how the LAPD officers unnecessarily escalated their encounter with Mr. Keunang by using threats and force in violation of their de-escalation training. In response to his repeated requests that the officers listen to him, Mr. Keunang was threatened, tased, punched numerous times, tackled, and pinned to the ground, where he was tased again and ultimately shot five times. The entire encounter, which took place in broad daylight on a Sunday morning, lasted approximately six minutes. HSR attorney Joshua Piovia-Scott said: “The officers basically did every single thing that their training says they are not to do. It was the officers’ actions that escalated this situation and caused it to spiral out of control.”
The LAPD’s attorneys argued that the officers were justified in shooting Mr. Keunang because they heard Officer Volasgis – a rookie officer no longer employed by LAPD – shouting that Mr. Keunang had his gun. But the LAPD’s own testing of Volasgis’ gun and holster did not find Mr. Keunang’s DNA or fingerprints on either item.
The Los Angeles Police Commission found the shooting justified in 2016. The Los Angeles District Attorney declined to file criminal charges against the officers, stating that the officers “acted lawfully in self-defense and in defense of others.” HSR attorney Dan Stormer said the verdict shows that law enforcement use of force must be reviewed by “citizens, not bureaucrats,” and that “our jury system is not willing to accept fear-based defenses by police officers.”
“The jury verdict sends a strong message that this kind of conduct, this excessive force, this failure to resolve issues without using deadly force, is not something that will be tolerated in Los Angeles,” said Piovia-Scott.
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