A GRAPHIC video has captured the moment police shot and killed a homeless man during an altercation at a homeless camp in central Los Angeles.
Three officers have been suspended while the shooting of the man, identified by other residents of the Skid Row homeless area by his street name “Africa”, is investigated.
The film, recorded by a witness and posted to Facebook, shows a violent struggle between the man and several officers in the Skid Row area.
It is understood the encounter was also recorded by body cameras worn by at least one of the officers involved in the incident. It was unclear what that recording shows.
Police say three officers opened fire after the man tried to grab a gun from an officer.
The shooting has raised tension, coming after the recent controversy over police involvement in the deaths of black men in New York and in Ferguson, Missouri, and the lack of prosecution of the officers involved.
Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) commander Andrew Smith said officers had been responding to a report of a robbery, and had attempted to use a Taser to subdue the suspect but he had “continued fighting and resisting”.
He said they would use the video footage as part of their investigation. “The video is disturbing,” he said. “It’s disturbing any time anyone loses their life. It’s a tragedy.”
On the video – which had been viewed 4.3 million times over the first 12 hours that it was posted – six officers can be seen responding at the scene. They begin wrestling with the man as he takes swings at them.
Two of the officers break away to subdue and handcuff a woman who had picked up one of their dropped batons.
The struggle becomes increasingly blurry and distant, but shouting can be heard, including the word, “gun”, followed by five apparent gunshots.
One witness, Jose Gil, 38, said he saw the man swinging at police then heard one of them shout, “He’s got my gun!” before the shots were fired.
Police did not release the man’s name or give any other identifying details, and Mr Smith said he did not know whether the man was homeless.
Witnesses said the man known as “Africa” had been there for four or five months.
Ina Murphy, who lives in an apartment nearby, said he had told her that he had recently been released after spending ten years in a mental health unit.
People on Skid Row who knew him said he was not violent. “What did he do?” Steven Tugmon asked. “He wasn’t an aggravated person. He wasn’t mad all the time. He just had mental problems.”
Another witness, Lonnie Franklin, 53, who said he was across the street when the shooting occurred, said: “That man never was a threat. The amount of officers present at the time could have subdued him.”
The LAPD has struggled to police the Skid Row area where people are allowed to sleep on the streets from 9pm to 6am but are supposed to remove their tents during the daytime.
There were suggestions officers had spoken to “Africa” in recent weeks about taking down his tent.
The area is also a frequent destination for people with severe mental illnesses. Last May, a mentally ill homeless man named Carlos Ocana died after falling from a rooftop after officers shocked him with a Taser. His death remains under investigation.