A Los Angeles police officer repeatedly threatened to use a Taser against a homeless man who tried to talk to police before they shot and killed him on skid row, body camera video reviewed by the Los Angeles Times shows. The officer cut off Charly “Africa” Keunang’s repeated requests to “Let me express myself” by saying, “You don’t tell me how to do my job” and “We’re going to do this my way,” the video shows. “You’re going to get Tased,” the officer said several times just before Keunang retreated into his sidewalk tent, then came out flailing and died March 1 in a volley of police gunfire. A bystander’s video of the incident was viewed by millions after it was posted online. Independent policing experts, after reading a transcript of the video, said the officer’s words raised questions about the Los Angeles Police Department’s tactics and training in handling mentally ill and drug- and alcohol-addicted people. They cautioned that it was hard to draw firm conclusions without seeing the video, which would show the officers’ body language, tone of voice and proximity to Keunang.
After a spate of controversial police violence incidents, police across the U.S. are examining officers’ tactics before deadly encounters. Keunang, 43, a Cameroonian immigrant, had been confined to a U.S. mental hospital during a 14-year prison term he served for bank robbery. An autopsy found methamphetamine in his system. Police Chief Charlie Beck said the officers involved in Keunang’s shooting had received the department’s “most extensive mental illness training,” a 36-hour course. Seth Stoughton, a University of South Carolina law professor and former police officer who has written about de-escalating law enforcement confrontations, said one officer appeared to have asserted his authority in “a rather aggressive manner.” “He is issuing commands, making threats and flatly ignoring Mr. Keunang’s attempts to say anything,” Stoughton said. “By tying to earn his cooperation rather than require his compliance, perhaps a tragic situation could have been avoided.”