Official: Homeless man killed by police did time for robbery

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A homeless man killed on Skid Row by Los Angeles police had been released last May from a federal prison after serving roughly 14 years for bank robbery, a law enforcement official said Tuesday.

The man was identified as Charley Saturmin Robinet by the official who had been briefed but was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Robinet was a French national who was convicted in 2000 of three federal charges for holding up a Wells Fargo branch and pistol-whipping an employee to pay for acting classes at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.

Federal prison records show he was released on May 12.

Robinet, who acknowledged being an illegal immigrant, was arrested along with an accomplice and a getaway driver after they tried to rob the bank in Thousand Oaks, some 40 miles west of downtown Los Angeles.

Robinet was killed Sunday after a confrontation with police. Authorities say he tried to grab a probationary officer’s gun and three officers fatally shot him.

The three officers who fired their weapons in a videotaped struggle that left a homeless man dead were veterans of the Skid Row beat who had special training to deal with mentally ill and other people in the downtrodden area, police leaders said.

But a rookie officer who cried out that the man had his gun, leading to the shooting, had considerably less experience, and police didn’t immediately say how much training he had received in dealing with mentally ill people. All officers must go through at least an 11-hour course.

Police Chief Charlie Beck said some of the veteran officers had “completed our most extensive mental illness training over a 36-hour course.” Initial signs showed the officers used what they had learned during the confrontation, despite the outcome, he said.

“The way you have conversations, the way you offer options, the way that you give some space, the body language that you portray, the way that you escalate, all of that is part of the training,” Beck said Monday. “I will make judgment on that when I review the totality of the investigation, but on the face of it, it appears they did try all of that.”

The shooting was captured on video but exactly what happened remained unclear. The footage has been viewed by millions of people online.

Several dozen people rallied Tuesday in protest of the shooting. There was a moment of silence, and participant Patrisse Cullors declared the shooting site to be “sacred ground.”

A memorial at the site of the shooting features white roses placed over a tent, blankets and clothing belonging to the man known as “Africa.”

The specialized training came under the nationwide Safer Cities Initiative, designed to tone down encounters between police and people on the streets.

Footage showed the homeless man reaching toward the rookie officer’s waistband, Beck said. The officer’s gun was later found partly cocked and jammed with a round of ammunition in the chamber and another in the ejection port, indicating a struggle for the weapon, Beck said.

“You can hear the young officer who was primarily engaged in the confrontation saying that ‘He has my gun. He has my gun,'” Beck said. “He says it several times, with conviction.”

The three other officers then opened fire.

The man who was shot was black, as is the rookie officer who was just short of completing his probationary year on the force, police said.

The violence had echoes of the August police shooting of 25-year-old Ezell Ford, whose death in a struggle with Los Angeles officers brought demonstrations in the city. Ford was unarmed. Police said he was shot after reaching for an officer’s gun.

Video was taken came from multiple perspectives, including two witnesses recording from their phones and cameras worn by two of the officers who fired their weapons.

Beck said officers had arrived to investigate a robbery report and the homeless man refused to obey their commands and became combative.

A security camera outside a homeless shelter about 75 feet away showed the man pushed over a neighbor’s tent and the two people had a dispute. When officers arrived, they tried to speak to the suspect.

He turned and jumped into his tent, and officers appeared to pull it up and over him to roust him from inside. The man jumped out flailing and kicking before ending up on the ground.

Beck said officers didn’t know if the suspect was arming himself. Stun guns “appeared to have little effect, and he continued to violently resist,” Beck said.

One witness began filming from a closer perspective.

As the man took swings, four officers wrestled him to the ground. The struggle became blurry and distant, but shouting could be heard, followed by five apparent gunshots.

The Los Angeles Police Department’s inspector general and the city’s district attorney are investigating the shooting.

Two of the officers suffered minor injuries, including the rookie officer, who is on crutches. All four officers are on paid leave.

 

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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