Crime & Justice

Skid Row shooting victim ID'd; accomplice says he was arrogant and charismatic

Marcus Timmons was saddened to realize that his long-ago accomplice in a bank robbery had been killed in a struggle with police on Skid Row
Marcus Timmons was saddened to realize that his long-ago accomplice in a bank robbery had been killed in a struggle with police on Skid Row
Sharon McNary/KPCC

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Ending days of mystery around his identity, the man killed Sunday in a struggle with police on Skid Row has been identified by the Los Angeles County Coroner's office as Charly Leundeu Keunang, 43.

It was nearly the same first name as his assumed identity for about two decades, Charley Saturmin Robinet.

"He was very arrogant. He felt that he almost had a sense that 'I'm better than you,'" said Marcus Timmons, who tried to rob a bank with Keunang in 2000 — though he said the man went by Robinet even socially, and he never suspected that wasn't his real name.

"I witnessed it first-hand when I did the bank robbery with him, it went all bad," he added. "Charley, he was not the type of person to stand down."

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Keunang reached for one officer's holstered gun. The shooting was captured on cell phone video by a bystander, and the video went viral, reigniting tensions around officer-involved shootings of unarmed black men.

Timmons, who's married and living in Sherman Oaks, said he'd had no contact with the man for 15 years.

"It was kind of shocking," Timmons said of the shooting video. "Having seen that he got shot like that and watching the video with him grappling with police."

He said it wasn't out of context.

"Charlie was the type of guy, he wasn't going to back down," Timmons said.

Timmons said the man spun elaborate stories about growing up in France and having a father who practiced martial arts and meditation. He spoke fluent French, and his English had a European-sounding accent.

At the time, Keunang was pursuing a California dream of fitness and acting fame. He idolized Robert DeNiro and was a sharp dresser and natural bodybuilder who would run for miles on the rugged trails of Runyon Canyon, Timmons said. Prosecutors told reporters he intended the bank robbery proceeds to fund his acting lessons.

"He created a colorful background which made him interesting, and he had a lot of female friends, and he was a likable guy on the streets," Timmons said.

Immigration authorities said the man assumed the identity of Robinet, a French citizen. He's now believed to be from Cameroon. One of the hand-written signs on a memorial for him on Skid Row contained the words "Afrika" - his nickname - and Cameroon.

Timmons said he met the man through a mutual friend and only knew him for two weeks before the heist.

"Charley made it sound like he was a gangster," Timmons said.

He got into sudden arguments about mundane details with their accomplice and friend, Edward Johnson, Timmons said.

"I come to find out all that stuff was made up also. He'd never even been in a situation like this before," Timmons said.

The robbery was a spectacular and well-publicized failure.

Keunang and Timmons ran into the bank with weapons, Keunang jumped the counter and pistol whipped one of the employees. The two fled the bank with cash, got into the accomplice's getaway car and switched to a second vehicle, a red Lincoln Navigator.

Police pursued them at high speeds on rainy freeways and tailed them with helicopters. The Navigator stopped when it hit spike strips police threw onto the 101 Freeway, shredding the tires. Photos in the local paper showed the men as they bailed out and were captured.

Timmons said he got to know the man better as they waited at the federal detention center in downtown Los Angeles for their trials and sentencing.

"After getting locked up, I started listening and paying more attention to the guy, and I realized this guy is living a fantasy. I don't think he was really in his right mind," Timmons said.

"He would carry that personality around with him in the day room - and guys didn't really take too well to it and he became ostracized," Timmons said. "He would get into arguments with his cellmate and the guy would want to beat him up, and I'd have to come over there and resolve the situation so he wouldn't get beat up."

Among the reasons for the arguments: Sometimes the man would go days without showering.

"Some people are able to maneuver and not get into trouble, and Charley, just the couple of months that we were fighting our case, he had a lot of run-ins," Timmons said.  "In prison, people don't go for that. That's grounds for a beatdown."

Timmons served eight years in prison. The other accomplice also pleaded out, according to lawyers and prison records.

Only Keunang took the case to trial. He turned down a seven-year offer and, during the trial, repudiated his recorded confession.

“It was a very tough case,” said Steve Cron, his defense attorney.

He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Timmons said that changed his demeanor.

"He just looked like a totally different person," Timmons said. "He looked very beat down, he looked lost, his appearance was that of someone who had just given up on life."

According to court documents, Keunang was sent to a mental health unit at a federal prison hospital in Minnesota in 2003.

In January 2005, he went to court to challenge his continued placement there, asserting his right to refuse treatment for an undisclosed psychiatric illness. Within the month, he withdrew his challenge and accepted treatment. The documents do not indicate how long he remained under mental health care in prison.

He was released to a halfway house in September 2013 with instructions to remain up to six months. He was released in May 2014. It's not clear how long he had been living in Skid Row before the altercation with the LAPD.

The bank robbery was a turning point for Timmons.

Out of prison since 2008, he documents the challenges of life after prison in a series of YouTube interviews with ex-cons seeking redemption. He works as  an entrepreneur who sells classic cars and has his own brand of casual wear inspired by his years in the adult entertainment business.

Correction: An earlier version of this story included a misspelled version of Charly Leundeu Keunang's first name, which was shared with KPCC by the county coroner's office. The coroner has since sent out a correction, and the story has been updated accordingly.