The family of Charly Keunang filed a wrongful death claim against the LAPD and City of Los Angeles Thursday, alleging officers were negligent when they shot and killed the unarmed 43-year-old Cameroon national on Skid Row last month.
Surrounded by her attorneys at a press conference outside LAPD headquarters, Heleine Tchayou sobbed as she described her son.
“Charly was a thoughtful and caring son,” she said. “He was my only son and I loved him very much.”
Tchayou, who lives in Boston, said she saw video of the shooting on TV like everybody else but didn’t know the man was her son. Two days later, a relative called with the news.
“The images keep returning to my mind,” she said as a bank of news cameras and reporters crowded around.
Keunang’s mother, father, and sister filed the claim, which alleges the incident "was a cop-created killing." It seeks $20 million dollars.
On Thursday, the family also called for criminal prosecution of the officers and the release of footage from body cameras two of them were wearing at the time.
The video, shot by a passerby, shows four officers wrestling with a combative and uncooperative Keunang, who was suspected of robbery. The LAPD said three officers shot him after he tried to grab one of their guns from its holster.
The incident sparked angry protests outside police headquarters and comparisons to other police shootings of unarmed black men.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Beck has called the shooting a “tragedy” and promised to reserve judgment, but also described officers’ interaction with Keunang as “a brutal, brutal fight.”
He has said the video “offers a unique perspective that we believe will be crucial to the determining the propriety of the officers actions.” But Beck has declined to release the video, saying it would jeopardize the investigation.
The LAPD did not immediately comment on the claim, which typically precedes a lawsuit.
“Law enforcement officers are trained to de-escalate situations and to only use lethal force as a last resort,” the claim states. “The LAPD officers who killed Mr. Keunang violated these protocols and their reckless mistakes and misconduct resulted in this unnecessary death.”
Keunang, who was living under an assumed name, served 14 years in prison for a Thousand Oaks bank robbery in 2000, during which he pistol-whipped an employee. He spent some of that time in a psychiatric hospital.
The claim states he had recently been reunited with his family and was in almost daily contact with them at the time that he was killed. It states he was planning on returning to his native Camaroon.
He had sent a text to his sister the day before the killing saying he'd call the next day.
“Charly had made some mistakes in his life, but was getting back on his feet,” said his sister Line Marquise Foming. She called him a "very good brother."
“He told me that he would be there for me forever, that he would protect me just like when we were kids.”