The family of a homeless man killed by police in 2015 will receive $2 million after a jury on Thursday found that two police officers used excessive force when they shot him in a struggle captured on video.
The federal jury ruled that LAPD Sgt. Chand Syed and Officer Francisco Martinez are liable for the death of 43-year-old Charly Keunang, attorney Dan Stormer told BuzzFeed News Thursday evening. Stormer represented Keunang's family in the case and said the verdict shows that "our jury system is not wiling to accept fear-based defenses by police officers."
The jury was set to decide on damages Thursday as well, but before that happened, the city of Los Angeles approached Stormer and Keunang's family with a settlement offer of $2 million. They accepted the offer because it meant avoiding years of appeals, and because Keunang's father is in poor health, Stormer said.
He added that Keunang's family was pleased with the settlement, but "would rather have Charly back."
"They're sad that the justice only comes in the form of money," Stormer said.
The Los Angeles Police Department and its attorneys did not respond to BuzzFeed News' requests for comment.
The shooting happened March 1, 2015, when several officers responded to reports of an assault on downtown LA's Skid Row, a longtime gathering place for the homeless. A struggle ensued and three officers — Syed, Martinez, and Daniel Torres — opened fire.
The jury found that the third officer, Torres, did not use excessive force.
Keunang, who was known as "Africa," had been living on Skid Row for several months at the time of the shooting, witnesses told the Los Angeles Times. He was reportedly a Cameroonian national but stole an identity to come to the United States in the 1990s.
The shooting gained national attention after a video of the incident was posted to Facebook by bystander Anthony Blackburn.
The lawsuit, which was filed in 2016 by Keunang's family, accused the officers of initiating a confrontation on the day of the shooting. It states that after speaking with Keunang, the officers "exploded into acts of violence, almost certain to cause anyone, much less a person suspected of suffering from mental illness, to panic."
"Violently pulling and pounding on the tent and attempting to collapse and rip it off of Mr. Keunang who was hovering defenseless inside, the officers succeeded in reaching inside the tent and pulling Mr. Keunang, terrified, out of the tent," the lawsuit adds.
Police later said Keunang reached for an officer's gun during the altercation. The Los Angeles County district attorney also declined to file criminal charges against the officers, stating in a memo that they had "acted lawfully in self-defense and in defense of others" during the fatal shooting.
However, the lawsuit argued that the shooting was "a classic case of abuse of power and deadly force by a supposedly trained police force" and that "at no time did Mr. Keunang possess any type of weapon, much less fire or remove any firearm from the officers."
Thursday evening, Stormer criticized the police department, the district attorney's office, and other civic leaders for allowing the violence, and said the verdict shows that cases of officer violence need to be reviewed by "citizens, not bureaucrats."
"The takeaway is that citizens, common everyday people, will not accept this kid of behavior on the part of cops," he said.