By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Three Los Angeles policemen who fatally shot a homeless man last year were justified in using lethal force because the man had nearly gotten hold of an officer's holstered gun as they scuffled, the District Attorney's Office has determined.
A 22-page report on the incident, released on Thursday, concluded the officers "acted lawfully in self-defense and in defense of others" in their deadly encounter with 39-year-old Charley Leundeu Keunang, known by the street name of Africa.
The findings by the D.A.'s justice system integrity division clears the policemen - Sergeant Chand Syed and officers Francisco Martinez and Daniel Torres - who opened fire on Keunang when he tried to grab a fourth officer's gun.
Police confronted the man when they responded to a report of an attempted robbery outside a Union Rescue Mission in the heart of L.A.'s Skid Row, a square-mile downtown area with one of the highest concentrations of homeless people in the United States.
The mission's director said in the aftermath of the March 1, 2015, shooting that Keunang had a history of violent, erratic behavior.
Video footage of the incident, which went viral on the Internet, highlighted the often volatile interactions between law enforcement and the mentally ill and helped fuel a national debate over police tactics. It also drew calls for reform from local civil rights activists.
But the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office report concluded that the three officers under review in the shooting were "justified in using deadly force."
"We are closing our file and will take no further action in this matter," it added.
Among other findings, the report said that at the instant he was shot, Keunang had "virtually removed" a service weapon from the holster of a fourth officer as they struggled on the ground, and "the barrel was pointing in the direction of Sergeant Syed and the crowd gathering behind him."
While the report did not delve into Keunang's background, a law enforcement source and public records disclosed he was a convicted bank robber who had been released from federal prison in 2014.
Immigration officials further revealed that U.S. authorities had sought to deport Keunang to his home country of Cameroon in 2013, but the government there failed to provide a necessary travel document before he was freed from prison.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Tom Hogue)