LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A homeless man whose fatal shooting by Los Angeles police stirred an uproar among civil rights activists and fellow skid row residents was a convicted bank robber paroled from federal prison last year, according to a law-enforcement source and records.
Authorities have yet to publicly name the man they say was shot to death on Sunday when he grabbed for an officer’s holstered gun during a scuffle as police sought to take him into custody as a suspect in a reported robbery.
But a law-enforcement source told Reuters that the Los Angeles Times had correctly identified him as Charley Saturmin Robinet, a 39-year-old French national who had served time for a bank robbery conviction.
The Times reported that Robinet, accused of pistol-whipping a teller during a 2000 bank holdup north of Los Angeles, told investigators at the time that he robbed the bank to cover the cost of acting classes at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.
An account the newspaper published about the case at the time ran with the cheeky headline: “Robber Won’t Be Stealing the Show Any Time Soon.”
Federal prison and court records examined by Reuters show Robinet was sentenced to 15 years in prison and was freed from a federal halfway house in May under a three-year supervised-release order.
Sunday’s fatal shooting, which is under investigation, marked the latest in a string of incidents that have put law-enforcement agencies across the country under heightened scrutiny over the use of lethal force, especially against minorities, the poor and the mentally ill.
Caught on video filmed by a bystander that circulated widely on the Internet, the shooting triggered protests and calls by civil rights activists for a special police commission hearing on police use of force on skid row.
Critics said it highlighted heavy-handed tactics routinely used by police in dealing with homeless people, many of whom suffer psychiatric problems.
Police Chief Charlie Beck said all the officers involved had been trained, some extensively, in handling mental illness on the job, and appeared to have “acted compassionately up until the time that force was required.”
About 200 protesters gathered on Tuesday at the site on skid row, a blighted mile-square area downtown inhabited by some 3,500 homeless people, where the man known on the streets by the nickname “Africa” was slain.
Beating drums, blowing whistles and chanting “You can’t kill all of us, you can’t kill Africa,” the crowd marched to LAPD headquarters for a rally.
“People outside of skid row now know what we’ve been saying for years,” said Jeff Page, a skid row activist and resident. “LAPD has bully tactics, improper training, excessive force, abuse of power and human rights violations.”
The head of a rescue mission adjacent to the shooting scene told Reuters on Monday that the man had been living in a tent outside the mission for weeks and had a history of violent, erratic behavior.
Writing and reporting by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Eric Beech and Mohammad Zargham