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Homeless Man Fatally Shot by Cops on LA’s Skid Row Assumed Stolen French Identity

US officials have yet to identify the 39-year-old man's real name, but say he is a Cameroonian national, and not French as he claimed.

by VICE News
Mar 5 2015, 9:25pm

Photo via Ventura County Sheriff's Office/AP

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A 39-year-old homeless man who was fatally shot by Los Angeles police during an altercation in the city's Skid Row neighborhood over the weekend was a Cameroonian national living under a stolen French identity, authorities have revealed.

Police used fingerprints to identify the man earlier this week as Charley Saturmin Robinet, the name he had used when he was convicted of armed bank robbery 15 years ago and sent to federal prison, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

But on Tuesday, the French consulate in LA said the man had stolen the identity of a French national to obtain the necessary travel documents to come to the US in the late 1990s.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed Wednesdaythat the man was from Cameroon, a francophone country in Central Africa.

Related: LAPD Says Bodycam Footage Reveals 'Unique Perspective' on Skid Row Shooting

Authorities had reportedly discovered the man was not a French national two years ago, while he was still serving time in prison. ICE had remanded the man to their custody in June 2013 in preparation for deportation, Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles office of ICE, said in a statement.

US officials then asked France to supply necessary travel documents for the man. Documents were initially issued and then rescinded after French authorities determined the 39-year-old was actually from Cameroon, Kice said.

ICE officials made several appeals to Cameroon, but the government "repeatedly failed to respond to requests for a travel document," she said.

Because authorities were unable to deport the man, officials released him from custody in November 2013, Kice said. A Supreme Court ruling states someone can only be detained for six months in ICE custody if "the actual removal cannot occur within the reasonably foreseeable future," she added.

After his release, the Cameroonian national reportedly went to live in LA's impoverished Skid Row neighborhood, where he became known to fellow homeless residents as "Africa" or "Cameroon."

Kice said the man regularly reported to immigration officials, as was required under the terms of his release. His next scheduled check-in was for Thursday, she added. He never made that appointment.

The deadly confrontation

On Sunday, Africa was shot by police during a deadly confrontation. The incident was captured in separate cell phone and CCTV videos that were later posted online and viewed by millions. Protests flared in the wake of the shooting, with many questioning the officers' deadly use of force.

Authorities said in a press conference Monday that the incident occurred when officers responded to a 911 call about a robbery in the area. The emergency caller identified Africa as the suspected robber, and police followed Africa to Skid Row, where he attempted to climb into a tent set up on the pavement. The tussle began as officers pulled the tent away, police said.

On Monday police said that officers attempted to use a Taser to subdue the man, and they all fell onto the pavement. While on the ground, the man allegedly tried to snatch a probationary officer's gun, which, in an odd twist, jammed and became inoperable during the struggle, Commander Andrew Smith told reporters. The move prompted officers to open fire on the man. He was later confirmed dead at a local hospital.

Three separate investigations into the shooting have been opened, LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck told reporters Monday. Two officers were wearing bodycams at the time of the incident and footage from those devices will be included in the investigations, he said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti is planning to work closely with the police to ensure that a proper investigation of the events takes place.

"I watched the video. I watched the tragic events on Skid Row unfold," the mayor said. "We owe the city a thorough investigation as to what happened," Garcetti stated.

ABC7 reports that three police officers involved in the shooting have been placed on leave pending the outcome of the investigations.

The shooting has highlighted the dire situation that faces residents of Skid Row, where poverty and drug abuse are rife. There are currently around 2,500 homeless people living in the Skid Row area, according to the LA Area Chamber of Commerce.