Heleine Tchayou was home in Boston when she saw on the news cellphone video of a mentally ill homeless man killed on Skid Row by Los Angeles police. She exclaimed to a friend and her son-in-law about how horrible it was. It wasn’t until days later that she learned the man who died was her son, Charly Keunang.
On Thursday, Tchayou and her daughter announced the family is filing a $20 million claim against the city.
Speaking in French at a news conference in front of the Los Angeles Police Department’s headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, Tchayou (whose name is pronounced hehl-EEN’ TCHY’-yo) called the death of her only son preventable.
“He has left, he has left forever,” she said through tears. “Those images won’t leave my mind … it won’t leave my mind.”
The claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, filed by Keunang’s parents and sister Wednesday night says officers initiated the struggle that ended with the 43-year-old Keunang’s death on March 1.
Attorney Dan Stormer called the incident “despicable” and likened it to other deaths of unarmed black men around the country.
“He was doing nothing, he was on the streets, he was bothering no one,” Stormer said. “They’re the ones that began the process. They’re the ones that initiated force.”
Officers who were responding to a robbery report said he became combative, made a grab for the gun of a rookie policeman and was shot by three other officers. The shooting was captured on video and prompted several protests.
The officers involved have been placed on paid leave during the investigation.
City officials would not comment on pending litigation, said city attorney’s office spokesman Frank Mateljan.
Stormer said only the rookie officer went for his gun initially and ended up on top of Keunang, ultimately resulting in Keunang (keh-NAYNG’) being shot six times, including four times in the chest.
“This is a cop created killing, it is something that should have never happened,” Stormer said.
The family has asked the district attorney’s office for a thorough criminal investigation, and they are trying to get footage from body cameras worn by two officers during the incident, although so far their attorney said the department will not release it.
A memorial will be held May 16 and the family is working to return Keunang’s body to Cameroon for burial. The Cameroon native entered the U.S. illegally and had served about 13 years in prison and spent six months in a halfway house before he was released in May 2014, ultimately ending up on Skid Row.
Keunang found his sister on Facebook soon after his release and took a bus to Boston in June, where he was reunited with his family, and met his nephew and niece for the first time. The family said he was trying to do better and planning to soon get off the street to work as an exporter.
His last text to his sister the day before his death was “I will call you tomorrow, my love.” But she never heard from him.