Police Abuse

Grotesque Detail Arises from L.A. Police Killing of Unarmed Man

Officer's gun was pressed against Charly Keunang's chest as he lay pinned on the ground.


Jeff Sharlet at GQ reveals a particularly damning detail arising from his reporting on a March L.A. police shooting of an unarmed man named Charly "Africa" Keunang on the streets of downtown L.A. who they had already wrestled to the ground:

Two of the six bullets that killed Charly entered his body through what are called "contact gunshot wounds"—which means the muzzle of the officer's gun was pressed directly against Charly's body…

There's a moment in the body-cam video when it appears to me that Officer Francisco Martinez has his hand on Charly's torso—Charly is on his back after having been wrestled down and tased—with his gun pointed at the body. I didn't include that detail in my story because I couldn't be absolutely certain. We still can't be sure Officer Martinez's hand is holding Charly down, but now we can be certain: He pressed his gun into the chest of an unarmed man who was lying on his back and pulled the trigger.

Gunshot wounds #2 and #3, reads the report—the shots are listed arbitrarily—are described as "penetrating, fatal." One bullet entered above Charly's right nipple, the other close to the center of his chest. "Yellow gunpowder is present on the skin" in both cases; "soot is present in the wound." Three examiners, including the chief medical examiner-coroner, inspected these two wounds in particular, and the three examiners concurred: "Range of fire: This is a contact gunshot wound." Not "point-blank," the distance at which you can't miss, which is as much as several feet;contact. The gun pressed into the body, the bullets traveling directly from the barrel into the flesh, no distance in between….

Officer Volasgis said—incorrectly, of that we must be clear—"He has my gun." He says that he was straddling Charly, and that Charly only let go of his gun after he'd been shot; but the body-cam video, on which we cannot see Charly reach for the gun, shows Officer Volasgis is already on his way to standing at the moment the first shot is fired, his holstered gun beyond Charly's reach. Officer Martinez pushed his 40-caliber Glock 35 directly into Charly's body—hard muzzle pressing down into the flesh—and fired.

That is: Officer Francisco Martinez pressed his gun into the chest of an unarmed man and shot him through the heart.

It took five months for the L.A. coroner to reveal this final, awful fact. The investigation is "ongoing," according to the LAPD's local paper, theL.A. Times….

This Huffington Post article has more details from an earlier Sharlet story and an interview with him about the police interaction with Keunang that preceeding the video below, in which an attempt to talk to Keunang about a complaint against him quickly led to tasering, then to his murder.

Some citizen video of the incident:

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  1. Science almighty, that is some fucked up shit.

  2. Officer Volasgis said?incorrectly, of that we must be clear?”He has my gun.”

    But his academy training told him to say that. Too bad his instructors never accounted for body cameras.

  3. WOW.

    Don’t care about the ‘a few bad apples’ defense anymore.

    This is messed up.

    Cops are psychos.

  4. ongoing….

    We’re just waiting for the attention to blow on by

  5. Surprised he didn’t just shoot him in the back of the head. That’s how executions are normally carried out.

  6. “He has my gun.”
    a gun
    my gun
    no gun
    What difference, at this point, does it make?
    OFFICER SAFETY was maintained.

    1. More than 3/5 of the citizens involved got to go home that night.

  7. In a week, prosecutors and judges will declare justice served after a civil suit against the tax payers of Los Angeles is underway.

  8. Officer Volasgis said?incorrectly, of that we must be clear?”He has my gun.”

    Charly must have been smart. He could simultaneously hold a gun and no gun at the same time.

    1. Sorry. I shouldn’t have written that.

      It’s a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy computer game reference. In order to be able to both hold tea and no tea, and therefore be smart, you had to remove your common sense. Sorry, I shouldn’t have insulted Charly Keunang.

    2. I thought it had a “Flowers for Algernon” vibe…

  9. Murder.

  10. Every cop or individual involved in training that advises these disgusting tactics is culpable for these murders and assaults. If you train them to falsely verbalize that the subject is resisting or trying to take control of a weapon (for the purpose of covering their asses) you are training them to commit crimes. The commission of these crimes are directly leading to death and injury. It is not just morally abhorrent, I think it is also criminal. I want accountability all the way to the source on this bullshit!

    My blood is boiling and I am sick to my stomach watching that…JFC…is there any hope for us?

    1. It’s usually (not always) not the training officers at the academy. It’s something you learn on the job. That’s why there’s no such thing as a good cop 5 years into the job.

  11. I’m still hung up on the “ongoing” investigation which has taken several months already.

    WTF is taking so long? This was a contained incident. There is video and a very limited list of witnesses and evidence to be gathered. I can see it taking a month, giving the crime lab time to do their thing.

    In a world where cops are accountable, and people interested in holding them accountable, the indictment would have come down months ago, he would be suspended without pay (if not fired), and we would be arguing solely about whether he was properly charged (first-degree? second-degree? etc.).

    My prediction? He will be charged with manslaughter, and will plead it down to something that involves little to no jail time. Probably still a felony, though. Probably.

    1. Can I ask you, as IANAL, do you think that if you could show evidence that the officer(s) stating that the victim was attempting to gain control of a weapon (clearly false) were trained to do so that charges for this crime could be worked up the chain? You know, conspiracy to commit assaults and murders…roll these mopes back up on their bosses?

    2. WTF is taking so long? This was a contained incident. There is video and a very limited list of witnesses and evidence to be gathered. I can see it taking a month, giving the crime lab time to do their thing.

      They’re desperately trying to find an excuse/hoping people will forget about it.

      I don’t share your optimism about charges.

  12. Standing armies of the state are a threat to liberty. It says to secure the blessings of liberty, not the state’s shall maintain a monopoly on violence through police departments. Not that they give two shits about the constitution, but the police aren’t constitutional. Justice was private, and never expected to be taken over by some violent coercive monopoly that get their salaries through extortion and benefit from qualified immunity.

    Private security that is funded by the free choices of individuals through their media of exchange and is held accountable by individuals is the only way to respect liberty.

    1. Private police? We can’t have that. They might, I don’t know, murder innocent people!


  13. Nutpunch warning, maybe? The whole world is channel Radley Balko, these days 🙁

  14. In every fight for reform or ultimate justice, there must be a gradual spreading awareness which reaches a tipping point. That tipping point is near. The reputation of the police is at an all time low, anger toward them is palpable and widespread, and the calls for justice for the victims are becoming more and more strident. The media eventually have to respond, because there’s simply too much of it to ignore. Unfortunately many people must die before that state is reached. I believe we are fast approaching that state. If meaningful reform does not then emerge the fuse explodes and a kind of adhoc informal violent reform will then occur.

  15. I would like to know if the cop was making up the thing about the guy having his gun, or if it was true, or if it was false but the cop was just too rattled to think straight.

    I can see the guy having a motive to resist the cops. He’d been convicted of bank robbery, and after being conditionally released, he vanished and they got a warrant out on him for breaking parole.


    So he has violent inclinations, and a motive to get away from police. Which doesn’t mean the shooting was legal, I’d just prefer that we start from there and then see if the cops acted legally in response.

    1. “He was part of a gang accused of robbing a Wells Fargo branch in Thousand Oaks, 40 miles north-west of downtown LA, in 2000. When employees were slow in handing over the money, Robinet pistol-whipped one of the tellers, authorities said….

      “He told investigators in a tape-recorded statement that he wanted to cover the cost of acting classes at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.”


      1. So if this is just cops picking on a “homeless man” at random, just to be harassing, why did they just happen to harass the escaped bank robber with violent tendencies and a motive to resist police?

  16. All cops are liars first and foremost. That’s the primary subject they teach in the police academy: how to lie with sincerity.

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