LOS ANGELES – A homeless man who was killed by Los Angeles police on Skid Row was living under an assumed name and was wanted for violating probation terms for a bank robbery conviction, French and U.S. officials said Tuesday.
A law enforcement official identified Charley Saturmin Robinet, 39, as the man police shot Sunday. The official wasn't authorized to speak publicly and talked to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
But Axel Cruau, the consul general for France in Los Angeles, said the man stole the identity of a French citizen and was living in the United States under an assumed name. He had applied for a French passport in the late 1990s to come to the United States to "pursue a career in acting."
Using the name Robinet, the man was identified as a French national in 2000 when he was convicted of robbing a Wells Fargo branch and pistol-whipping an employee in an effort to pay for acting classes at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.
That arrest spurred the consulate to provide the man with support, but as he was nearing his release from prison in 2013, officials found another Robinet in France with the same birthdate and discovered the one in the U.S. was an imposter, Cruau said.
"The real Charley Robinet is in France apparently living a totally normal life and totally unaware his identity had been stolen years and years ago," Cruau said.
While in federal prison in Rochester, Minnesota, the bank robber known as Robinet was assigned to the mental health unit, and federal officials said medical staff determined he was suffering from "a mental disease or defect" that required treatment in a psychiatric hospital, documents show.
He served roughly 13 years in prison and then spent six months in a halfway house before being released in May 2014, said Ed Ross, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons.
Foreign nationals are typically deported after serving criminal sentences. But in this case, France would not take the man, since he wasn't really a French citizen. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that immigration authorities could not detain people indefinitely because no country is willing to take them. So once his sentence was served, the man known as Robinet was let free. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said she couldn't immediately comment on his immigration history.
Under the terms of the man's release, he was required to provide reports to his probation officer at the beginning of each month, Deputy U.S. Marshal Matthew Cordova said. When he failed to do so in November, December and January, a federal warrant was issued Jan. 9.
The confrontation that ended in the man's death Sunday was recorded on a bystander's cellphone and viewed millions of times online. Authorities said Robinet tried to grab a rookie officer's gun before three other officers shot him.
The violence had echoes of the August police shooting of 25-year-old Ezell Ford, whose death in a struggle with Los Angeles officers brought demonstrations in the city. Ford was unarmed and police said he was shot after reaching for an officer's gun.
The three officers who fired their weapons in the struggle were veterans of the Skid Row beat who had special training to deal with mentally ill and other people in the downtrodden area, police leaders said.
But the rookie officer who cried out that the man had his gun, leading to the shooting, had considerably less experience, and police didn't immediately say how much training he had received in dealing with mentally ill people. All officers must go through at least an 11-hour course.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said some of the veteran officers had "completed our most extensive mental illness training over a 36-hour course." Initial signs showed the officers used what they had learned during the confrontation, despite the outcome, he said.
"The way you have conversations, the way you offer options, the way that you give some space, the body language that you portray, the way that you escalate, all of that is part of the training," Beck said Monday. "I will make judgment on that when I review the totality of the investigation, but on the face of it, it appears they did try all of that."
Several dozen people rallied Tuesday in protest of the shooting and observed a moment of silence.
Though the shooting was captured on multiple videos and two officer-worn cameras, exactly what happened remains unclear.
Video showed the homeless man reaching toward the rookie officer's waistband, Beck said. The officer's gun was later found partly cocked and jammed with a round of ammunition in the chamber and another in the ejection port, indicating a struggle for the weapon, the chief said.
"You can hear the young officer who was primarily engaged in the confrontation saying that 'He has my gun. He has my gun,'" Beck said. "He says it several times, with conviction."
The three other officers then opened fire.
Beck said the officers had arrived to investigate a robbery report and the homeless man refused to obey their commands and became combative.
A security camera outside a homeless shelter about 75 feet away showed the man pushed over a neighbor's tent and the two people had a dispute. When officers arrived, the suspect turned and jumped into his tent. The man jumped out, flailing and kicking before ending up on the ground.
Beck said officers didn't know if the suspect was arming himself. Stun guns "appeared to have little effect, and he continued to violently resist," Beck said.
As the man took swings, four officers wrestled him to the ground. The struggle became blurry and distant, but shouting could be heard, followed by five apparent gunshots.
The Los Angeles Police Department's inspector general and the city's district attorney are investigating.
Two of the officers suffered minor injuries, including the rookie officer, who is on crutches. All four officers are on paid leave.