LOS ANGELES — U.S. authorities had tried to deport a homeless man fatally shot by police this week in Los Angeles but had to release him after authorities in his native Cameroon failed to provide a travel document, a U.S. immigration official said.
The man, known by his street name “Africa,” was killed by police on Sunday in a videotaped encounter on Los Angeles’ skid row in which police said he grabbed for an officer’s holstered gun as police tried to arrest him as a robbery suspect.
The shooting, which is under investigation, marked the latest in a string of incidents that have put law enforcement agencies across the country under scrutiny over the use of lethal force, especially against minorities, the poor and the mentally ill.
Convicted of armed bank robbery and other charges in 2000, the man had been ordered deported from the United States in 2013 while still in federal prison, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice.
But less than a year before the fatal shooting, he was released because authorities could not obtain a Cameroonian travel document for him. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court order limits the amount of time a person ordered removed can be held awaiting deportation.
“ICE contacted consular representatives for Cameroon,” Kice said, “but Cameroonian authorities repeatedly failed to respond to requests for a travel document.”
The identity of the man, who had been living for weeks in a tent outside the Union Rescue Mission building where Sunday’s shooting occurred, remains a mystery.
Immigration officials initially sought a travel document from French consular officials because the man claimed French citizenship, but French officials informed them he was a Cameroon national, Kice said.
The Los Angeles Times quoted the French consul in Los Angeles as saying the man had stolen a Frenchman’s identity. Astrid le Moine, a spokeswoman for the French Consulate in Los Angeles, confirmed the man was not a French citizen, but gave no further details.
The man was released from federal prison last May, according to federal inmate records under what appears to be his assumed French name. Kice said he was ordered to report to ICE agents and was regularly doing so.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office did not return calls, and officials at Cameroon’s Embassy in Washington, could not be reached for comment.