The sister of Charly Leundeu Keunang, the homeless man who was shot to death by Los Angeles police officers on Skid Row last month, has told KPCC that she is “in a state of shock” after learning of her brother’s death.
Speaking by phone, Line Marquise Keunang declined an interview, but shared details about her brother via a local man she said would act as a family spokesman.
Keunang family spokesman David Singui told KPCC earlier this week that Keunang had been in close contact with his mother and sister who live in Massachusetts, and had even spoken to them the day before he was shot.
“The day before he got murdered, he called his sister. He said ‘I’ll call you tomorrow, my love. I’ll call you tomorrow,’” Singui said.
L.A.P.D. officials said Keunang reached for an officer’s holstered gun as they were investigating a robbery. The incident was caught on videotape and is under investigation.
After his death, the picture of Keunang that emerged was of a failed Cameroonian bank robber who’s been treated for mental illness during his 15 years in federal custody, and had taken the identity of a French citizen – Charly Robinet – to get to the United States. He kept using the name for years. On Skid Row, he went by the nickname “Africa.”
Keunang never told his family that he was homeless, but rather said he was living with a friend, Singui said.
“He didn’t want to tell them that because he didn’t want to worry his mother,” he surmised, explaining this would be frowned upon in the Cameroonian culture. “You don’t want to portray yourself as a failure…because the mother is sick.”
Singui said Keunang immigrated to France in the mid 90s. That’s where French officials have said he obtained a passport, using the last name Robinet.
“Everyone knew him by Robinet. And so he got a passport, somehow, in France. At that time, you can buy it – or someone can help you do it,” Singui said. He said Keunang arrived in the United States in 1997.
He wanted to be an actor. In the 2000 bank robbery attempt – which ended after a pursuit – Keunang told authorities he wanted the money to pay for acting school, according to the prosecutor assigned to the case.
Singui said acting was the reason Keunang came to the U.S.
After his arrest, Keunang and his family lost touch. A missing persons ad on a French internet site in 2001 describes Keunang’s appearance, listing his whereabouts as Los Angeles and his occupation as a “film student.” It also lists the names of his family members as contacts.
Keunang reconnected with his family once he was released from jail, and visited them last fall. He had been planning to move back to Cameroon, where his father was waiting for him, Singui said.
This week, the Los Angeles Times reported that the family would sue the LAPD for excessive force. Singui backed off that statement slightly on Friday.
“Right now, the family’s focus is to bury our brother in all dignity. I told the L.A. Times it has crossed the family members’ minds while in meetings, but it’s not our priority at this point.” he said.