By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — Family members of Keenan Anderson are moving forward with plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department despite a report released by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s Office that claimed Anderson’s death on Jan. 3 was caused by an enlarged heart and traces of cocaine in his system.
A spokesperson for Anderson family attorney Carl Douglas, a partner with the Douglas-Hicks Law Firm, said the lawsuit will be announced in a “couple of weeks.”
The Anderson family is also represented by noted civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who will be in Los Angeles to join Douglas and the family at the announcement.
“The mere fact that the coroner’s office has confirmed the presence of cocaine in Keenan Anderson’s system at the time of his death will have absolutely no impact on our intention to seek justice on behalf of his family,” Douglas said in a statement. “The body camera footage of the officers who were present does not lie. An unarmed Black man, in obvious mental distress was savagely attacked and repeatedly tased, in clear violation of LAPD policy, by several trained officers.”
Anderson, a school teacher from Washington, D.C., was in town visiting relatives on Jan. 3 when LAPD officers in the Venice area approached him to question him about his alleged involvement in a traffic accident. The police report indicated that several motorists informed officers that Anderson’s “erratic driving” caused an accident.
According to the police report, Anderson was initially cooperative but then tried to walk away from officers, prompting officers to use a Taser on him several times to subdue him. Anderson was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead a few hours later.
Community activists believe the multiple times officers tased Anderson was the main cause of his death.
“I’m not surprised with the medical examiner’s report, but I’m upset,” said Melina Abdullah, president of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles. “The LAPD set up the findings. Keenan was tased six times. Had there been help for him rather than a target on his back, we wouldn’t be in this situation today.”
Abdullah said the Anderson family is planning to have an independent autopsy performed to get a second opinion. Findings in the independent autopsy will likely be used as evidence in the civil proceedings.
Anderson was one of three people in Los Angeles who died in the first week of 2023 after encounters with LAPD officers. Takar Smith and Oscar Leon Sanchez were fatally shot by officers.
Smith and Anderson were unarmed. Both showed signs of mental stress during their encounters with police. Sanchez also might have been dealing with mental stress. He was shot when he approached officers carrying a metal object.
The three deaths renewed calls for more expert assistance for LAPD officers when they engage unarmed people or people with possible mental health issues.
Mayor Karen Bass expressed concern about the medical examiner’s report and reiterated her intentions to help LAPD officers in non-violent situations.
“I remain committed to expanding the public safety system to include health professionals and to ensure that LAPD officers receive the best possible training to assist people in crisis,” Bass said in a statement. “The coroner raises questions that still must be answered. I await the result of the investigation already underway. I know that in this time of pain, it sometimes feels like there is no hope. But we must turn the pain into concrete, substantive change … and we will.”
Bass is facing pressure from Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles and other community organizations to fire LAPD Chief Michel Moore, who was approved in January for a second, five-year term with a unanimous vote by the Board of Police Commissioners.
If Bass doesn’t fire Moore, BLM-LA and other organizations are calling for him to resign.
“We need to get rid of certain people in the LAPD,” said Rev. William Smart, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California. “We have to clean up the attitudes and thoughts in that agency. When you have the right ingredients working together, changes will come.”
After the medical examiner’s report was released on June 2, LAPD officials said the agency will continue investigating the circumstances surrounding Anderson’s death. In a statement, the department laid out several layers of the investigation process, culminating in August with a presentation to the Civilian Board of Police Commissioners.
“The department’s guiding principle in all encounters is reverence for human life,” the LAPD said in the statement. “ No loss of life is ever taken lightly for us as a department or in the communities we serve. We extend our condolences to the Anderson family as they continue to grieve and process this new information.”
The LAPD investigation will go through the independent Office of the Inspector General and the Critical Incident Review Division. Findings will ultimately be reviewed by the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office.
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at email@example.com.