For months, activists and family and friends of the late Keenan Anderson have demanded accountability for the police officers who were involved in the early morning traffic stop that preceded Anderson’s demise.
A recent ruling by the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners likely brings them closer to their goal.
On Oct. 24, the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners ruled that two officers who subdued and tased Anderson during that traffic stop on Jan. 3 violated the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)’s use-of-lethal-force policy.
The board made its decision during the closed-door portion of its weekly meeting. They adopted recommendations that Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore made in a report that had been made public not long before the hearing.
In the report, Moore cited officers’ application of force to Anderson’s windpipe and their use of a stun gun on the D.C. public charter school teacher. Moore also said that five officers didn’t properly search Anderson and failed to quickly place him in recovery position after handcuffing him.
After the commission’s ruling, Dr. Melina Abdullah of Black Lives Matter Grassroots took to the airwaves to reflect on that moment and explain its significance.
“We wished this would have moved more quickly but we’re grateful that it moved in the way that Keenan’s family demanded, the way that Keenan’s spirit demanded,” Abdullah told Dominique DiPrima on “First Thing’s First with Dominique DiPrima.” “Everyone expected it to go the other way. When Keenan’s family heard [the ruling], they said ‘Oh my God!.’ They’re grateful to everyone who organized.”
From L.A. to D.C., A Community Reels
Before Tuesday’s commission hearing, activists representing Black Lives Matter Grassroots held a press conference demanding that the officers be disciplined. In June, Anderson’s family filed a $100 million wrongful death lawsuit.
Anderson was a 10th grade English and Language Arts teacher at Digital Pioneers Academy Public Charter School in Southeast with nearly a decade of classroom experience. In the six months he worked at Digital Pioneers PCS, he had developed a tight-knit relationship with his students, administrators said in a statement released shortly after Anderson’s death.
At the time of his death, Anderson, cousin of Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, had been visiting family in Los Angeles during his winter break. In a statement, LAPD officials said they stopped Anderson for his alleged involvement in a hit-and-run.
Body camera footage released in the days after show Anderson yealing “They’re trying to George Floyd me” before officers tase him. At the beginning of the edited footage, Anderson is speaking with officers before the video transitions to text that says Anderson “attempted to run away.”
When the video resumes, Anderson is seen jogging toward an intersection where he stops and two officers attempt to lay him on his stomach. After tasing Anderson, the officers handcuff him and place shackles on his ankles.
LAPD officials, alluding to a preliminary toxicology screening that detected cocaine and marijuana in Anderson’s bloodstream, said that emergency medical professionals provided Anderson care at the scene before transporting him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The Los Angeles coroner’s office would later rule an enlarged heart and cocaine use as the cause of Anderson’s death.
Digital Pioneers Academy PCS founder and CEO Mashea Ashton revealed that Anderson was the third community member lost to violence. Months prior, Antoine Manning and Jakhi Snider were shot and killed during separate incidents. After Anderson’s death, students, faculty and staff members at Digital Pioneers Academy PCS suffered additional losses — that of Demarcos Pinckney and Jaylin Osbourne.
In speaking about Anderson’s death, Ashton said that young people fear being in situations similar to what their beloved teacher experienced. The tragic situation incited conversation about police de-escalation and how to prevent future deaths of Black men and boys, Ashton added.
A Pattern of Police Misconduct and Next Steps
Anderson counted among the litany of Black men who’ve been killed by Los Angeles police officers. In 2019, the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners found that police officers Ryan Lee and Martin Robles had been found in violation of policy when they shot and killed Grechario Mark.
Lee and Robles shot and shot and killed Mack inside Crenshaw-Baldwin Hills Mall in the spring of 2018. Mack was brandishing a knife while experiencing a mental health episode. The first shots didn’t kill Mack, but Lee and Robles fired additional rounds into his body as he laid on the ground.
At the time, then-Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck conceded that there was a probable violation of use-of-lethal-force policy. In its ruling, the five-person commission said that, when the final shots were fired, neither the officers nor civilians were in danger.
By the time the board made its decision, Moore had been serving as chief for several months. Despite activists’ delivery of letters and meetings with Moore, Moore didn’t fire or discipline Lee and Robles. Today, Lee is a lieutenant in the Los Angeles Police Department.
In 2021, California legislators passed the Police Decertification Act which prevents officers from serving in law enforcement in California once they’re found to have committed serious misconduct.
The decertification process takes a year from the out-of-policy ruling. More than 140 officers that have made the Peace Officer Certification Actions list have either been disqualified from serving as an officer, had their certification revoked, voluntarily surrendered their certification, or had their certification suspended, pending an investigation into misconduct allegations.
Of course, officers can appeal the board decision with the Los Angeles Board of Rights, an entity with the final say in whether officers accused of serious wrongdoing remain on the force.
On Tuesday, several people testified at the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, including Chris Anderson, Keenan Anderson’s younger brother.
In his testimony, Carl Douglas, a lawyer representing Anderson’s family, reflected on his more than 40 years of service representing families affected by police misconduct. He expressed lamentation about, once again, standing before the commission under such circumstances. However, as he explained, his feelings, and his skepticism about an out-of-policy ruling, didn’t take away from what he described as LAPD’s failure to follow protocol.
“Mr. Anderson was a victim of police overreach. He was a victim of officers who failed to realize that he was going through some sort of crisis,” Douglas said.
“Doesn’t matter if it was because of drugs, alcohol or mental illness. Officers are trained to deal with conduct. It was clear that [Keenan] was unarmed. It was clear that he was compliant,” he continued. “It was clear that he was submissive. It was clear that he was outnumbered. He never balled up his fists or tried to kick anyone or said anything of disrespect. Every minute of that interaction is on videotape.”