Residents in a Long Beach neighborhood are outraged over the shooting death of Roketi Su’e, 46, who was allegedly killed Saturday by Long Beach police about 7 p.m.
The incident occurred in a cul-de-sac in the 3400 block of 67th Way in North Long Beach as Su’e was walking home from a birthday party.
Police say that Su’e, who was of Samoan ancestry, fought with officers, but witnesses said he was shot as he lay unarmed on the sidewalk.
“He had no shirt on. He didn’t have a weapon. He never carried a weapon,” Su’e’s niece, Lagilelei Saolotoga, 36, told news sources. Saolotoga said she ran to her uncle when she heard gunshots.
Family members said Su’e was terminally ill with lung cancer and suffered from schizophrenia, but was nonviolent and was diagnosed as “childlike.”
Police said an angry crowd of about 40 people formed following the shooting in the largely Samoan community, and police called for backup. No one else was injured, but the community remains upset over the death.
Police were originally called about a man behaving erratically, said Nancy Pratt of the Long Beach Police Department.
Police allege that Su’e charged at them and appeared unfazed by blows from police batons or a stun gun, causing officers to think he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Pratt said that Su’e grabbed one of the officer’s batons and punched him in the face, causing them to fall to the ground. The other officer, “fearing for his partner’s safety as well as his own,” fired at Su’e, she said.
But witnesses to the incident disagreed with the police’s version of events.
“Police asked him to get down,” Su’e’s nephew, Uli Toomalatai, told news sources. “He didn’t listen (because he was) mentally ill, and they tasered him. He went down, and after that they started kicking him.”
Other witnesses claim that when police exited their squad car they hit Su’e’s leg with their batons, tasered him until he was on his stomach, and then shot him up to six times in the back.
Chrystal Pagota, 23, one of those whose birthday was being celebrated, said, “As soon as the (police) car comes, the door is already halfway open and the man jumps out with his billy club. It was like they were already ready to come out and attack him and they didn’t even know who he was,” she said.
Pagota said that one of the officers shot Su’e as he lay on the sidewalk. The incident was witnessed by about a dozen children who had attended the party.
Tomicka Rollerson, 30, who is a nurse and hosted the party, said that an officer pointed a gun at her and she was later handcuffed and put in the back seat of a police car for about 20 minutes.
Su’e, who had been residing in Texas, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and schizophrenia about two years ago. He had returned to Long Beach from Texas after his wife died. He was living with his sister at the time of the incident.
La-auli To-omalatai, 37, of Arcadia said that when the police would show up, Su’e would go without any resistance.
To-omolatai said the family is considering legal action.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable held a press conference on the street where Su’e was gunned down and said that the community is angry over the shooting. “The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable and the Los Angeles Civil Rights Association demand a fast track federal investigation into the shooting death of Su’e,” declared Hutchinson. “We are supporting the number of eyewitnesses who dispute the police version and the circumstance surrounding Mr. Su’e’s death.”
Hutchinson delcared that it was crucial that the Justice Department launch a full scale, fast track investigation into the shooting of Mr. Su’e to determine if the officers were guilty of excessive force and civil rights violations. “We have no confidence in the ability of Long Beach Police officials to conduct an independent impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding the killing of Mr. Su’e. This is why it’s so important for the Justice Department and the U. S. District attorney to fast track an independent probe into Mr. Su’e’s murder.”
Hutchinson also mentioned the recent murder of 19-year-old Michael Byoune, who was unarmed when he was allegedly shot and killed by Inglewood police.