Ezell Ford’s mother still hopes for jus­tice

Tri­to­bia Ford is hope­ful de­spite a lack of in­for­ma­tion from the LAPD

Los Angeles Times - - LOS ANGELES - By Kate Mather kate.mather@la­times.com

Nearly 10 months af­ter Ezell Ford was shot and killed by two Los An­ge­les po­lice of­fi­cers, his mother said the same ques­tions re­peat­edly run through her mind:

Why did po­lice stop her el­dest son if he hadn’t com­mit­ted a crime? Why didn’t they use a Taser in­stead of shoot­ing him? Why hasn’t more in­for­ma­tion been re­leased? Doesn’t she de­serve to know more?

Tri­to­bia Ford said she con­stantly scours the In­ter­net for ar­ti­cles, po­ten­tial wit­nesses and any­thing new about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into her son’s death. Her fam­ily some­times hides her phone, just so she’ll stop look­ing.

In an in­ter­view with The Times, her first since the days af­ter her son’s Aug. 11 death, Ford said she was frus­trated by the lack of in­for­ma­tion from the LAPD. She said she felt dis­re­spected by the se­crecy, like her fam­ily’s grief didn’t mat­ter to po­lice.

“I’ve been nice. I’m try­ing to wait,” she said. “I’m tired of wait­ing.”

The fa­tal shoot­ing of Ezell Ford, 25, in South L.A. be­came a lo­cal ral­ly­ing cry against po­lice killings, par­tic­u­larly those of black men. Ford, who was black and had been di­ag­nosed with bipo­lar disor­der and schizophre­nia, died two days af­ter the fa­tal po­lice shoot­ing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., prompt­ing na­tion­wide demon­stra­tions and a heated con­ver­sa­tion about race and polic­ing.

Tri­to­bia Ford said she now pays at­ten­tion to other deadly shoot­ings by of­fi­cers across the coun­try. She said she prays her son’s death will re­sult in some sort of change — in poli­cies, po­lice ac­count­abil­ity, the way in­ves­ti­ga­tions are con­ducted. She cried as she de­scribed her hope that her six younger chil­dren would grow up with­out fear­ing the po­lice.

“I just be­lieve that God won’t al­low Ezell’s life to be just taken like this in vain. There will be some jus­tice for Ezell,” she said. “I’ve been told I’m crazy. But I have to hold on to that.”

Ford’s com­ments come as au­thor­i­ties con­tinue to in­ves­ti­gate the shoot­ing. Sep­a­rate re­views are be­ing con­ducted by the Los An­ge­les County district at­tor­ney’s of­fice, the LAPD and the Po­lice Com­mis­sion’s in­spec­tor gen­eral.

LAPD of­fi­cials said their use-of-force in­ves­ti­ga­tions of­ten take seven or eight months to com­plete, then sev­eral more weeks to be re­viewed and pre­sented to the Po­lice Com­mis­sion. The de­part­ment gen­er­ally doesn’t up­date rel­a­tives of peo­ple shot or the of­fi­cers who shot them dur­ing such in­ves­ti­ga­tions, the of­fi­cials said.

Cmdr. An­drew Smith, a de­part­ment spokesman, said the LAPD hoped to present its in­ves­ti­ga­tion to the Po­lice Com­mis­sion “as quickly as pos­si­ble” but de­clined to say when that might be.

He said LAPD of­fi­cials had spo­ken with the Ford fam­ily but did not elab­o­rate, cit­ing the fam­ily’s right to pri­vacy.

Tri­to­bia Ford said her fam­ily wants an­swers, or at least an apol­ogy, from the LAPD. She and her hus­band have sued the de­part­ment, al­leg­ing the of­fi­cers used ex­ces­sive force in their son’s death.

She ac­knowl­edged that her son had run afoul of the law in the past — court records show he had con­vic­tions for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion and il­le­gally pos­sess­ing a loaded firearm. But she said she did not be­lieve the ac­count the LAPD has so far pro­vided about the shoot­ing.

Last year, LAPD Chief Char­lie Beck said the of­fi­cers told in­ves­ti­ga­tors they shot Ezell Ford dur­ing a vi­o­lent strug­gle in which he forced one of­fi­cer to the ground and grabbed his gun. The de­part­ment has not said why the of­fi­cers stopped Ford.

“He feared the po­lice, he knew they had power,” Tri­to­bia Ford said. “There’s no way that any­one could ever con­vince me that my son grabbed their gun.”

Oth­ers have ques­tioned the po­lice ac­count. Soon af­ter the in­ci­dent, one uniden­ti­fied man told KTLA-TV Chan­nel 5 that Ford was shot in the back while ly­ing down, an ac­count that con­trib­uted to a back­lash on so­cial me­dia against the LAPD.

An at­tor­ney for the of­fi­cers has said they feel ter­ri­ble about Ford’s death but acted ap­pro­pri­ately.

Tri­to­bia Ford said she was up­set to learn from an of­fi­cial within the LAPD’s Force In­ves­ti­ga­tion Di­vi­sion that she prob­a­bly would never know if any dis­ci­pline is im­posed on the of­fi­cers. Un­der Cal­i­for­nia law, po­lice dis­ci­pline is con­fi­den­tial.

“Why don’t I have the right to know?” Ford said.

A few days af­ter her son died, Ford said, she called the coro­ner about her son’s au­topsy. She was told it was un­der a se­cu­rity hold, mean­ing po­lice had asked coro­ner’s of­fi­cials not to dis­close their find­ings.

The Fords spent their Christ­mas hol­i­day won­der­ing when the report would be re­leased.

“It was a liv­ing hell to have to wait that long,” Ford said.

The report wasn’t made pub­lic un­til late De­cem­ber, af­ter South L.A. res­i­dents crit­i­cized the LAPD over the de­lay and Mayor Eric Garcetti or­dered the de­part­ment to lift its hold.

The au­topsy said Ford had been shot three times, in­clud­ing once so closely in the back that the muz­zle of the of­fi­cer’s gun left an im­print.

Un­til then, Tri­to­bia Ford said, she didn’t want to be­lieve the ru­mors that the of­fi­cers had shot her son in the back.

Ford said she hadn’t said much pub­licly about her son’s death be­cause she didn’t want oth­ers to see her anger or sad­ness. She said she wished she had spo­ken out ear­lier and joined some of the protests.

Ford has trou­ble sleep­ing and eating now. She misses her son’s laugh, his smile, his smell. She misses the way he would come up and hug her as she cooked din­ner, or sim­ply touch her arm. Her other sons don’t do that, she said.

Some days she drives down the street and sees young men who re­mind her of Ezell.

“I think, ‘ Damn,’” she said. “‘Why is my boy gone?’”

Pho­tog raphs by Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

TRI­TO­BIA FORD stands at a me­mo­rial for her el­dest son, Ezell, who was fa­tally shot by LAPD of­fi­cers in Au­gust. “I just be­lieve that God won’t al­low Ezell’s life to be just taken like this in vain,” she says.

A ME­MO­RIAL for Ezell Ford lies at the scene of his killing at 65th Street and Broad­way in South L.A.

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