Ezell Ford’s shoot­ing is deemed jus­ti­fied, although the depart­ment watch­dog faults of­fi­cers’ tac­tics.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Joel Ru­bin and Kate Mather

Los An­ge­les po­lice Chief Char­lie Beck and the Po­lice Depart­ment’s in­de­pen­dent watch­dog have determined that two of­fi­cers were jus­ti­fied in fa­tally shoot­ing Ezell Ford, a men­tally ill black man whose killing last year sparked protests and de­bate over the use of deadly force by po­lice, ac­cord­ing to sources with knowl­edge of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Depart­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors found ev­i­dence in­di­cat­ing that Ford had fought for con­trol of one of­fi­cer’s gun, bol­ster­ing claims the of­fi­cers made af­ter the shoot­ing, said two sources who spoke on the con­di­tion that they not be iden­ti­fied be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to pub­licly dis­cuss the case.

Ford and one of the of­fi­cers, Sharl­ton Wampler, had scratches on their hands, and the hol­ster for Wampler’s gun was scratched as well, the sources said. Tests found Ford’s DNA on the weapon, ac­cord­ing to the sources.

The shoot­ing oc­curred Aug. 11, af­ter Wampler and his part­ner, An­to­nio Vil­le­gas, mem­bers of an anti­gang unit in the depart­ment’s New­ton Di­vi­sion, saw Ford walk­ing down a street near his South L.A. home.

Alex Bus­ta­mante, the Los An­ge­les Po­lice Depart­ment’s in­spec­tor gen­eral, found the shoot­ing jus­ti­fied, but he faulted the of­fi­cers for how they ap­proached Ford in the mo­ments lead­ing up to the shoot­ing, ac­cord­ing to the sources.

LAPD of­fi­cials have never of­fered an ex­pla­na­tion for why the of­fi­cers stopped the 25-year-old Ford, but the sources said that the of­fi­cers told in­ves­ti­ga­tors they de­cided to de­tain him be­cause they be­lieved Ford was try­ing to dis­card nar­cotics as he walked. The depart­ment has never pub­licly said whether nar­cotics were found.

Bus­ta­mante con­cluded in his re­port to the com­mis­sion that it was un­clear whether the of­fi­cers’ ob­ser­va­tions were suf­fi­cient jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to ap­proach Ford and then try to de­tain him, the sources said.

And as the of­fi­cers reached Ford, Wampler put his hands on him — a move that Bus­ta­mante found un­ac­cept­able. Depart­ment pro­to­cols in­struct of­fi­cers in such sit­u­a­tions to ad­dress a

sus­pect from a po­si­tion of safety, such as be­hind an open car door.

Ford’s death be­came a lo­cal ral­ly­ing cry against killings by po­lice, par­tic­u­larly those of black men. Ford, who had been di­ag­nosed with bipo­lar dis­or­der and schizophre­nia, died two days af­ter the fa­tal po­lice shoot­ing of Michael Brown in Fer­gu­son, Mo., which prompted na­tion­wide demon­stra­tions and a heated con­ver­sa­tion about race and polic­ing.

Ford was one of 18 peo­ple killed and nine oth­ers wounded in LAPD shoot­ings last year, the depart­ment said. As of Mon­day, po­lice of­fi­cers had shot and killed eight peo­ple and wounded an­other eight so far this year, the depart­ment said.

The Po­lice Com­mis­sion, a civil­ian panel that over­sees the LAPD and makes the fi­nal rul­ing on all se­ri­ous uses of force by of­fi­cers, is sched­uled to dis­cuss the shoot­ing in pri­vate on Tues­day af­ter its weekly public meet­ing.

As with all shoot­ings, the com­mis­sion­ers will de­ter­mine whether the of­fi­cers’ de­ci­sions to draw their weapons and then use deadly force fell within depart­ment poli­cies. The board also will rule on whether the tac­tics the of­fi­cers used through­out the en­counter were ac­cept­able.

Beck, ac­cord­ing to the sources, will rec­om­mend to the com­mis­sion that the of­fi­cers be cleared in all three cat­e­gories, while Bus­ta­mante, whose of­fice con­ducted its own in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the shoot­ing, will rec­om­mend the board fault the of­fi­cers for their tac­tics.

If the com­mis­sion fol­lows Bus­ta­mante’s rec­om­men­da­tion, it would then be up to Beck to de­cide what dis­ci­pline, if any, to im­pose. Of­ten when an of­fi­cer’s de­ci­sion to use deadly force is found to be jus­ti­fied but the tac­tics flawed, Beck opts to or­der the of­fi­cer to un­dergo re­train­ing in­stead of hand­ing down a pun­ish­ment.

Bus­ta­mante and Cmdr. An­drew Smith, an LAPD spokesman, de­clined to com­ment, say­ing it would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate to dis­cuss the shoot­ing be­fore the com­mis­sion is­sues a rul­ing . The two of­fi­cers in­volved in the shoot­ing are as­signed to ad­min­is­tra­tive du­ties, Smith said.

Last year, Beck of­fered a brief ac­count of the shoot­ing. The of­fi­cers, he said, told depart­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors that they shot Ford dur­ing a vi­o­lent strug­gle in which Ford forced one of­fi­cer to the ground and grabbed his gun. The of­fi­cer re­port­edly yelled for help, Beck said, prompt­ing his part­ner to fire at Ford. The of­fi­cer on the ground used a backup weapon to reach around Ford’s body and shoot him in the back.

An au­topsy showed Ford was shot three times, in­clud­ing once so closely in the back that the muzzle of the of­fi­cer’s gun left an imprint.

Ford’s mother was emo­tional when she learned of the depart­ment’s and in­spec­tor gen­eral’s rec­om­men­da­tions Fri­day from a Times re­porter.

“Wow,” Tri­to­bia Ford said softly. “Oh, wow.”

She said that she shared the same con­cerns as the in­spec­tor gen­eral over the of­fi­cers’ de­ci­sion to stop her son, and that she wanted the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment to in­ves­ti­gate her son’s death.

“Why didn’t they just al­low him to keep walk­ing? He wasn’t do­ing any­thing. He wasn’t com­mit­ting any crime. He wasn’t both­er­ing any­body,” she said, her voice break­ing as it rose. “He was mind­ing his own busi­ness.”

The of­fi­cers’ at­tor­ney, Larry Hanna, said his clients had lit­tle choice but to make con­tact with Ford when they saw him turn away and ap­pear to con­ceal some­thing.

“I’m hop­ing the com­mis­sion­ers will see it was within pol­icy,” he said.

Craig Lally, pres­i­dent of the union that rep­re­sents rank-and-file of­fi­cers, de­clined to com­ment on the of­fi­cers’ tac­tics prior to the shoot­ing, say­ing he did not know all of the facts.

But he de­fended their use of deadly force, say­ing the sit­u­a­tion es­ca­lated when Ford grabbed Wampler’s gun.

“The only rea­son you try to take a gun away from an of­fi­cer is to use it against the of­fi­cer or use it against some­body else,” Lally said. “Had that per­son not es­ca­lated to try and get the gun away from the of­fi­cer, this would be a non-event in every­body’s life. The sus­pect dic­tated what hap­pened in this.

“The of­fi­cer has a right to de­fend them­selves,” he said. “They have no other al­ter­na­tive.”

‘Why didn’t they just al­low him to keep walk­ing? He wasn’t do­ing any­thing. He wasn’t com­mit­ting any crime. He wasn’t both­er­ing any­body. He was mind­ing his own busi­ness.’ — Tri­to­bia Ford, on the LAPD of­fi­cers’ de­ci­sion to stop her son


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