Po­lice Com­mis­sion to as­sess LAPD killing

Case is first un­der new rules on judg­ing in­ci­dents

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Joel Ru­bin and Kate Mather

As mem­bers of the Los An­ge­les Po­lice Com­mis­sion step be­hind closed doors Tues­day to judge the of­fi­cers who killed Ezell Ford, the panel will con­sider two dis­tinct events.

One is the de­ci­sion to open fire on Ford, which both Po­lice Chief Char­lie Beck and the depart­ment’s in­de­pen­dent in­spec­tor gen­eral have found to be jus­ti­fied af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tors turned up ev­i­dence in­di­cat­ing that Ford grabbed for an of­fi­cer’s hol­stered gun dur­ing a strug­gle, ac­cord­ing to sources familiar with the LAPD’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the shoot­ing.

The other is the of­fi­cers’ ac­tions in the mo­ments im­me­di­ately be­fore the shoot­ing, in which they ap­proached the 25-year-old men­tally ill black man and tried to de­tain him.

The in­spec­tor gen­eral, Alex Bus­ta­mante, has raised con­cerns about whether the of­fi­cers had a legal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to make the stop and con­cluded that their tac­tics were in­ap­pro­pri­ate, the sources said. Beck, mean­while, has urged the com­mis­sion to find that the tac­tics were ac­cept­able, ac­cord­ing to the sources.

Even if the com­mis­sion finds Ford posed a deadly threat, it will have to grap­ple with whether the of­fi­cers’ de­ci­sions and ac­tions be­fore­hand were so flawed that they led to a fa­tal con­fronta­tion that didn’t need to oc­cur

To an­swer this, the com­mis­sion, which over­sees the city’s Po­lice Depart­ment, will need to make sense of ap­par­ent dis­crep­an­cies be­tween Beck’s and Bus­ta­mante’s ac­counts of what oc­curred be­fore the killing, said the sources, who spoke on the con­di­tion they not be named be­cause the com­mis­sion had not yet ruled on the case.

In his re­port on the shoot­ing to the com­mis­sion, Beck in­di­cated the two of­fi­cers thought Ford might have pur­chased drugs shortly be­fore they saw him on a South Los An­ge­les street near his home, ac­cord­ing to the sources. Beck wrote that the of­fi­cers’ sus­pi­cions were based on hav-

ing seen Ford walk­ing away from a group of peo­ple and to­ward an al­ley known for drug use, the sources said.

Bus­ta­mante, how­ever, of­fered the com­mis­sion a sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent ver­sion of events, the sources said. In his own re­port, he em­pha­sized that the of­fi­cers ac­knowl­edged to in­ves­ti­ga­tors they never wit­nessed Ford in­ter­act with the group and that he was 20 or 30 feet away from them when the of­fi­cers first saw him, ac­cord­ing to the sources. No drugs were found on or near Ford, the sources said.

Bus­ta­mante’s and Beck’s re­ports on the shoot­ing have not been made public. Off icers’ ac­tions

The de­tails of what the of­fi­cers saw are cen­tral to de­cid­ing whether the of­fi­cers had a le­git­i­mate rea­son to stop Ford. If com­mis­sion­ers con­clude that the of­fi­cers had no right to de­tain Ford, they could hold them re­spon­si­ble for need­lessly set­ting in mo­tion the con­fronta­tion that ended with the killing.

Sim­i­larly, com­mis­sion­ers will also take into ac­count the way the of­fi­cers, Sharl­ton Wampler and An­to­nio Vil­le­gas, chose to ap­pre­hend Ford. The LAPD has never pub­licly ex­plained why the of­fi­cers stopped Ford as he was walk­ing down the street near his home in South Los An­ge­les.

Upon catch­ing up to him on the side­walk, Wampler grabbed Ford, the sources said. LAPD of­fi­cials have pub­licly said Ford forced the of­fi­cer to the ground and grabbed his gun, prompt­ing both of­fi­cers to open fire. LAPD in­ves­ti­ga­tors found ev­i­dence sup­port­ing the ac­count, in­clud­ing Ford’s DNA on the weapon and scratches on the hands of the of­fi­cer and Ford as well as the gun’s hol­ster, two sources said.

Bus­ta­mante found Wampler’s de­ci­sion to ac­cost Ford fell far out­side the scope of how LAPD of­fi­cers are trained to han­dle such sit­u­a­tions, ac­cord­ing to the sources. Be­cause a per­son could be armed, of­fi­cers are taught in­stead to call out com­mands to a per­son from a place of safety, such as be­hind their open car door.

A de­ci­sion by the five- mem­ber com­mis­sion to find that the shoot­ing vi­o­lated the depart­ment’s pol­icy on deadly force would be a rare ex­am­ple of the panel go­ing against the rec­om­men­da­tion of both Beck and Bus­ta­mante.

Beck would then de­cide what dis­ci­pline, if any, to im­pose on the of­fi­cers. In a hand­ful of pre­vi­ous cases in which the chief was at odds with the com­mis­sion and felt his of­fi­cers had acted ap­pro­pri­ately, he re­fused to pun­ish the of­fi­cers or gave them only a writ­ten rep­ri­mand, a 2012 Times re­view found.

Ford’s death sparked lo­cal anger amid a na­tional de­bate over 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 in­tense de­bate about race and polic­ing.

A re­port Fri­day in The Times that Beck and Bus­ta­mante would rec­om­mend to the com­mis­sion that the shoot­ing was jus­ti­fied, reignited protests. About a dozen peo­ple gath­ered out­side Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Han­cock Park res­i­dence early Sun­day. The demon­stra­tors called on Garcetti to fire Beck and for the Po­lice Com­mis­sion to con­duct its re­view of Ford’s shoot­ing in public. Blocked by protest

Then, on Mon­day morn­ing, Garcetti had an awk­ward en­counter with ac­tivists as he tried to de­part to catch a plane for Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

In a video shot by a demon­stra­tor and posted to YouTube, the mayor can be seen walk­ing away from about a dozen pro­test­ers and en­ter­ing a black SUV parked on a side street be­hind his house. Off-cam­era, some­one shouts, “Why are you sneak­ing out the back door?”

A sec­ond video posted on­line shows the mayor, seated in­side the ve­hi­cle, con­vers­ing with demon­stra­tors for sev­eral min­utes through a rolled-down pas­sen­ger win­dow. In the video, pro­test­ers are block­ing the SUV’s path and Garcetti is seen plead­ing with them to move so he can make his plane, say­ing that he is trav­el­ing to the cap­i­tal to try to se­cure fed­eral fund­ing to com­bat home­less­ness.

“I have to go to Wash­ing­ton right now. This is presched­uled,” Garcetti says through the win­dow.

“You al­ways run,” a demon­stra­tor re­torts.

Only af­ter po­lice of­fi­cers in­ter­vened did demon­stra­tors let the ve­hi­cle pro­ceed. An LAPD spokesman said the depart­ment is in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether an of­fi­cer used ap­pro­pri­ate force on a pro­tester as the mayor was

leav­ing. Test for com­mis­sion

The Ford case is ex­pected to be the first sig­nif­i­cant test for the Po­lice Com­mis­sion since it re­vised its rules last year for how it judges shoot­ings.

For decades, the com­mis­sion has fol­lowed a multi-step process in of­fi­cer shoot­ings and other deadly force cases. In­stead of mak­ing a sin­gle de­ci­sion on whether the of­fi­cer was right to fire, it divides in­ci­dents into sep­a­rate parts.

It first de­cides if the of­fi­cer’s ac­tions lead­ing up to the shoot­ing were ac­cept­able. Then it judges the of­fi­cer’s de­ci­sion to draw his weapon, and fi­nally the shoot­ing it­self.

When judg­ing the de­ci­sion to use deadly force, the com­mis­sion pre­vi­ously took a nar­row ap­proach, ask­ing only whether the of­fi­cer faced a deadly threat at the mo­ment he opened fire. Un­der the new rules, the com­mis­sion still votes on the three sep­a­rate cat­e­gories, but now looks at an of­fi­cer’s ac­tions in the lead up to the shoot­ing when de­cid­ing on the shoot­ing it­self.

The change was prompted by a 2013 Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court de­ci­sion in a case in­volv­ing a fa­tal po­lice shoot­ing in San Diego. In the case, Hayes vs. San Diego, the court made clear that un­der the state’s laws on po­lice shoot­ings the “to­tal­ity of the cir­cum­stances” should be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion when judg­ing if an of­fi­cer’s use of force was un­rea­son­able.

Steve Soboroff, pres­i­dent of the Po­lice Com­mis­sion, said Mon­day that he had asked Bus­ta­mante and oth­ers to ad­vise the com­mis­sion be­fore it votes Tues­day on whether the Hayes de­ci­sion and the changes made to the LAPD’s pol­icy as a re­sult were ap­pli­ca­ble to the Ford case. Soboroff said he also asked that copies of the de­ci­sion be made avail­able to the com­mis­sion­ers to pre­pare for their de­lib­er­a­tion. Robert Saltz­man, an­other com­mis­sioner, de­clined to dis­cuss the Ford case specif­i­cally, but said, “In my view, Hayes al­ways ap­plies when there is a ques­tion about the tac­tics and whether the preshoot­ing de­ci­sion-mak­ing con­trib­uted to the even­tual use of force.”

‘I have to go to Wash­ing­ton right now. This is pre-sched­uled.’ — Mayor Eric Garcetti com­ments to pro­test­ers block­ing his SUV

Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times

AC­TIVISTS HOLD pho­tos of Ezell Ford in protest­ing at Mayor Eric Garcetti’s home. The Los An­ge­les Po­lice Com­mis­sion will con­sider the shoot­ing as well as the of­fi­cers’ ac­tions lead­ing up to the in­ci­dent.

Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times

AC­TIVISTS PROTEST in front of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s res­i­dence over the re­cent rul­ing by Po­lice Chief Char­lie Beck in the death of Ezell Ford. Po­lice in­ter­vened when pro­test­ers blocked the mayor’s SUV.

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