How Beck, panel split on Ford

Civil­ian com­mis­sion and LAPD chief ap­proached the shoot­ing case from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Kate Mather, Har­riet Ryan and Scott Glover

Both sides agreed on the facts. A 25-year-old African Amer­i­can man walk­ing down a gang-plagued, drug-in­fested block with his hands in his pock­ets was stopped by po­lice.

To LAPD Chief Char­lie Beck, Ezell Ford was a pos­si­ble crim­i­nal, fair game for ques­tion­ing by his of­fi­cers. In the anal­y­sis of the Po­lice Com­mis­sion, Ford was do­ing noth­ing wrong and had a right to be left alone.

The dis­agree­ment be­tween the chief and his civil­ian bosses about whether po­lice should have de­tained Ford at all is at the heart of their con­flict­ing con­clu­sions about his death in Au­gust at the hands of two mem­bers of a gang unit.

Beck rec­om­mended that the of­fi­cers be cleared, say­ing they were jus­ti­fied in open­ing fire on the man as he strug­gled for one of their guns. But the five-mem­ber com­mis­sion re­jected that find­ing Tues­day, ar­gu­ing that be­cause of the of­fi­cers’ “legally in­ap­pro­pri­ate detention” of Ford, the shoot­ing that fol­lowed was un­rea­son­able.

The com­mis­sion­ers’ rul­ing rep­re­sented a sig­nif­i­cant break from past in­ves­ti­ga­tions of deadly po­lice en­coun­ters. They con­sid­ered the en­tire in­ter­ac­tion be­tween Ford and the of­fi­cers, rather than fo­cus­ing nar­rowly on the of­fi­cers’ fears at the mo­ment they pulled their trig­gers.

The shift comes amid a na­tional de­bate about po­lice use of force, par­tic­u­larly on African Amer­i­cans. The com­mis­sion ac­tion met with cheers from civil rights ad­vo­cates, who ex­pressed hope other de­part­ments fol­low suit.

But many in the LAPD rank-and-file ac­cused the panel of cav­ing in to an an­tipo­lice cli­mate fol­low­ing con­tro­ver­sial shoot­ings of black

men in Fer­gu­son, Mo., and else­where.

“They feel that the Po­lice Com­mis­sion aban­doned them for a sus­pect who ba­si­cally tried to take an of­fi­cer’s gun,” said Craig Lally, pres­i­dent of the po­lice union. “They’re scared. They’re wor­ried. What is an of­fi­cer sup­posed to do?”

In an in­ter­view with The Times on Wed­nes­day, Beck ac­knowl­edged that the com­mis­sion’s rul­ing ref lected a “new in­ter­pre­ta­tion” of the poli­cies gov­ern­ing use of force.

“The Po­lice Com­mis­sion and I dif­fer on th­ese things, just like past chiefs and past com­mis­sions have differed,” Beck said.

A 43-page re­port re­leased by the com­mis­sion sug­gested a deep divide in how civil­ians and those in uni­form as­sessed the le­git­i­macy of stop­ping and ques- tion­ing the men­tally trou­bled Ford as he walked along a res­i­den­tial South Los An­ge­les street at dusk Aug. 11.

In in­ter­views with in­ves­ti­ga­tors, the of­fi­cers in­volved — Sharl­ton Wampler, who is Asian Amer­i­can, and An­to­nio Vil­le­gas, who is Latino — noted that there had been a gang shoot­ing in that part of the LAPD’s New­ton Di­vi­sion the pre­vi­ous week. They said gang mem­bers hung out on the block where Ford was walk­ing, with some gang mem­bers con­gre­gat­ing on a couch left on the side­walk. A nearby al­ley was a known drug haunt, they said. They de­scribed Ford as be­hav­ing sus­pi­ciously, look­ing over his shoul­der at their cruiser, tug­ging on his waist­band and con­ceal­ing his hands in his pock­ets.

The of­fi­cers said they de­cided to make a “con­sen­sual stop” of Ford, but that he turned and hur­riedly walked away when they called on him to stop. Wampler told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that he be­lieved Ford was try­ing to dis­card nar­cotics when he saw Ford bend for­ward.

Af­ter re­view­ing their state­ments and other in­for­ma­tion, Beck determined that the of­fi­cers had enough ev­i­dence to con­sti­tute “rea­son­able sus­pi­cion” to be­lieve Ford was com­mit­ting a crime or about to com­mit a crime — the legal stan­dard to de­tain some­one.

But the com­mis­sion­ers found the same set of facts less per­sua­sive. Their in­spec­tor gen­eral noted in his re­port that the of­fi­cers never saw Ford speak with the gang mem­bers or even get within 20 feet of them.

The com­mis­sion­ers con­cluded that Wampler’s “de­ci­sion to ap­proach and phys­i­cally con­tact [Ford] was an un­jus­ti­fied and sub­stan­tial de­vi­a­tion from ap- proved depart­ment train­ing” and that his de­ci­sion to shoot was thus out of pol­icy. The com­mis­sion found Vil­le­gas’ de­ci­sion to shoot Ford jus­ti­fied.

Af­ter the shoot­ing, po­lice found no drugs or weapons on Ford or nearby. His fam­ily said he had been di­ag­nosed with bipo­lar dis­or­der and schizophre­nia.

The com­mis­sion­ers’ con­sid­er­a­tion of the of­fi­cers’ con­duct be­fore the shoot­ing came a year af­ter the group for­mally adopted a new pol­icy al­low­ing them to weigh such ev­i­dence in de­ter­min­ing whether a shoot­ing is jus­ti­fied. The com­mis­sion’s rul­ing shifts the process back to Beck, who will de­cide whether Wampler should be pun­ished.

Beck spent much of Wed­nes­day at­tempt­ing to as­suage the con­cerns of of­fi­cers.

He ad­dressed them in a brief video dis­trib­uted through­out the depart­ment and at­tended roll call meet­ings across the city.

His mes­sage, he said in an in­ter­view with The Times, was that of­fi­cers should con­tinue polic­ing the way they al­ways have, re­gard­less of the com­mis­sion’s rul­ing.

“I know that we have to work through this and have some dis­cus­sions about it, what it means,” he said. “Am I con­cerned that my work­force is con­cerned? Yes. Do I think that the sys­tem doesn’t sup­port them and they have to worry about this le­git­i­mately? No.”

Ford’s death prompted protests at LAPD head­quar­ters and the home of Mayor Eric Garcetti. Ford’s mother, Tri­to­bia, made an im­pas­sioned plea to the com­mis­sion at a hear­ing Tues­day be­fore their de­ci­sion. She and other loved ones later praised the rul­ing, say­ing it stated “strongly, on the record... that what hap­pened to Ezell was wrong.”

David Klinger, a pro­fes­sor and po­lice use of force ex­pert at the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri, St. Louis, called the com­mis­sion’s de­ci­sion “lu­di­crous.”

“What the com­mis­sion is say­ing loud and clear is if you vi­o­late pol­icy about a con­sen­sual stop, your life is for­feit,” he said. “That’s lu­di­crous. That’s the wrong path to go down.”

Klinger, who worked as an LAPD pa­trol­man for two years in the early 1980s, said that if of­fi­cers are go­ing to be sec­ond-guessed about their ul­ti­mate use of force based on their ini­tial con­tact with a sus­pect, “of­fi­cers may as well just fold up their tents and give up.”

The ACLU of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia ap­plauded the rul­ing Wed­nes­day.

“The com­mis­sion’s find­ings vin­di­cate the out­cry from the public and from Ford’s fam­ily and send the clear mes­sage that the LAPD’s killing of Ezell Ford was wrong and should never have hap­pened,” the ACLU said in a state­ment. The group called on Beck to im­pose dis­ci­pline “that re­flects the grav­ity of an im­proper use of force that cost a life. The chief should not un­der­cut the com­mis­sion’s find­ing by im­pos­ing what amounts to a slap on the wrist as has hap­pened in ear­lier cases.”

Ir­fan Khan Los An­ge­les Times

THE REV. K.W. Tulles, left, Na­jee Ali, cen­ter, and the Rev. N.W. Martin hold a news con­fer­ence urg­ing Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey to charge an LAPD of­fi­cer in the Ezell Ford killing.

Rick Loomis Los An­ge­les Times

TRI­TO­BIA FORD, Ezell Ford’s mother, said the com­mis­sion’s rul­ing showed “strongly, on the record ... that what hap­pened to Ezell was wrong.”

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