Chief ’s video up­sets po­lice panel

LAPD’s Beck omits Po­lice Com­mis­sion in nam­ing those who sup­port his of­fi­cers in wake of Ford rul­ing.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Kate Mather

Los An­ge­les po­lice Chief Char­lie Beck stared into a cam­era Tues­day shortly af­ter the Po­lice Com­mis­sion con­demned an of­fi­cer’s fa­tal shoot­ing of a men­tally ill black man to of­fer words of en­cour­age­ment to his rankand-file cops.

“You have my sup­port,” he said in the video mes­sage. “You have the sup­port of the mayor. You have the sup­port of the vast ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple of Los An­ge­les.”

Not men­tioned on Beck’s list of sup­port­ers was the civil­ian com­mis­sion, which had just re­jected the chief ’s con­clu­sion that the shoot­ing of 25-year-old Ezell Ford Jr. was jus­ti­fied. The com­mis­sion found that one of the of­fi­cer’s tac­tics were so flawed that they placed the shoot­ing out of LAPD pol­icy, even though the of­fi­cer was in a strug­gle with Ford over con­trol of his gun. Po­lice union of­fi­cials and many of­fi­cers were out­raged by the de­ci­sion, fear­ing it would set a new stan­dard for how shoot­ings are eval­u­ated.

Beck’s video raised con­cerns among the com­mis­sion­ers. When Pres­i­dent Steve Soboroff saw the record­ing, he sent an email to Beck ask­ing if the “glar­ing omis­sion” of the civil­ian panel was pur­pose­ful.

In an in­ter­view with The Times, Soboroff bris­tled at any sug­ges­tion that the com­mis­sion didn’t sup­port of­fi­cers. “To in­ti­mate that I don’t care or don’t have the best in­ter­ests of of­fi­cers — it’s hurt­ful but it’s so un­true,” Soboroff said. “It’s so out­ra­geous and so against any­thing that I feel or that I’ve ever dis­played.”

Beck told Soboroff that it was not his in­ten­tion to sug­gest that com­mis­sion­ers didn’t back the of­fi­cers.

“It was not in­tended to in­fer lack of sup­port by the Po­lice Com­mis­sion,” Beck later told The Times. “I have viewed it [the video] sev­eral times and I don’t be­lieve it is

rea­son­able to come to that con­clu­sion based on the con­tent.”

The f lap over the chief ’s re­marks un­der­scores the del­i­cate tightrope Beck must walk to calm con­cerns among his of­fi­cers but also show re­spect for the de­ci­sion made by his civil­ian bosses.

It was an­other awk­ward clash be­tween Beck and the com­mis­sion­ers, who have had high-pro­file dis­agree­ments over other use-of­force in­ci­dents, the way of­fi­cers are dis­ci­plined and Beck’s will­ing­ness to work with the panel. When the board reap­pointed Beck last year, they in­sisted the chief com­mu­ni­cate bet­ter about is­sues within the depart­ment as they arise.

Craig Lally, pres­i­dent of the union that rep­re­sents most the Los An­ge­les Po­lice Depart­ment’s 10,000 of­fi­cers, said that if Beck’s omis­sion wasn’t in­ten­tional, it should have been. If the chief had said in the video that the Po­lice Com­mis­sion sup­ported the of­fi­cers, they wouldn’t have be­lieved him, Lally said.

“Are you kid­ding me? Af­ter that de­ci­sion was made?” Lally said. “That just throws the whole video out. The cred­i­bil­ity would have been zero.”

Lally said it was dif­fi­cult for many of­fi­cers to be­lieve that they have the back­ing of the com­mis­sion. The con­cern among of­fi­cers, he said, is whether they will now be un­fairly pe­nal­ized for us­ing deadly force to pro­tect their own lives.

“You can’t say that you sup­port the cops and make a de­ci­sion like that,” he said.

While LAPD of­fi­cers were dis­mayed by the com­mis­sion’s rul­ing, Ford’s fam­ily, many ac­tivists and the ACLU ap­plauded the de­ci­sion.

On Thurs­day, Com­mis­sioner Kath­leen Kim ac­knowl­edged the dif­fi­cult task the board has in ad­ju­di­cat­ing such cases. But, she said, the Ford de­ci­sion “in no way erodes or un­der­mines our sup­port of the LAPD and the rank and file. We re­spect and have great rev­er­ence for the chal­lenges that they face ev­ery day on the job.”

The Aug. 11 death of Ford, who was African Amer­i­can, be­came a lo­cal touch­stone in the heated na­tional con­ver­sa­tion about po­lice of­fi­cers and their use of force, par­tic­u­larly against 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.

A 10-month re­view of Ford’s death came to a dra­matic con­clu­sion Tues­day when the com­mis­sion ruled that one of the of­fi­cers who fa­tally shot Ford in South L.A. acted out of pol­icy — not only by shoot­ing Ford, but in his ac­tions lead­ing up to the deadly en­counter.

Of­fi­cer Sharl­ton Wampler told in­ves­ti­ga­tors he shot Ford dur­ing a fight for his life, as Ford wres­tled the of­fi­cer on the ground for his gun. In­ves­ti­ga­tors found ev­i­dence back­ing the of­fi­cer’s claims: Ford’s DNA on the gun, and scratches on the hol­ster and hands of the of­fi­cer and Ford.

But the com­mis­sion­ers con­cluded that Wampler did not have an ad­e­quate rea­son for stop­ping Ford in the first place. His han­dling of the en- counter, they de­cided, was so flawed that it led to the fa­tal con­fronta­tion.

The com­mis­sion’s de­ci­sion to look at what it de­scribed as the “to­tal­ity of the cir­cum­stances, and not just the mo­ment in which force was used” marked a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone in the way it eval­u­ates po­lice shoot­ings. In the past, com­mis­sion­ers have looked only at whether an of­fi­cer faced a threat at the mo­ment he or she used deadly force.

Wampler, who is Asian Amer­i­can, was work­ing with a part­ner that night, Anto- nio Vil­le­gas, who is Latino. The com­mis­sion dis­ap­proved of Vil­le­gas’ ini­tial de­ci­sion to draw his weapon early in the con­fronta­tion, but said he ul­ti­mately was jus­ti­fied in shoot­ing Ford to pro­tect Wampler.

It is now up to Beck to de­cide whether to dis­ci­pline the of­fi­cers. In the past, com­mis­sion­ers have ex­pressed con­cern that the chief is too le­nient on some of­fi­cers who were found to have vi­o­lated depart­ment poli­cies when us­ing force.

Ir­fan Khan

LAPD CHIEF Char­lie Beck says he was not im­ply­ing com­mis­sion­ers are not sup­port­ive.

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

THE RUL­ING of the Po­lice Com­mis­sion re­jected LAPD Chief Char­lie Beck’s con­clu­sion that the shoot­ing of Ezell Ford Jr. was jus­ti­fied. The video spat is not the first dis­agree­ment be­tween the chief and his bosses.

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