Updated at 11 p.m. June 9, 2015
A Los Angeles police officer involved in the fatal shooting of Ezell Ford in South Los Angeles violated department policy, but another was justified in firing his weapon, the city Police Commission decided Tuesday.
Ford, 25, was fatally shot by police Aug. 11, 2014, near 65th Street and Broadway. Police said the officers approached Ford for acting suspiciously, and he lunged at one of them and began grabbing for the officer’s weapon.
Police Chief Charlie Beck and the department’s independent watchdog, Inspector General Alex Bustamante, each concluded in separate reports that the officers were justified in their actions, although Bustamante faulted the tactics used by one of the officers in approaching Ford in the first place.
The Police Commission, which has the final say on whether the officers acted properly, met behind closed doors for more than three hours reviewing the investigations Tuesday, and concluded that some of the officers’ actions were within department policy and some were not.
When it came to the actual shooting, the commission decided unanimously that one officer violated department policy, while the other did not, commission president Steve Soboroff said.
The commission did not specify which officer was found to have violated policy. The officers involved in the shooting were previously identified as Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas.
The commission also found that one officer violated policy when it came to the tactics used in the confrontation. Both officers were found to have violated policy at varying points by drawing their weapons.
Beck will ultimately decide what discipline, if any, the officers will face. The District Attorney’s Office will review the shooting to determine if any criminal charges are warranted, Soboroff said. A group of civil rights activists will hold a news conference Wednesday calling on the district attorney to file charges.
“This is a tragedy for all involved — the family, relatives, loved ones and friends of Mr. Ford, as well as the involved police officers,” Soboroff said. “To the Ford family, my fellow Police Commissioners and I extend our sincere sympathies for your profound loss.”
Soboroff went on to say the LAPD has the most extensive review process in the nation for use-of-force incidents.
“Our review of this incident has been intense and intensive,” he said.
Beck issued a statement following the commission meeting, saying, “I respect the process and the decision made in this matter.”
Activists who have been clamoring for the officers to be punished for the shooting were still dissatisfied with the commission’s findings. Some people in the audience shouted profanities at the commission members as they walked out of the room at police headquarters, and at least one yelled, “Murderer.”
Activist Melina Abdullah said the commission’s ruling “was not as outrageous as I think most of us were expecting,” but criticized the process that allows Beck — who had determined the officers acted properly — to be the one who metes out discipline against the officers.
“What we want is for Chief Beck to fire Antonio Villegas and Sharlton Wampler,” Abdulla said. “If he refused to do that, we also want Beck gone. We want him fired.”
Autopsy results showed Ford was shot three times — in the right side of his back, the right arm and the right abdomen. The gunshot wounds to the back and the abdomen were both fatal, according to the report.
Ford was pronounced dead in an operating room at California Hospital Medical Center.
The autopsy report noted that the gunshot wound on Ford’s back had “muzzle imprint,” indicating the shot was fired at close range, and that Ford had some marijuana in his system.
Earlier Tuesday, the commission heard nearly three hours of impassioned testimony from activists and residents — including Ford’s mother, Tritobia.
“I’m begging you, please, please. My son would never grab for no gun,” she said. “He wanted to live. That’s all he wanted to do was live. He walked. He walked the streets. I didn’t want him to walk the streets around there because I know it was unsafe. That was his right. And he didn’t deserve to die for it. And that’s all I have to say. Please, please, I have faith in you yet.
“Please, think about it. Ezell was mentally ill. He wasn’t a lunatic. He wasn’t suicidal, he wanted to live. Ezell has been stopped many times by police before and he lived. The officers did the right thing. These officers did wrong. They did wrong. His history, Ezell has been stopped and he complies, he’s respectful. I taught my son to be respectful, all of my children. As well, I respect the police. That’s all I have to say.”
The commission’s meeting became rowdy at times, as activists called for the officers to be disciplined and demanded the ouster of Beck.
One man stood before the commission and tossed handfuls of speaker cards, saying they represented people who had been killed by police.
A woman told the commission, “You know what you can do for us? You can arrest the police who behave as criminals, that’s what you can do.”
At one point, people in the audience chanted, “Ezell Ford’s life matters!” Later, the crowd got more unruly, with the crowd chanting, “They think it’s a game, they think it’s a joke.” The group later broke into chants of “No justice, no peace,” “Shame on you” and “Black lives, they matter.”
With the chants continuing and drowning out the meeting, the commissioners walked out of the room. The commissioners returned about 15 minutes later and the public hearing continued.
One man was arrested outside the meeting for allegedly running back and forth in a hallway and interfering with police officials. Police said the man was booked on suspicion of disturbing the peace.
Over the weekend, some protesters camped outside Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Hancock Park house. Early Monday morning, some protesters surrounded a vehicle taking Garcetti to the airport for a flight to Washington, D.C., and got into a scuffle with the mayor’s security detail.
Garcetti met with Ford’s family at First AME Church in South Los Angeles for about an hour following the commission’s announcement, according to a church spokesman.
“He offered me his support and shared with me his sympathy,” Tritobia Ford said at the church after the meeting.
“He shared some of his personal history with my husband and I and we prayed together and I thanked him for that, even though it was 10 months late.”
Ford declared that “the blood of my son should not and cannot and will not be shed in vain.”
“I together with the support from the mayor’s office, First AME Church and this community intend to see that changes are made that will lead to a better city, a city where a man of color is free to walk these streets without fear that he will be assaulted or harmed just for being black,” she said.
“In these coming months, we will ask some tough questions. We will call to answer those responsible and with God as my witness, we will ask those who killed my precious boy to be brought to justice.”
Ford said “today’s decision shows that the justice system if run by decent and honorable people will find the right answer.”
“I ask that everyone maintain calm and make sure that this important message will not be lost in the sea of anger and violence,” she said.
Earlier at City Hall, Garcetti said his heart goes out to the Ford family.
“Ezell’s life mattered. Black lives matter. All lives matter,” Garcetti said. “… Mr. and Mrs. Ford are my constituents, and the pain they have gone through is something no parent should ever have to experience.”
Garcetti praised the work of the Police Commission, and said the Ford case shows that “we have a system that can work.”
“Every life matters, but due process matters as well,” he said. “We in Los Angeles are committed to a fair and impartial process, and that’s what we saw today.”
Garcetti also hailed the work of LAPD officers, saying, “For every one tragedy we might see, there are thousands of heroic acts that take place quietly.”
Garcetti responded to doubts by activists that Beck could be trusted to punish the officers for their actions, saying that “I fully expect the police chief will enact the appropriate discipline based on what the Police Commission has rendered today.”
Wampler, a 12-year veteran of the LAPD, and Villegas, an eight-year veteran, were both reassigned to administrative duties afterward.
Ford’s family filed a $75 million federal lawsuit against the city last September, contending that Ford was shot while complying with police orders to lay on the ground. The family also filed a complaint in state court in March.
— City News Service
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