Florence LAPD shooting
Two LAPD officers in plainclothes were shot at in South Los Angeles, near the intersection where Ezell Ford, an unarmed black man, fatally was shot by police. Photo courtesy of OnSceneTV

After nearly three hours of sometimes-raucous public testimony that caused the panel to briefly walk out of the hearing room, the Los Angeles Police Commission went behind closed doors Tuesday to review the actions of two officers who fatally shot a mentally challenged black man in South Los Angeles.

Before the commission adjourned, however, they heard an emotional plea for justice from the mother of Ezell Ford, 25, who was shot to death Aug. 11 by two LAPD officers near 65th Street and Broadway. Tritobia Ford dabbed tears from her eyes as she blasted a pair of investigations that reportedly concluded the officers were justified in opening fire at her son — who allegedly grabbed for an officer’s gun during a struggle.

“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.”

Behind closed doors, the commission will review the investigations into Ford’s shooting, conducted by the LAPD and the department’s Inspector General, Alex Bustamante. Those reports have not yet been made public, but both reportedly concluded that officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas were justified in opening fire.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Chief Charlie Beck determined that Ford was fighting for control of one officer’s gun, noting that Ford’s DNA was found on the weapon. Investigators also found that Wampler’s hands were scratched, as was the holster for Wampler’s gun.

Police said previously that Ford grabbed one of the officers as they were approaching him for making “suspicious movements.”

“During the struggle, they fell to the ground and the individual (Ford) tried to remove the officer’s handgun from its holster,” according to the LAPD’s official account of the shooting. “The partner officer then fired his handgun and the officer on the ground fired his backup weapon at the individual.”

According to The Times, Bustamante also found the shooting to be justified, although he faulted officers for how they approached Ford in the first place. He concluded that it was unclear if the officers had sufficient justification to approach Ford and and try to detain him, The Times reported.

” How can they not have a reason to stop him, but yet you clear them?” Tritobia Ford asked the commission. “How do you question the tactics, but yet you clear them?

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.

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. The man was later detained and removed from the hearing room.

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. Audience members were urged to calm down so the meeting could continue. The commissioners returned about 15 minutes later and the public hearing continued.

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 issued a statement before dawn Monday, saying he reached out to Ford’s mother, leaving her a message “telling her my heart goes out to her and her grieving family.”

He also said he was confident the Police Commission will “conduct an impartial and fair-minded review of the investigations.”

Jasmyne Cannick, a spokeswoman for the protesters, said the group was angry that it only got a prepared statement from the mayor.

“Garcetti vanishes when issues affecting the black community erupt, leaving City Council President Herb Wesson, who who is black, to face the music instead,” she said.

According to Garcetti’s office, the mayor was traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet with federal officials and will be back today.

Los Angeles Urban Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson called on the commission to delay the discussion until more witnesses to the shooting can be interviewed. Bustamante and LAPD officials have been urging witnesses for months to come forward.

Wampler, a 12-year veteran of the LAPD, and Villegas, an eight-year veteran, were both reassigned to administrative duties afterward.

The Ford family’s attorney, Steven Lerman, said Ford was “mentally challenged,” a fact known to the officers, and was not doing anything wrong when he was stopped.

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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