POLITICS

LAPD Officer Involved In Ezell Ford Shooting Found To Have Acted 'Out Of Policy'

06/09/2015 08:00 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2015
David McNew via Getty Images

LOS ANGELES -- The civilian board that oversees the Los Angeles Police Department ruled Tuesday that one of the officers involved in the fatal shooting of Ezell Ford last year in a south LA neighborhood was acting "out of policy" in his use of lethal force.

The second officer involved in the shooting was found to be acting within policy with regards to use of force. While the identities of both officers are known -- Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas -- the Police Commission did not identify which officer was out of policy.

"This is a tragedy for all involved," Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said late Tuesday. "The Ford family, my fellow commissioners express our deepest condolences."

The commission had deliberated for more than three hours, after hours of tense public comment.

Reacting to the decision, some protestors shouted "Murderers!" inside the LAPD headquarters. Multiple demonstrators outside voiced disappointment to The Huffington Post, saying the decision was simply a "slap on the wrist."

The commission also faulted both officers for drawing their weapons during different moments of the confrontation with Ford.

"This incident has changed all involved in it forever," Soboroff said.

The case for the officer found out of policy now returns to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who will decide what discipline, if any, the officer will receive.

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Members of the Black Lives Matter alliance stage a protest outside Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's home as they try to force him to fire LAPD Chief Charlie Beck on June 7, 2015. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP)

During the public comment period in front of the commission -- with Beck and Soboroff in attendance -- frustration, anger, sadness and disappointment with the LAPD was voiced by dozens of community members. They called for the rejection of a pair of reports from Beck and LAPD inspector general Alex Bustamante that found the fatal shooting of Ford, an unarmed, mentally ill black man, was justified.

The commission considered those reports -- the results of which were revealed by the LA Times last week -- when making its own decision, but was not bound by their findings. Indeed, the commission's unanimous vote on the one officer's use of force being out of policy is a rejection of Beck and Bustamante's reports on that issue.

Many who spoke before the commission Tuesday sought punishment for the two officers involved in the August 2014 shooting. A significant amount of criticism was also directed at Beck, with some calling for his resignation or firing.

"Chief, you're a goddamned train wreck," said one black man dressed in a bright red robe that resembled those worn by the Ku Klux Klan, which he said the police represent. "You're sitting up there like everything is OK. It's not OK! People lost respect in you."

Another speaker threw dozens of sheets of paper on the floor, each one representing a person killed by the LAPD.

Dredric Kennedy, one of dozens of demonstrators who have been gathering in front of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's official residence in support of Ford, characterized the police department as a "racist gang."

One man did defend Beck, saying it's not fair to call him racist given the current diversity of the LAPD force. But his sentiments were followed by jeers from other community members.

The public comment period was frequently interrupted by demonstrators chanting. At one point, the phrase "Ezell Ford's life matters!" echoed through the halls of the LAPD.

Tensions culminated when, about an hour into the comments, the entire commission stood up and left the room to take an abrupt recess. The panel returned about 10 minutes later and the proceedings resumed.

As the comment period neared its end, Ford's weeping mother, Tritobia Ford, pleaded with the panel for justice.

"All my son wanted to do was live," she said. "How can [the officers] not have a reason to stop him, but yet you clear them? Please, I have faith in you yet. He had been stopped before and lived. These officers did wrong."

The Beck and Bustamante reviews both concluded that the use of lethal force by the officers who shot Ford was justified, the commission announced Tuesday. The LA Times reported that department investigators found evidence that Ford had struggled for control of one officer's gun -- a claim that supports the account the officers gave following the shooting.

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On Dec. 29, 2014, a protester writes a chalk message on the sidewalk near the site where Ezell Ford was killed by two LAPD officers in August. (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

Nonetheless, Bustamante, the inspector general, did find fault in the way the officers first approached Ford that night.

What exactly prompted officers Wampler and Villegas to stop Ford the night he was shot and killed is still unknown, as the LAPD has never released an official explanation. But Beck and Bustamante's reports gave the first glimpse into the officers' reasoning. Beck's report said the officers suspected Ford, 25, had recently purchased drugs because he was walking away from a group of people near an alley known for drug use, according to the LA Times.

But Bustamante's report offered a conflicting version of events, saying that the officers told investigators that they never saw Ford interact with the group and that when they first saw him, Ford was already as much as 30 feet away from the group. No drugs were ever recovered on or near Ford, the LA Times reported, citing anonymous law enforcement sources.

The Police Commission decision comes after days of demonstrations outside Getty House, the mayor's official residence, calling for the firing of Chief Beck over his handling of the Ford case. Near the front gates of Getty House, groups of protesters have gathered since Sunday, holding signs, posting photos of Ford and writing chalk messages on the sidewalk.

In 2014, the coroner's official autopsy report ruled that Ford's death was a homicide, noting that he had been shot three times, resulting in two fatal wounds and one nonfatal wound.

The skin around one fatal wound in Ford's back had a "muzzle imprint," which may suggest the shot was taken at close range. The second fatal wound was in the side of Ford's abdomen. The third wound was on his right arm.

Ford died just two days after teenager Michael Brown was fatally shot by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer. Weeks earlier, New York resident Eric Garner had died at the hands of a police officer. The national protests over the deaths of Brown and Garner have also cited Ford's case. The local man's death also sparked multiple protests around Los Angeles in the months that followed.

Police and eyewitness accounts of the shooting vary wildly. Police have said that during a struggle, Ford attempted to pull an officer's handgun from its holster, and in response, the officers shot Ford. But eyewitnesses have disputed that story, saying that Ford was shot in the back while already lying on the ground. One eyewitness said he heard a police officer shout, "Shoot him!" just before Ford was shot three times as he was lying on the ground.

Steven Lerman, a lawyer for the Ford family, described the shooting as "an execution." The family filed a $75 million wrongful death lawsuit last year. Earlier this year, they filed a second lawsuit against both the city and the LAPD that alleges Ford was targeted by law enforcement because of his race.

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