D.A. Will Not Charge LAPD Officers in Ezell Ford Shooting

Coalition says it will seek to recall district attorney.

By City News Service

A coalition of religious and community groups announced Wednesday it plans to begin a recall effort targeting Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey over her decision not to prosecute the two Los Angeles police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Ezell Ford.

The District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday that no charges will be filed against the two officers. Ford’s 2014 death has been a focal point of protests against the Los Angeles Police Department over police shootings of black suspects.

In a 28-page report detailing its investigation into Ford’s Aug. 11, 2014, shooting death, the District Attorney’s Justice System Integrity Division concluded that Los Angeles police Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas “acted lawfully in self-defense and in defense of others.”

“Lacey has betrayed the trust of our community and has essentially been useless in terms of protecting our citizens from police murder and abuse,” a coalition statement said. “Ezell Ford was killed while walking home minding his own business.”

The coalition was described in the statement as including the National Action Network, Project Islamic Hope, Weller Street Baptist Church and a coalition of activists.

The mother of Ezell Ford said Tuesday the decision by prosecutors not to charge the officers involved means her son “will not see justice.”

Speaking to reporters at First AME Church in South Los Angeles, Tritobia Ford said the officers involved are getting away with murder.

“My son was unarmed. He was murdered. And there will be no justice. He will not see justice. There will be no justice for Ezell,” she said.

Ford said that even after the city Police Commission ruled the shooting was out of policy, she did not believe that LAPD Chief Charlie Beck would discipline the officers.

Ford’s family, which sued the department over the shooting in 2015, contended that Ford was “mentally challenged” and wasn’t doing anything wrong when he was approached by the officers.

In a statement, Lacey said, “Our office has a daunting challenge each and every time there is an officer-involved shooting. In this case, we did everything we could to ensure a comprehensive investigation. Although the loss of Mr. Ford’s life is tragic, we believe the officers’ actions were legally justified and the evidence supports our decision.”

Police and prosecutors said the two LAPD Newton Area gang enforcement officers approached Ford, 25, because he was acting suspiciously and may have been trying to discard an illegal substance. A struggle ensued.

“… The evidence indicates that Ford was on top of Wampler, struggling to obtain Wampler’s primary service weapon and posing an immediate threat to his safety and his partner’s safety,” according to the District Attorney’s Office report.

“In fear for their lives, Villegas and Wampler each responded with deadly force.”

Ford — who was shot three times — was taken to California Medical Center Hospital, where he died less than two hours later.

The front portion of Wampler’s holster subsequently tested positive for Ford’s “touch” DNA — with the DNA either coming from Ford’s sweat, skin or saliva because the area tested negative for blood, according to the report.

“This corroborates that Ford’s hand was touching Wampler’s holster during this incident,” prosecutors wrote in the report.

Blood stains on the front of Wampler’s utility belt and uniform shirt are consistent with Ford lying on top of Wampler when he was shot, and Wampler’s uniform appeared to have dirt on the back of the shirt and the pants, prosecutors wrote in the report.

Four witnesses made statements that differed substantially from the officers’ accounts in several areas, with each saying that one or both of the officers were on top of Ford, according to the report.

“If Ford was on the ground and one or both officers were on top of him, it is unlikely that he would have gunshots to both his front and back,” prosecutors wrote in the report.

A witness who was unaware of Wampler’s presence at the scene said she heard Villegas state, “Let go of the gun!” according to the report.

Villegas shot Ford twice, and Wampler pulled out his back-up weapon with his left hand, reached around Ford’s body and shot him once in the back, prosecutors said.

The report comes after what the District Attorney’s Office called a thorough and exhaustive review that included access to more than 1,000 pages of deposition transcripts of nine people whose testimony cannot be made public because of a federal court protective order.

“Although there were obstacles along the way, obtaining these statements was crucial to frame the entire picture of what happened the night Mr. Ford was shot,” Lacey said.

The city Police Commission ruled in 2015 that one of the officers in the shooting was justified in opening fire, but the other violated department policy. The commission did not specify which officer acted improperly.

Ford’s parents sued the city, but a tentative settlement was reached last year.

According to the lawsuit filed in March 2015, Wampler and Villegas — who were named defendants along with the city and LAPD — “intentionally and/or negligently fatally shot unarmed decedent Ezell Ford multiple times with their firearms” after he had complied with their order to lie on the ground.

The officers knew Ford was “mentally challenged” and that he was not committing a crime at the time, the lawsuit stated.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents LAPD officers, issued a statement in support of the District Attorney’s Office decision against filing charges.

“No officer ever wants to be put in a dangerous situation where they must struggle to maintain control of their weapon, but officers must be allowed to protect themselves, their partners and the public,” according to the union.

Mayor Eric Garcetti issued a statement saying he accepts the decision, but he will ”rededicate my administration to the search for better ways to protect the safety of all Angelenos, and reiterate my support for the Police Commission’s goal of reinforcing de-escalation in the training of our officers.”

 

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January 26, 2017  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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