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

January 26, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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.”

 

Hushing Outrage: Police Commission Stands Down

September 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles Police Commission postponed a discussion Tuesday on proposed meeting rules that would prohibit public speakers from making “repetitious, personal, impertinent or profane remarks,” but the proposal still raised the ire of activists who claimed the panel was trying to silence them.

The proposed policy, released on Friday, has also drawn concern from ACLU attorneys who contend the rules may trample on free speech rights and public meeting laws.

Black Lives Matter activists have been attending Police Commission meetings since last year’s fatal police shooting of Ezell Ford, an unarmed black man in South Los Angeles.

Tensions have mounted in recent months, with activists calling for the firings of the officers who shot the 25-year-old man, and today the activists lashed out at the panel itself, saying its members should be replaced.

Commission President Steve Soboroff halted two consecutive meetings in recent weeks because he deemed demonstrations by Black Lives Matter activists too disruptive.

Under the proposed rules requested by Soboroff, anyone who addresses the panel during the formal public comment period would be required to behave in “an orderly manner and shall refrain from making repetitious, personal, impertinent or profane remarks regarding or directed toward any member of the board, staff or the general public.”

The decorum rules also prohibit audience members from taking part in “loud, threatening or abusive language, whistling, stamping feet or other acts which cause a disruption of the meeting or otherwise impede the orderly conduct of the meeting.”

Failing to follow the rules could mean being removed from the board room, and resisting removal could result in arrest and prosecution.

In a letter delivered to the commission, ACLU staff attorney Catherine Wagner warned that the policy’s language could be “construed in ways inconsistent with the protections for free speech in both the United States and California constitutions.”

Wagner wrote that the restrictions against speech that is “personal, impertinent, profane, or abusive” should not be considered “actual disruption” of a meeting. She urged that the board revise the policy so that the act of speaking would not be considered disruptive.

“The board cannot require that public speakers or members of the public who attend commission meetings be courteous, respectful, polite, or even that they refrain from using accusatory, inflammatory, offensive, or insulting language,” she said.

In a response Tuesday to an email from Wagner, Police Commission Executive Director Richard Tefank wrote that after consulting the City Attorney’s Office, he removed the proposal from Tuesday’s meeting agenda and would bring it back “as it is currently drafted or revised” during the Sept. 15 meeting, in an effort to make sure the rules comply with the U.S. Constitution and the state’s Brown Act requirements.

The Commission postponed discussion on the rules, but did not set a date for when the rules will be brought back.

Soboroff told City News Service on Monday that he asked attorneys from the City Attorney’s Office and Tefank to draw up the proposed policy after the recent disruptions, which caused him to stop the meetings.

“I’m not about to let people cancel the meetings of the Los Angeles Police Commission whenever they want to get up and start screaming,” Soboroff said.

Saying he understands public speakers and audience members have the freedom to say what they want, he does take issue with participants who “walk around chanting and ranting” in the boardroom.

“We can’t conduct a meeting when the audience is running amok,” he said.

Soboroff said he is open to the ACLU’s proposed revisions and has his own ideas for changing the language, including taking out the restriction against repetitious remarks. He said he emailed Wagner asking for “wordsmithing” suggestions on changing the policy’s language.

Soboroff said he considers the policy “a friendly way to remind people that we have business to do.”

Melina Abdullah of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter responded to the rules saying they are clearly directed at its members.

The rules are “one of the most blatant efforts to silence an engaged public in recent memory and a direct attack on Black Lives Matter and the black public,” she told CNS.

Abdullah said that instead of seeing the increased participation of Black Lives Matter members “as a nod to the democratic process, the Police Commission has taken a staunchly adversarial stance.”

Soboroff defended his reaction to the Black Lives Matter activists, saying “I know that I have the obligation to listen to abusive statements because you know, people have the right to say what they want to say … but don’t expect me to respond or have to look them in the eye.”

Activists Want LAPD Officer Charged

June 11, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Community activists Wednesday urged District Attorney Jackie Lacey to file criminal charges against an LAPD officer found by the Police Commission to have violated department policy in the fatal shooting of an unarmed, mentally ill black man.

The Los Angeles Police Commission ruled on Tuesday that one officer violated department policy, but another was justified in firing his weapon at Ezell Ford.

In ruling that Officer Sharlton Wampler’s use of deadly force in the death of Ford last August violated Los Angeles Police Department policy, the commission rejected Chief Charlie Beck’s finding that Wampler had adhered to policy.

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, Steve Soboroff said Tuesday.

“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 announcing the decision.

Activists and Ford’s family disagree.

Lacey “should file criminal charges against Wampler,” community activist Najee Ali said at a news conference outside the District Attorney’s Office in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday morning.

“We want justice,” Ali told reporters. “We want Wampler prosecuted — at the very least for assault under color of authority. The community cares about Ezell Ford being shot and killed by the LAPD.”

The commission ruled there was no reason to have detained Ford in the first place and that Wampler badly mishandled the encounter, leading to the fatal confrontation. It said its ruling was based on the “totality” of the circumstances, not just the moment when force was used.

Wampler’s partner, Antonio Villegas, was found to have been much less culpable, with the panel objecting to his initial decision to draw his weapon early in the confrontation but upholding his decision to fire at Ford to protect Wampler.

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.

Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said the union supports Beck’s findings that both officers involved in the shooting were justified and their actions were in policy.

“Chief Beck’s findings were based on facts presented and his over 40 years of law enforcement,” Lally said in a statement. “Every day, LAPD officers are put directly in harm’s way as they face complex situations, unthinkable dangers and split-second decisions all in an effort to protect the citizens of Los Angeles. On the other hand, we are extremely disappointed in the findings of the Police Commission.”

Lally contended the commission was swayed by protesters and external political influences, “resulting in a determination that was purely political and self-serving. We believe the commission’s decision was irresponsible and reckless and was solely made to avoid civil unrest.”

The five-member commission deliberated behind closed doors for several hours before announcing its decision. In a raucous public meeting beforehand, commissioners heard dozens of people urging that both officers be held accountable for Ford’s death.

“I’m begging you, please, please. My son would never grab for no gun,” Ford’s mother Tritobia said. “He wanted to live … 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…”

“Please, think about it. Ezell was mentally ill. He wasn’t a lunatic. He wasn’t suicidal, he wanted to live,” Ford’s mother said. “These officers did wrong. They did wrong.”

Ford, 25, was fatally shot on 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 trying to grab Wampler’s weapon.

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 and concluded that some of the officers’ actions were within department policy and some were not.

Beck will ultimately decide what discipline, if any, Wampler will face. The District Attorney’s Office will review the shooting to determine if any criminal charges are warranted.

Ford’s family filed a federal civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit last September against the LAPD, alleging Ford was shot in the back as he lay on the ground.

According to the lawsuit, Wampler and Villegas — who are named plaintiffs — engaged in an unlawful search and seizure of Ford, denied him due process, used excessive force and violated his civil rights.

“No officer goes to work with the intent of using deadly force,” Lally said. “Officers may be compelled to use force when there is an objectively reasonable certainty that there could be injury to themselves or someone else. In the case of Ezell Ford, the only reason one would attempt to take an officer’s weapon is to use it against the officer, his partner or an innocent bystander.”

Police Commission Goes Against Chief: Finds Some Fault in Ford Shooting

June 9, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

One Los Angeles police officer involved in the fatal shooting of Ezell Ford in South Los Angeles violated department policy, but the other was justified in firing his weapon, the city Police Commission decided today.

Ford, 25, was fatally shot by police Aug. 11 near 65th Street and Broadway. Police said the officers approached Ford, who lunged at one of them and began grabbing for his weapon.

Police Chief Charlie Beck and the department’s independent watchdog, Inspector General Alex Bustamante, each concluded that the officers were justified in their actions, although Bustamante faulted the tactics used by one of the officers.

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, 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.

Beck will now decide what discipline the one officer will face.

“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.

But 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.”

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 commission heard more than three hours of often heated and impassioned pleas from Ford’s mother, Tritobia, and community activists who said Ford was mentally ill and police officers “did wrong,” and justice has to be served.

Ford’s family is scheduled to hold a press conference at 8 p.m. tonight.

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