Los Angeles Police Department officials Thursday released the names of two officers involved in the fatal shooting of Ezell Ford, a mentally ill African American man who allegedly tried to grab one of the officer's guns after they approached him in his South Los Angeles neighborhood Aug. 11.
The LAPD named Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas, both Newton Division gang enforcement officers with at least seven years on the force, according to LAPD Commander Andrew Smith.
The killing of Ford, 25, has been controversial. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck was confronted by angry residents at a recent meeting at South L.A.'s Paradise Baptist Church. Ford's mother has said the shooting was unjustified, and hundreds of people attended a recent protest outside police headquarters. Some people have compared the incident to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Civil rights activists criticized the department's decision to withhold the names of the officers for two weeks. In a statement, the department said it was guarding against retaliation.
"In this particular case, it was necessary to investigate evidence brought to the Department's attention regarding potential threats to the safety of the officers and ensure that measures were taken to mitigate those threats."
The statement did not elaborate on the threats.
"I am glad to see LAPD release these names and give the community some of the answers they are seeking, as we all look to heal from this incident," said City Councilman Curren Price, who represents the area where the shooting took place. "I will continue to do everything I can to hold the Police Department accountable."
One question in the case remains - why officers approached Ford in the first place. A written statement from the LAPD after the shooting said officers were conducting an "investigative stop."
The LAPD has placed a "security hold" on Ford's autopsy, saying they wanted to avoid tainting witness testimony.
In a 2011 civil lawsuit that was later dismissed, Wampler and another officer were accused of punching, kicking and pepper spraying members of the Hernandez family at their South Los Angeles home. According to the lawsuit, the officers walked onto the front lawn and starting harassing family members around 9pm on August 30, 2009. The incident escalated when Daniel Hernandez “lost his grip” on a water hose and “accidentally sprayed a small amount of water on the foot of one of the officers,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says either Wampler or Officer Alfred Garcia - it does not say who - pepper sprayed Hernandez in the face and dragged him to a children’s pool that was set up in the front yard.
“Defendants began forcing Hernandez’s head and face into the pool which made breathing impossible for him,” the lawsuit said. When Hernandez’s parents came outside to intervene, the officers threatened them with arrest.
In a court document filed by the Los Angeles City Attorney, Wampler denied the accusations.
“The force used against Plaintiffs, if any, was caused and necessitated by the actions of Plaintiffs, and was reasonable and necessary for self defense…and necessary for the defense of others.”
The case was dismissed in 2012. Attempts to reach the parties involved were unsuccessful.
Wampler and Villegas remain on paid administrative leave.
This story has been updated.