Ezell Ford Update: Autopsy shows gunshot in back at close range; Ford family 'outraged'

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Two LAPD anti-gang officers shot Ezell Ford three times in the right side, back and right arm during a fatal confrontation in South Los Angeles in August, according to a copy of the coroner's report released Monday. 

The report says the gunshot to the back has a "muzzle imprint," indicating that it was fired at close range. Ford, who suffered from a mental illness according to his family, was shot three times by two Newton Division officers after he allegedly tried to grab one of their guns and a struggle ensued.

The toxicology report showed Ford had marijuana in his system. 

The shooting occurred two days after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and sparked angry protests in Los Angeles.

Updates: 

Update 5:56 p.m.: Ezell Ford's mother shows up to memorial near shooting site 

About a dozen protestors gathered at a makeshift memorial for Ezell Ford on 65th Street at Broadway early Monday night. The crowd lit candles as a helicopter hovered overhead. 

Ford's mother stopped by briefly to light a candle but declined to speak to reporters. 

The crowd at 65th and Broadway was peaceful and quiet. Some held signs but most gathered on the sidewalk and hung around the memorial site. 

 

The protesters were the same people that protested outside LAPD headquarters around 3 p.m. Monday, shortly after LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck's press conference about the autopsy report. 

— Alice Walton, KPCC

Update 4:30 p.m.: Ezell Ford family 'outraged' by coroner's report 

The family of Ezell Ford was angry and outraged Monday when they read the coroner’s report on the death of their son, their attorneys said.  The report, which is normally a public document, had been withheld from the public and Ford's family attorneys for more than four months at the request of the LAPD.

Attorney Steven Lerman sat with Ezell Ford's mother and father as they read it together.
"Mrs. Ford was hysterical, angry, beside herself," Lerman said. "Her husband was consoling his wife. He was frustrated, angry and outraged."

"It seems clear to them and myself why the city has been so reluctant to release this report, whereas it clearly indicates that Mr. Ford was killed with a shot to the back," Lerman said.

Attorney Federico Sayre, who represents Ezell Ford's parents in a federal court wrongful death lawsuit against the city and two police officers, said the autopsy confirmed what some ten eyewitnesses have told him about the shooting.

"The evidence from the shooting,  the autopsy, discredits the statements of the police statement that their justification was that he was reaching for their holster," Sayre said.

The city is due to file its response in the wrongful death lawsuit in late January, with a settlement meeting set in March, Sayre said.

— Sharon McNary, KPCC

Update 4:09 p.m.: LA Police Protective League President expects shooting will be 'justified'

People on both sides of the issue said Monday that the reports that will be crucial come later, as investigators finish piecing together the case and Police Chief Charlie Beck makes a recommendation on discipline.

Tyler Izen, President of the LA Police Protective League, said he hadn’t read the Ezell Ford autopsy all the way through yet but shared his prediction about the shooting.

“I expect the shooting will be in policy and that it will be a justified shooting,” said Izen. “Tragic nonetheless but a justified shooting.”

Izen said he is “very familiar” with autopsies since he used to investigate officer-involved shootings and that they document “some significant and important parts of evidence” and usually don’t surprise him.

The Ezell Ford autopsy “should prove one way or another what occurred out there so people can determine whether those actions were in policy or out of policy and whether they were consistent with what we as a society expect from our police officers,” said Izen.

Social commentator Jasmyne Cannick said she looks forward to seeing those more complete reports.

What the public needs to stay vigilant about, said Cannick, is the Force Investigation Division report and the use of force report that would come from LAPD.

"Those are the reports that the chief is going to use to make a recommendation to the police commission — and that discipline can range from suspension to termination," she said.

She said protests in Los Angeles have remained relatively small and calm - when compared to New York and Ferguson, Missouri - in part because Ford’s relatives have so far shied away from the spotlight.

“We just haven’t heard that much from the Ford family,” she said. “People have to be moved emotionally. Until that happens, we may not see a big pickup here in L.A.”

— Alice Walton, KPCC

Update 3:50 p.m.: Small crowd gathers outside police headquarters

A small but rowdy crowd of protesters gathered outside LAPD headquarters in downtown Los Angeles Monday afternoon after the release of an autopsy on the fatal police shooting of Ezell Ford, who was unarmed.

The N.W.A. protest song "F*** da police" was blaring from the speakers of a boom box as about three dozen people wrote angry messages with chalk on the sidewalk. "Murderous LAPD" read one message. Another: "Mr. Charlie 'kill our kids with no regrets' Beck."

Protester Sunshine Sullivan said she was protesting because she is a black woman that has eight black brothers and she has no faith in the LAPD or the autopsy report.

“Beck said Ezell Ford had control of the gun. That’s BS; Ezell ford had a muzzle print in his back,” said Sullivan. “I don’t understand why cops have these tasers and clubs and Mace and feel the need to shoot people."

Sullivan referred to the shootings of Ezell Ford and Michael Brown as the “new lynchings” and said Los Angeles is too passive in the wake of these incidents.

Amari Shakur was protesting because he said he thought the LAPD would say Ford did something to justify the shooting, which Shakur called murder.

“They do this everyday,” said Shakur. “My purpose of being out here is to let them know I’m not going to tolerate it anymore.”

Shakur said he felt police see the public as the enemy and there’s no trust there for him to sit down and talk to LAPD.

“I have no faith in the system at all,” Shakur said regarding possible discipline for the officers involved in the Ford shooting. 

Police officers were visibly posted at city hall entrances and barricades blocked protesters from entering LAPD headquarters.

 — Alice Walton, KPCC

Update 3:21 p.m.: Garcetti: 'full' and 'impartial' investigation still underway


Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who ordered the release of Ezell Ford’s autopsy, said in a statement that he did so because “transparency is key to the trust between LAPD and the people they serve” and that trust contributed to record low crime.

“I believe all of us benefit when objective information is made available, as it is today,” Garcetti said. Garcetti noted that a “full” and “impartial” investigation is still ongoing and urged any witnesses to come forward “without delay.”

“As we end 2014, I am proud that Los Angeles is home to the finest police officers in the nation, and my heart continues to go out to the grieving family,” Garcetti said.

— Jessica Hamlin, KPCC

Update 3:14 p.m.: Police Chief Beck: 'Let the system work'

At a press conference Thursday afternoon L.A. police chief Charlie Beck emphasized the autopsy report is “only one piece” of the investigation. He said the department is conducting a thorough review of what happened and will release a report in a few months. 

"There is a long way to go in this investigation," he said. 

Beck recounted the officers’ version of events.

He said when they got out of their car to speak with Ford as he walked on a sidewalk in South LA, Ford walked away and “attempted to conceal his hands.”

“The officers followed Mr. Ford on the sidewalk to a nearby driveway when Mr. Ford crouched between a car and a row of bushes,” the chief said.

“One of the officers reached for Mr. Ford when Mr. Ford suddenly turned and grabbed the officer, forcing him to the ground.”

“While on top of the officer, Mr. Ford grabbed the officer’s handgun and attempted to remove the gun from the officer’s holster.”

It was at that point, Beck said, "The officer drew his backup gun and reached over Mr. Ford's back and shot Mr. Ford in very close proximity — possibly, probably the cause of that muzzle imprint that's mentioned in the coroner's report. "

Beck said the muzzle imprint is consistent with the damage that would have been done by type of back-up weapon the officer had claimed he'd used in self-defense. 

"Nobody is making any predeterminations as to whether this shooting was in policy, out of policy, legal or illegal," Beck said.  "We are merely presenting the coroner's findings."  

The LAPD police chief stressed that the release of the report is just the beginning of separate investigations by the police department and district attorney. 

Beck called for the press and public to "let the system work" before making judgements. He also called for witnesses to the shooting to come forward. 

"We will find out the truth of what happened that August night," Beck said.

 — Frank Stoltze & Eric Zassenhaus, KPCC

1:42 p.m.: Autopsy shows gunshot in back at close range 

The autopsy, which is normally a public document, was released Monday after months of secrecy caused by an "investigative hold" placed on it by the LAPD. After numerous protests and complaints by the community Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti vowed last month to release the report before the end of the year.

The toxicology report showed Ford had marijuana in his system. 

The two Newton Division anti-gang officers shot Ford, 25, during what an LAPD spokesman called an “investigative stop” in the 200 block of East 65th, two blocks east of the 110 Freeway in South LA.

Ford tried to grab one officer’s gun during a struggle, according to police.

"When he makes an obvious and conscious and deliberate attempt to take the officer's weapon, many times, as in this case, the officer had no choice than to resort to deadly force,” Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger told KPCC shortly after the shooting.

A friend of Ford’s family who said she saw part of the incident told the Los Angeles Times she saw no struggle before officers opened fire, according to the newspaper. An attorney for the family said he has other witnesses who dispute the police account, but has refused to allow them to speak with police or the media.

The family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and the LAPD. It claims police racially profiled Ford and used excessive force against him. Officers "were reckless" and "acted with callous indifference," the lawsuit alleges.

The shooting sparked angry protests in the neighborhood and outside LAPD headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. Many activists compared it to the fatal shooting of Brown, which happened just two days earlier. Both were unarmed African American men.

There have been numerous street protests accusing the LAPD of being too quick to racially profile and shoot at black men, but the protests have been relatively peaceful.

There was concern among police Monday that was about to change after gunmen fired on two LAPD officers who were sitting in a cruiser in South Los Angeles. That prompted a citywide tactical alert as police searched for the gunmen.  Police arrested one man after blockading several blocks in South LA.   The search for the second gunman was eventually called off without an arrest.

Police have not said what prompted the physical altercation between Ford and the officers in August. Family members say Ford suffered from mental illness.

He suffered from a "mental challenge," Dorothy Clark, his grandmother, told KPCC. She would not elaborate, but added that he spoke very little. “He didn’t communicate with anybody. Not even us, his immediate family.”

Tyler Izen, the president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, released a statement Monday afternoon decrying the earlier shooting that appeared to target an LAPD patrol car, calling attacks on police officers "an affront to all citizens."

With regard to the Ford autopsy results, Izen said "we want to remind everyone that the report only provides one set of facts among many hundreds being collected and assessed in the ongoing investigation concerning Ezell Ford...

“LAPD officers are put directly in harm’s way every day as they face complex situations, unthinkable dangers and split second decisions while protecting the residents of Los Angeles.

"Last night’s attempted murder of our officers makes this unequivocally clear. However, no officer goes to work with the intent of using force, much less deadly force, but force may become necessary when there is an objectively reasonable certainty that there could be injury to themselves or someone else.

"As tragic as these situations are, law enforcement officers absolutely have the right to defend their life or the life of another.”

Izen also called for calm in the community, saying that police officers "implore everyone to be peaceful so we can minimize further violence."

Multiple investigations into the shooting continue. The LAPD’s Force Investigation Division and the LA District Attorney’s Justice Integrity Division are assessing whether the officers acted criminally or out of department policy.

- Frank Stoltze, KPCC

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