City approves $1.5 million settlement with family of man killed by LAPD officers

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The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a $1.5 million settlement with the family of Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old who was shot and killed by LAPD officers nearly three years ago in South Los Angeles.

Ten of the 12 councilmembers voted in favor of the settlement.

"It's a financial settlement that will hopefully bring some peace to the family," said Councilman Curren Price, who voted in favor of the settlement. He represents the 9th District, the area in which Ford was shot.

"It's very troubling the way the shooting unfolded," Price said.

Mitch Englander and Joe Buscaino — both LAPD reserve officers — cast votes against settling the wrongful death lawsuit, which was brought by Ford's parents, Edsell and Tritobia Ford. Their son, a mentally ill black man, was unarmed when he was shot by LAPD officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas along 65th Street near Broadway.

Police said Ford was struck by shots fired by both officers after he knocked Wampler to the ground and struggled over the officer's gun. The entire incident took just 13 seconds from the moment officers stepped out of their patrol car to the time shots were fired.

The shooting occurred just two days after a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed Michael Brown, sparking intense protests around the country. Ford's death became a focus of the Black Lives Matter supporters in Southern California.

Buscaino called the shooting tragic. But he pointed to a recent determination by the L.A. County District Attorney's office that DNA and other evidence indicated Ford attempted to grab Wampler's gun.

"... I strongly feel the officers did their due diligence and handled the incident righteously," Buscaino said, adding the city may have faced a larger settlement had the lawsuit reached a jury.

"So this was a fiscally responsible settlement," he said.

Craig Lally, the president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, told The Associated Press the settlement sends the wrong message. He called the settlement "unfortunate" and said the city has a "fiscally irresponsible pattern of settling civil claims."

The settlement comes 15 days after the district attorney's office announced the officers would not face criminal charges in connection with the shooting. The decision closed the case after more than two years of investigation.

District Attorney Jackie Lacey said evidence showed Wampler and Villegas acted in self-defense when they shot Ford.

Lacey's decision aligned with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who had said an internal investigation led him to conclude that Wampler and Villegas acted within departmental guidelines in the use of deadly force.

However, the L.A. Police Commission and its Inspector General Alex Bustamante disagreed with Beck.

In June 2015, the commission and inspector general found Wampler's tactics — his decision to pursue and stop Ford on the street — to be outside of departmental guidelines. Because of that, the commission ruled that the officer's decision to use deadly force violated policy as well. Villegas generally acted within department policy, the commission determined, though it did take issue with the way he unholstered his weapon when stepping out of the patrol car prior to the shooting.

Officer discipline is confidential because it's considered a personnel matter, decided by Beck. However, Wampler and Villegas have been on desk duty since the department began its investigation into the shooting, according to a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by the officers in August in Los Angeles Superior Court against the city.

The lawsuit states the officers have been denied other opportunites and compensation because of their race — Wampler is white and Villegas is Hispanic — and the police commission is "an inexperienced group of political appointees" without the authority to punish the officers.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called the settlement "appropriate, given the circumstances."

"Clearly it's been a difficult experience for the family, who can’t bring back their son," he said, pointing out the officers have also faced difficult circumstances.

"They've gone through an incredibly traumatic set of months," he said.

Family members and city attorneys reached a conditional settlement in late October. However, the settlement amount remained under wraps as it was considered by the city's Claims Board and the city council's Budget and Finance Committee.

The city council has approved nearly $300 million in settlements related to LAPD cases over about the last 12 years. They represent about 48 percent of the city's settlements approved since July 1, 2005, according to city data. Combined settlements from different bureaus of the Public Works Department account for the next largest percentage: 23 percent of all settlements, totaling $106.4 million.

Recently, the council approved a string of settlements related to on-duty officer-involved shootings. In mid-December, the city council approved three such settlements on the same day that totaled more than $8 million.

One — a $4 million settlement — stemmed from the shooting death of 29-year-old Brendon Glenn, a homeless man killed by an LAPD officer in Venice in 2015.

The average annual salary of an officer who just entered the academy is about $59,700, an LAPD spokesman said. That makes the Glenn settlement equivalent to the annual salary of about 67 officers.

Dating back to July 1, 2005, the city has approved 22 settlements classified as officer-involved shootings, according to city data. This doesn't account for those which may be classified under other designations such as civil rights violations.

Read more from KPCC investigation into officer-involved shootings in Los Angeles County.

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