Officer Sharlton Wampler was hardly unfamiliar with the South LA neighborhood where he rolled up to Ezell Ford in his LAPD patrol car last August.
The department won’t say how long he’d worked in the neighborhoods of the Newton Division just south of downtown. But Wampler, one of two gang enforcement officers who fatally shot Ford, shows up in two incidents in the area – one involving Ford.
In 2008, Wampler and another officer noticed the smell of marijuana emanating from a Dodge van parked on 66th street, just a few blocks from where Ford was shot in August, according to an arrest report obtained by KPCC. Ford was sitting with his father and brother. Wampler arrested Ford on possession of marijuana charges.
“It appears to be clear from that report that he not only knew him but read him his rights at the time he arrested him,” said attorney Federico Sayre, who represents the Ford family in a federal civil rights lawsuit against the LAPD.
Sayre argues it’s relevant that Wampler, a 12-year veteran of the force, had interacted with Ford and should have known he had mental problems. Ford's family has described him as schizophrenic and bipolar.
“We believe there should have been special care for Mr. Ezell Ford because of his mentally challenged status,” Sayre said.
But the LAPD disputes the idea that Wampler knew Ford.
“We have no reason to believe that this officer knew him," Commander Andrew Smith said.
“The officers out there who deal with gangs see a lot of different gang members,” said Wampler’s attorney, Larry Hana. “If you arrest someone years beforehand, it doesn’t mean you are going to remember that person.”
In August, officers were conducting an “investigative stop” when the unarmed Ford, 25, tried to grab one officers’ gun, according to an account provided to the department by the officers, said Smith. That’s when both officers fatally shot him, he said.
Sayre said he has interviewed witnesses who say Ford was cooperating with officers. Those witnesses have refused to talk with LAPD detectives, but their testimony will be available to the department after they provide depositions in the civil rights lawsuit next month.
Officer Wampler comes up in another incident in the neighborhood – this one in 2009.
In a civil rights 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. The lawsuit says either Wampler or Officer Alfred Garcia - it does not say which - pepper-sprayed Daniel 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.”
“They did everything appropriately,” said Wampler’s attorney. “He is a dedicated and hardworking police officer.”