Crime & Justice

Ezell Ford family: Time for DA to 'step up'

Mother of Ezell Ford thanks LA Police Commission but says LA County District Atty should
Mother of Ezell Ford thanks LA Police Commission but says LA County District Atty should "step up"
Brian Watt/ KPCC

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The mother of an unarmed man shot and killed by police last year applauded a determination by the Los Angeles Police Commission Tuesday that one of the officers' actions were improper across the board - and is now calling on the District Attorney to file charges.

"Today’s decision marks the first time since the murder of my son that an independent organization charged with overseeing the police department has strongly, on the record, stated that what happened to Ezell was wrong,” Tritobia Ford said at a press conference at the First AME church in West Adams Tuesday night.

Her comments came around the same time the Inspector General released an abridged summary of findings on the incident, in which he faulted some of the tactics that led to the shooting but not as many as the commission. Alexander Bustamante said in his report the officers stopped their car and physically approached Ezell Ford because he was near a group of known gang members in a high crime area and they wanted to check him out.

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One of the officers got out of the car and told Ford he wanted to talk to him, according to the report. When Ford walked away, taking his hands in and out of his pockets, the report said one officer went to handcuff him.

"The fact that an individual is looking back at officers who are slowly following them or placing/removing their hands in their pockets while walking, absent more, appears insufficient to demonstrate an individual’s involvement in criminal activity, notwithstanding that the actions occurred in a high crime neighborhood," Bustamante wrote.  "For the detention of the Subject to be legal, it would still be required that his individual actions were sufficiently indicative of involvement in a crime to cross the threshold of reasonable suspicion," Bustamante said.

Ford fought him, according to the IG report, and allegedly went for the officer's gun. Both officers shot him. No drugs were ever found. Ford was 25. His family said he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

"As God as my witness, I will ask that those who killed my precious boy be brought to justice," Tritobia Ford told reporters Tuesday night, holding her 2-year-old son Zaire. "District attorney Jackie Lacey: we haven’t heard from you. Where are you? We need to hear from you. The investigation is over."

The L.A. District Attorney's office told KPCC Wednesday the commission's findings were still under review.

Ford's was the most vigorous response to the long-awaited decision, which drew more than a hundred people to the commission's public meeting Tuesday. They were angry at media reports over the weekend indicating Police Chief Charlie Beck had recommended the commission find the officers were justified.

"Enough is enough. We are tired. We're asking the commission to do the right thing," said K.W. Tulloss of National Action Network, one of the first speakers.

After hours of testimony - broken up by commissioners leaving as the audience loudly chanted "black lives matter" - and hours more of debate by the five-member body, few in the audience returned in the late afternoon to hear the decision.

In a flat tone, Commission President Steve Soboroff read off a statement identifying officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas only as "one Officer III" and "one Officer II."

"Regarding the Use of Force, or firing of the weapon, the Police Commission found that the Use of Force by one Police Officer III was Administrative Disapproval and one Police Officer II In Policy, No Further Action," Soboroff said.

With nine different determinations all made in police jargon, some were frustrated that the commission wasn't more clear.

"Even I didn't understand what @SteveSoboroff was trying to communicate," tweeted media and social commentator Jasmyne Cannick.

"In #twitterSpeak: 5-0," Soboroff responded. "One officer out of policy in all three areas and the other officer out of policy in one portion of one area."

Review Category LAPD Officer II LAPD Officer III
Tactics In Policy Out of Policy
Drawing of Weapon Out of Policy (1st time)
In Policy (2nd time)
Out of Policy
Use Of Non-Lethal Force In Policy Out of Policy
Use Of Deadly Force In Policy Out of Policy

It's now up to Police Chief Charlie Beck to determine what penalty - if any - the officers will face. But the public is shielded from the process. Officer discipline is considered a personnel matter and not subject to open records laws.

Beck made no public appearances after Tuesday's meeting. He released a six paragraph statement that mostly detailed the review process and championed his department.

"The LAPD is known throughout the country for its exceptional thoroughness and expertise in investigating officer involved shootings," the statement read.

As for the commission's decision, it said only: "I respect the process and the decision made in this matter."

Mayor Eric Garcetti held a press conference Tuesday evening in which he spoke about the department's and his own efforts at change. He said he'd spoken to Beck briefly but didn't say more about the conversation. Garcetti also declined to say whether he agreed with Beck or the police commission as to whether the officers acted properly.

"Today, the system worked as it is supposed to," Garcetti told reporters.

Federico Castelan Sayre, an attorney representing the Ford family in a federal civil rights case, said Tuesday night he was surprised by the commission's decision to go against Beck.

"I think it was extraordinary," he said, "and that it was so sweeping."

In a statement released Tuesday, the president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the closest thing LAPD officers have to a union, expressed his disapproval of the police commission's decision, saying they came down on the officers to assuage fears of possible civil unrest.

“We fully support Chief Beck's findings that the officers involved in the Ezell Ford shooting were justified and their actions were in policy," said LAPPL President Craig Lally.

On the other hand, we are extremely disappointed in the findings of the Police Commission. Unfortunately they allowed the protesters and external political influences to impact their judgment, 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.

Correction: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the relationship between Tritobia Ford and Zaire, the 2-year-old boy she was holding when speaking with reporters. Zaire is Ford's son. KPCC regrets the error.

This story has been updated.