Nearly three years ago, a schizophrenic, young black man named Ezell Ford was killed during a night-time clash with police officers in South Los Angeles.
On Tuesday, L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced that her department would not bring criminal charges against the two officers that shot him, saying Ford posed an immediate threat to their safety.
"[The] physical evidence, in this case, supported the conclusion that Mr. Ford and Officer Wampler were struggling for possession of his service weapon at the time of the shooting," District Attorney Lacey told Take Two's A Martinez Wednesday.
Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas fired on Ford during the August 2014 incident. Lacey says pictures of Officer Wampler's hand, DNA, and a handgun magazine found on the ground were just some of the evidence examined during the investigation. Together, they painted a picture of a "life and death struggle."
What about the Police Commission?
The decision not to bring criminal charges against the officers comes more than a year after a commission ruling that concluded the pair used improper tactics during the encounter, placing blame on Officer Wampler, and, to a lesser extent, Villegas.
District Attorney Lacey says commission transcripts were used in her report, but their ruling didn't make it easier to bring charges against the officers.
"With us, my goal was, should I charge Wampler and Villegas with committing an unlawful homicide? Did they break the law in what they did? And, could I prove [beyond a reasonable doubt] they were guilty of murder, essentially," Lacey says.
Is the LAPD too close to the DA?
The District Attorney and LAPD have a mutually reliant relationship. The LAPD investigates for the D.A.'s office and advises during trials — it's a relationship that the Police Commission doesn't have. Some observers might use that relationship to explain why the DA hasn't charged an officer since 2000. It's a presumption Lacey denies.
"We currently have two off-duty murder cases against two officers. We are prosecuting a couple of officers for sexual assault..." Lacey says. "[We're] very independent. We have our own mission, our own views. We get about 90 of these cases a year... We have our own investigative unit which has 270 officers which are sworn in-house."
The bottom line
Lacey points to law case Graham v Connor, which empowers officers to defend themselves in dangerous situations — even if improper tactics helped make the interaction perilous.
"We feel that, in this set of circumstances, that the officer then doesn't have to lay there and be killed because the stop is questionable," Lacey says. "He has the right to defend himself."
(Correction: A previous version of this post misspelled the last name of Officer Sharlton Wampler. The mistake has been corrected.)