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One Officer Not Within LAPD Policy in Shooting of Ezell Ford, Police Commission Finds

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The actions of one LAPD officer who fatally shot Ezell Ford, a mentally ill unarmed 25-year-old, were not within department policy, while another officer's actions were found largely within policy, a civilian oversight board found Tuesday.

The unanimous decision, announced after several hours of rowdy public comment and closed-door deliberations, went against the recommendation of Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck for the August 2014 killing, which sparked marches and calls for reform.

“This is a tragedy for all involved,” said Los Angeles Police Commission President Steve Soboroff.

In comments made before the commission about noon, Ezell Ford's mother, Tritobia, cried as she addressed the panel, saying her son did not deserve to die for walking the streets of his neighborhood. She said he had the thought process of an 8- or 10-year-old.

Tritobia Ford, mother of Ezell Ford, lights candles at her slain son's memorial at 65th Street and Broadway after the LAPD released Ezell Ford's autopsy results in December 2014. (Credit: Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Tritobia Ford, mother of Ezell Ford, lights candles at her slain son's memorial at 65th Street and Broadway after the LAPD released Ezell Ford's autopsy results in December 2014. (Credit: Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

“He was a baby. He was my baby. ... Please, think about it: Ezell was mentally ill," Tritobia Ford said. "Ezell has been stopped many times by police before, and he lived. Officers did the right thing. These officers did wrong."

After three hours of public comment, the commission went into closed session shortly before 12:30 p.m. and returned about 4 p.m. to announce its decision, which was later posted online.

The commission found an "administrative disapproval" for the actions of one unnamed officer -- identified only as "Police Officer III" -- in regard to his tactics, the drawing of his weapon, the use of nonlethal force, and the firing of his weapon, Soboroff said.

The other officer's tactics and use of both nonlethal and lethal force were found to be in policy, but one instance of "Police Officer II" drawing his weapon was marked for "administrative disapproval."

The finding left a crowd of gathered activists confused, and some shouted out "murder."

After the meeting concluded, commissioner Paula Madison told those remaining in the room that they need not leave the hearing in anger.

"What you were looking for, you got," Madison said.

Beck had recommended that the commission find officers' actions were within policy in all areas, Soboroff said. In a separate recommendation, independent Inspector General Alex Bustamante had found one officer's tactics were not within department policy but all other areas were within policy, according to Soboroff.

Evidence uncovered during the nearly 10-month investigation indicated that Ford grabbed for an officer’s gun during a struggle on Aug. 11 at West 65th Street and South Broadway in the Florence neighborhood of South L.A., according to the Los Angeles Times.

The newspaper on Friday revealed the recommendations of Beck and Bustamante, citing unidentified sources. The news that the shooting was found justified by the chief and inspector general prompted renewed protests over the weekend and on Monday. Some demonstrators camped out in front of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s home at Getty House in Windsor Square.

Bustamante also said that the officers — identified by LAPD as Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas — were not justified in initially stopping Ford, according to the Times.

The department never explained why the pair initially approached him, but the commission's use of force report, detailing the incident, was posted online after Tuesday vote.

Linda Jay joins hundreds of protesters to rally against police abuse and to remember Ezell Ford, a mentally ill black man killed by LAPD officers, in Leimert Park on Feb. 21, 2015. (Credit: Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

Linda Jay joins hundreds of protesters to rally against police abuse and to remember Ezell Ford, a mentally ill black man killed by LAPD officers, in Leimert Park on Feb. 21, 2015. (Credit: Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

Both Bustamante's office and LAPD's Force Investigation Division examined the appropriateness of the officers' actions -- their tactics, the drawing of the officers' firearms, and the use of force, Soboroff said.

Beck must determine the officers' punishment, if any, for the areas in which the commission found "administrative disapproval."

In a statement Tuesday evening, Beck expressed his respect for the investigative process and the decision made by the commission.

"The LAPD is known throughout the country for its exceptional thoroughness and expertise in investigating officer involved shootings," Beck stated. "Those investigations go through multiple levels of review culminating in a final decision by the Police Commission."

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, which was conducting its own investigation, will determine whether any criminal charges will be filed in the case, Soboroff said.

Garcetti addressed the commission's decision at City Hall on Tuesday evening, placing the shooting in the context of other incidents of police violence across the nation.

“We in Los Angeles are committed to a fair and impartial process, and that’s what we saw today," Garcetti said. "Nobody’s above the law.”

The mayor also said LAPD officers have what he called the city's most difficult job, and said that for every tragedy, there are "thousands of heroic acts."

On Monday, members of the local branch of the Black Lives Matter movement called for Beck to be fired. They also asked that the Police Commission meeting be held in public session, and that a policy be developed giving reparations to families of victims of police abuse.

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck addresses a community meeting over the death of Ezell Ford on Aug. 19, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck addresses a community meeting over the death of Ezell Ford on Aug. 19, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

Ford, according to the Times, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. His family members contended the officers were familiar with him and knew of his mental condition.

He was shot two days after unarmed teen Michael Brown was killed at the hands of a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer, prompting riots locally and protests nationwide.

In Ford's case, the officers were driving in their patrol vehicle about 8:10 p.m. on a Monday when they spotted him and stopped to talk to him, Beck said in December. Ford attempted to conceal his hands and then crouched down next to a car in a driveway, according to the chief.

When an officer reached for Ford — putting his hands on him, according to the Times’ sources — the man turned and grabbed the officer and forced him to the ground, Beck said. While the two struggled, Ford grabbed the officer’s handgun, attempting to unholster the firearm, according to Beck.

The officer yelled that Ford had his gun, and the partner officer fired, as did the officer on the ground.

Ford was shot three times, including once in the back, according to a coroner’s autopsy report released in December. The gunshot to Ford’s back left a “muzzle imprint” on his skin.

The two veteran officers have been on administrative leave since the shooting. At the time of Ford’s death, they were members of the gang enforcement detail in LAPD’s Newton Division.

Ford’s family has filed a $75 million wrongful death lawsuit against LAPD.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of days between Ford's and Brown's shootings. The story has been updated.