The day after a civilian oversight board announced a controversial decision that faulted police officers’ actions when they shot and killed Ezell Ford, a mentally ill and unarmed black man, activists on Wednesday demanded criminal charges be filed.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in a brief statement Wednesday afternoon that the case was under consideration while evidence was reviewed.
In a unanimous decision Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Commission said the actions of one of two officers involved in the fatal August 2014 incident had not been within department policy, while the other officers' actions were found mostly within policy.
“This is a tragedy for all involved, the family, relatives, loved ones and friends of Mr. Ford, as well as the involved police officers,” commission President Steve Soboroff said in a statement.
The commission found “administrative disapproval” for one officer regarding his tactics, the drawing of his weapon, nonlethal use of force and firing of his weapon.
The officer was not identified by name in the commission’s 43-page report, but police records indicated it was 12-year veteran Officer Sharlton Wampler.
Antonio Villegas, the other officer, was found to have “administrative disapproval” in one instance of drawing his weapon.
The commission’s findings contradicted recommendations from Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck - who said both officers should not be found to have violated department policy - and received harsh criticism from the police union.
Beck, who is tasked with determining the officers’ punishment, said Tuesday that he respected the commission’s investigative process as well as their decision.
In a statement that called for Beck to go beyond a "slap on the wrist," the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said the commission's decision marked an "encouraging step" towards the panel "reinforcing its independence."
But police union president Craig Lally sharply criticized the commission’s decision, saying their findings were “reckless” and politically motivated.
“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 Lally, of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. “We believe the commission’s decision was irresponsible and reckless and was solely made to avoid civil unrest.”
Ford was killed two days after another unarmed black man, Michael Brown, was also fatally shot by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Their deaths, along with several other incidents of alleged police brutality, sparked nationwide protests - some of which continued in Los Angeles over the weekend and Monday after the Los Angeles Times published Beck’s recommendations.
Officers are only compelled to use force when they fear for their or another’s safety, and they should maintain the right to defend themselves, Lally said.
“It's a sad day when our officers are faced with criticism for protecting themselves and others from a suspect who attempted to take their weapon. It is also disheartening that more times than not decisions are made based on external political forces and not the facts at hand,” he said.
Beck’s recommendation, and the police union’s backing, came after a nearly 10-month investigation produced evidence incidating 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.
The altercation started when the officers spotted Ford, who was 25, and tried to talk to him. Ford then concealed his hands and proceeded to crouch down next to a car in a driveway, Beck said in December.
One of the officers then reached for Ford, who allegedly forced the officer to the ground and grabbed for his gun. Both officers then opened fire and Ford was shot three times.
Lacey said the case was handed to her office on May 11, and the Justice System Integrity Division was reviewing LAPD's evidence. Prosecutors were also awaiting "supplemental materials" from a civil case filed by Ford's family, she said.
"The focus of the review is to determine whether the filing of criminal charges is warranted, not whether LAPD internal policies were violated," Lacey said. "The matter remains under review. When a decision is made, the public will be notified."
Protesters have said the incident was a case of police brutality, and celebrated the commission’s decision.
Ford’s mother said her first reaction was, “hallelujah.”
“I didn’t believe God would allow my son’s life to be taken in vain,” Tritobia Ford said.
The ruling, “strongly, on the record, stated that what happened to Ezell was wrong,” she said.
However, Tritobia Ford said she was disappointed the second officer was most found not to have acted against policy, adding that she hoped Beck would do more than give the officers a “slap on the wrist.”
Lacey was also called upon to file charges.
“You need to step up,” Tritobia Ford said, addressing Lacey. “She needs to press charges and the court needs to figure it out.”
The mother’s demands were echoed by activists during a Wednesday news conference outside the DA Office.
“Right now we want Jackie Lacey, who’s in this building, to have the courage to file charges against Officer Wampler,” activist Najee Ali said.
KTLA's Melissa Pamer contributed to this article.