Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old man who was described at mentally ill by family members, was shot by LAPD officers three times, including once in the back, according to a long-awaited autopsy report that was released Monday.
The report was made public more than four months after the Aug. 11 fatal shooting, which caused an outcry from family members and supporters who said Ford was complying with officers’ demands and was on the ground when he was shot several times in the back.
Complete Coverage: Ezell Ford Shooting
The county Department of Coroner document showed Ford was shot three times: once in the right side, once in the right back and once in the right arm. The first two shots were fatal, the coroner’s report stated.
In the area of the gunshot wound to Ford’s back, the surrounding skin had a “muzzle imprint,” the report stated. The cause of death, described as a homicide, was listed as multiple gunshot wounds.
The report had been placed under a security hold while investigators sought to interview witnesses, according to police.
At a news conference Monday afternoon, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck urged patience with an investigation that could continue for several more months, and he again asked that witnesses to Ford’s shooting come forward.
“Let the system work,” Beck said. “I do not support every one of my officer-involved shootings. I am not that kind of chief. … We will find out the truth of what happened on that August night.”
Beck provided a more detailed description of the altercation that occurred at West 65th Street and Broadway than had previously been offered by police. But the coroner’s report, he said, contained no information that was “inconsistent with the statements given to us by the officers.”
Two Newton Division Gang Enforcement Detail officers were driving in a patrol car when they spotted Ford and exited their vehicle to speak with them, Beck said, reading a statement that was later posted online. Ford was seen “attempting to conceal his hands” and then crouching down in a driveway between a car and a row of bushes, Beck said.
“One of the officers reached for Mr. Ford, when Mr. Ford suddenly turned and grabbed the officer, forcing him to the ground,” Beck said. “While on top of the officer, Mr. Ford grabbed the officer’s handgun and attempted to remove the gun from the officer’s holster.”
The officer yelled to his partner that Ford had his gun, prompting the partner to fire two rounds, hitting Ford, Beck said. At about the same time, the officer who was on the ground and on his back grabbed his back-up weapon, Beck said. The officer “reached around Mr. Ford” and fired one shot at close range, striking Ford in the back, Beck said.
Ford’s family reviewed the findings with Los Angeles County coroner’s officials before the report was made public, Beck said.
The chief called the document an important piece but only one element of the ongoing investigation.
“An autopsy does not prescribe motivation, nor does it indicate propriety,” Beck said.
The civilian Board of Police Commissioners will make a final determination about whether the shooting was within the department’s use of force policy, Beck said. That decision will come at the end of an investigation that was expected to last several more months, he said.
The LAPD’s Force Investigation Division, Office of the Inspector General and the county District Attorney’s Office were all investigating, Beck said. The DA’s office will determine whether the shooting “met legal standards,” according to the chief.
The officers involved, identified as Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas, were on nonfield duties in the meantime, Beck said.
Some of those listed as proposed witnesses in a civil case over the shooting have refused requests to be interviewed, Beck said Monday. Investigators are still seeking witnesses, Beck said.
In a statement Monday, Garcetti renewed calls for witnesses to come forward. Garcetti in November had ordered the report released by the end of the year.
“I ordered the autopsy’s release because transparency is key to the trust between the LAPD and the people they serve. That trust is the foundation of a powerful partnership that has cut crime to record lows, and that has bridged historic divides with respect,” Garcetti said. “That’s why a full and impartial investigation is ongoing. That’s why witnesses must come forward without delay. And that’s why violence in our streets or against the men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department will not be tolerated.”
After referring to a Sunday evening “ambush” of two LAPD officers not far from where Ford was shot, Garcetti said his “heart continues to go out to the grieving Ford family.”
Ford’s shooting has prompted multiple rallies and marches in Ford’s name, along with comparison to other fatal police shootings of unarmed black men that have generated headlines across the country.
More rallies and marches were expected Monday.