UPDATE at 3:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 29: See the LAPD's version of the confrontation, below. Chief Charlie Beck said the coroner's report does not contradict the officers' accounts of what happened that night. Also, Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks. The latest is at the bottom.
The long-awaited Ezell Ford autopsy report (see it below) was released by the L.A. County Department of Coroner today after the Los Angeles Police Department lifted a longstanding security hold on the document.
It shows that the 25-year-old was shot three times, in his side, back and arm, following what the LAPD described as a struggle with a pair of officers in South L.A. last summer, observations that are consistent with what some witnesses said.
Political commentator Jasmyne Cannick said the coroner's analysis supports witness accounts that were initially discounted by police.
"Right after the shooting happened, witnesses did say that Ezell Ford was shot in the back—that he was laying down trying to comply with officers' orders," Cannick told us. "It would seem that way from the autopsy report."
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck scheduled a 2:30 p.m. news conference to address the report. Cannick says the department was forced to release the report by the end of the year by Mayor Eric Garcetti and that the last-minute timing "is not a good look for the LAPD, public relations- and community relations-wise."
The Aug. 11 shooting took place only a few days after an officer in Ferguson, Missouri fatally shot an unarmed black teenager. That and the choke-hold death of a black man at the hands of New York police over summer have raised tensions between police critics and law enforcement from coast to coast.
Two weekends ago a vengeance-crazed man fatally ambushed two New York police officers, and last night a gunman unsuccessfully targeted an LAPD patrol car, though it's unclear if that latter incident was related to post-Ferguson anti-police sentiment.
African American leaders have been awaiting the Ford autopsy and are clearly circumspect about the LAPD's story.
The autopsy report says Ford sustained fatal gunshot wounds to his "right flank" and to his "right back," the latter of which exited out the front of his body. He sustained a nonfatal gunshot wound to his right arm, it says.
A toxicology report says Ford was positive for marijuana. Alcohol or other drugs were not found in his system.
The report doesn't necessarily contradict what police said, namely that Ford reached for a cop's gun 65th Street and Broadway that night, prompting the officer and a partner to open fire:
During the struggle, they fell to the ground and the individual attempted to remove the officer's handgun from its holster. The partner officer then fired his handgun and the officer on the ground fired his backup weapon at the individual.
The true test of what happened will be when a pair of internal LAPD investigative reports are released, which could take months.
"That's what the community is most interested in," Cannick says, "—what's going to happen to those two officers."
UPDATE at 3 p.m. Monday, Dec. 29: LAPD Chief Beck this afternoon said that "there is nothing in the coroner's report that is inconsistent with the statements given to us by the officers."
He reiterated the department's version of the events, but perhaps in more detail, saying that after a pair of gang officers attempted to contact Ford on a sidewalk that night he crouched in a driveway, between a vehicle and some bushes, and jumped on one of them, pulling the officer to the ground and grabbing the cop's holstered service
"The officer ended up on his back with Mr. Ford on top of him ... ," he said. "The officer drew his backup pistol ... and shot Mr. Ford in very close proximity."
That was not before the other cop also opened fire twice, perhaps explaining how Ford sustained wounds coming from different directions, Beck said.
He said it wasn't clear if Ford's level of sobriety was a factor in the confrontation.
Beck said it could take months for the department's internal investigations to be concluded and forwarded to the Police Commission for possible disciplinary action and to the District Attorney's Office for possible charges.
The chief pleaded with the public to "let the system work." He said:
I believe in my police department. I also believe we're as good as we can be because we carefully scrutinize what we do. We want to find out what happened that night.
The LAPD has tried hard to reflect the communities it serves, Beck said, and has a "majority minority" force. In fact, he emphasized, "at least half of the team" of cops involved in the Ford shooting "was minority officers."
Beck said "we do not have any direct [civilian] witnesses to the shooting" but that cops still want witnesses to come forward.
At the same time Beck was speaking to the press, the office of Mayor Garcetti issued a statement on the Ford investigation. Here's part of it:
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. It's important to all of us that this partnership continues.
"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. Last night's incident reminds us of the risks our officers face every day.
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UPDATE at 3:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 29: The LAPD issued a statement that clearly outlines its version of events in the Ford confrontation. Here's most of it:
At approximately 8:10 p.m. on August 11, 2014, two uniformed LAPD officers assigned to the Newton Area Gang Enforcement Detail were driving in a marked patrol car westbound on 65th Street when they saw Mr. Ford on an adjacent sidewalk. The officers stopped and got out of their patrol car to speak with him. After looking in the direction of the officers, however, Mr. Ford walked away and the officers observed him attempting to conceal his hands.
The officers followed Mr. Ford on the sidewalk to a nearby driveway when Mr. Ford crouched in between a car and a row of bushes. One of the officers reached for Mr. Ford when Mr. Ford suddenly turned, grabbed the officer and forced the officer to the ground. While on top of the officer, Mr. Ford grabbed the officer’s handgun and attempted to remove the gun from its holster. The officer yelled out to his partner that Mr. Ford had his gun. The officer’s partner then fired two rounds striking Mr. Ford. At about the same time, the officer on the ground while on his back grabbed his backup weapon, reached around Mr. Ford and fired one shot at close range striking Mr. Ford in the back.
... The LAPD’s specialized Force Investigation Division, in coordination with the Office of the Inspector General and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, continue to investigate the incident and seek the public’s help in providing any information that could assist in determining the facts of the case. Once the investigation is completed, the case will be considered by the L.A. District Attorney’s Office and the Board of Police Commissioners. The civilian members of the Board of Police Commissioners will make the final determination whether the officer-involved shooting was consistent with LAPD’s use of force policy.
The LAPD continues to seek the public’s help to provide any information about the incident and urges witnesses to come forward and contact the LAPD [at] (213) 486-5230.