Some Police Rules Were Violated in the Killing of Ezell Ford, Commission Decides

Melina Abdullah, left, and Dawn Modkins, center, of Black Lives Matter.
Melina Abdullah, left, and Dawn Modkins, center, of Black Lives Matter.
Dennis Romero/L.A. Weekly

UPDATE at 10:48 p.m., Tuesday, June 9: Details of the commission's findings are below. Actions by both cops were found to have been out-of-policy. Comments by L.A.'s mayor and chief of police are below, too.

The Los Angeles Police Commission today found that some Los Angeles Police Department rules were violated when two officers fatally shot 25-year-old mentally ill man Ezell Ford on Aug. 25 11.

"This is a tragedy for all involved," said Police Commission president Steve Soboroff.

The commission looked at tactics, drawing and use of force and found "administrative disapproval" for some of the tactics used in the confrontation, Soboroff said.

Any possible punishment was not divulged. The chief of police can decide what to do with a cop who violated department policy.

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck and inspector general Alex Bustamante already cleared the cops, handing the case over to the ultimate authority in such internal matters, the commission. The District Attorney's Office has yet to reveal results of its own investigation.

Demonstrators pushed the commission to find the shooting out-of-policy, saying the cops had no reason to stop Ford that day. Police say the victim reached for a police weapon, precipitating the shooting.

The group Black Lives Matter Los Angeles organized a three-day occupation of the sidewalk outside L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti's residence, the Getty House.

The group's Melina Abdullah told us it isn't immediately clear how protesters will react to the commission's decision. Whatever happens, she said, "will be organic."

The office of Mayor Eric Garcetti had requested a meeting with Ford's mother, Tritobia Ford, after the decision, ostensibly to calm nerves, L.A. Weekly learned earlier today. The mayor's office denies this.

Demonstrators filled a commission meeting room inside LAPD headquarters downtown today. Although the decision on the officers' fate was made behind closed doors because state law requires privacy in such personnel matters, protesters used a public-comment session to express frustration that this appeared to be a done deal in favor of the cops.

Tritobia Ford ended up in tears. "My son would never grab for no gun," she told the commission.

"Ezell was mentally ill," she said. "He wasn't a lunatic. He wasn't suicidal, he wanted to live. Ezell has been stopped many times by police before and he lived."

Early in the meeting, a demonstrator others know as Evan Bunch was arrested. Witnesses said he was dragged across the floor inside LAPD headquarters as he was taken into custody.

Officer Jack Richter said the man was detained for allegedly interfering with police and disrupting a public meeting. But he was ultimately booked on suspicion of disturbing the peace, the spokesman said. The suspect was not ID'd and was booked as "John Doe," he said.

Demonstrators were unhappy with the whole spectacle.

A photo of Ezell Ford propped up on the lawn outside LAPD headquarters.
A photo of Ezell Ford propped up on the lawn outside LAPD headquarters.
Dennis Romero/L.A. Weekly

"What doesn't make sense is having a closed-door session," said Black Lives Matter organizer Dawn Modkins. "It creates tension. There's a lack of transparency."

Modkins said that if officers shot Ford "in the light, then it should be deliberated in the light."

"I don't trust the process," she said. "I don't trust that they're accommodating a marginalized community."

Abdullah of Black Lives Matter was disappointed that the decision seemed preordained from the moment today's meeting started. "It seemed the commission was completely disengaged," she said.

"They gave way too much deference to the cops," Abdullah said. "What does give me hope is all the people who showed up here."

Demonstrators connected Ford's demise to a string of police shootings across the nation in which unarmed black men were killed. The young man's death happened only days after the police shooting of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Although officers were posted at every corner of LAPD headquarters at First and Main streets today, LAPD's Richter told us there was no special "tactical alert" called in anticipation of reaction to the Ford decision today.

UPDATE at 4:50 p.m., Tuesday, June 9, 2015: Here are details on today's commission decision, via a just-released statement from the body:

The actions of the senior officer, identified only by his rank of police officer III, were determined to have been out-of-policy when it came to tactics, drawing his weapon, non-lethal use of force and use of force.

The actions of the junior officer, identified police officer II, were found to have been out-of-policy in only one facet of the investigation — the "first drawing" of his weapon during the confrontation.

All the findings were confirmed unanimously, 5-0, by the commission, Soboroff said.

The LAPD previously identified the cops as Charlton Wampler (police officer III) and Antonio Villegas (police officer II).

UPDATE at 6:09 p.m., Tuesday, June 9: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti addressed the public at a press conference:

"The system worked the way it was supposed to," he said of the commission's decision.

"The system we have here in Los Angeles is one that is of the people and for the people," he said.

"Ezell's life mattered, black lives matter, all lives matter," the mayor said.

In an effort to head off possible declining morale as a result of today's decision, Garcetti praised members of the LAPD as "the cornerstone of this city's safety."

He called theirs the "most difficult" job in town.

UPDATE at 10:48 p.m., Tuesday, June 9: Chief Beck issued this statement tonight:

The men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department conduct over 1 million enforcement contacts every year. They do an incredible job in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. Every day I see heroic and selfless actions that bring credit to this city and its Police Department. Occasionally officers are called upon to use force. When that happens, those actions are exhaustively reviewed in order to enforce standards and improve training.

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

This afternoon the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners announced its decision in the use-of-force incident involving two Los Angeles Police Department officers and Mr. Ezell Ford.

The Department, with the oversight of the Commission's Office of Inspector General, conducted an exhaustive investigation, which included the analysis of forensic evidence, numerous witness interviews, and the collection of documents and electronic recording.

This investigation was then presented to me to make my recommendations to the Police Commission on the tactics, drawing and exhibiting of weapons, and use of force by the involved officers. In addition, the Office of Inspector General provided its independent assessment of the incident with recommendations to the Commission. The Commission then reviewed all of the evidence and recommendations to make the final determination in the case.

The Police Commission is an independent civilian review authority, appointed by the mayor to represent the people of Los Angeles. I respect the process and the decision made in this matter.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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