The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday that it will not be filing charges against the two police officers involved in the 2014 shooting death of Ezell Ford.
In a 28-page report (pdf) with most of the officers’ statements redacted, the Justice System Integrity Division of the district attorney’s office determined that Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas, who were working on a gang-enforcement detail, “acted lawfully in self-defense and in defense of others when they shot Ezell Ford, 25, on Aug. 11, 2014.”
It took the prosecutor’s office 20 months to investigate the killing of Ford, a black man who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and whose family said he was lying on the ground complying with officers when he was shot. As the Los Angeles Times notes, his death generated controversy almost immediately and became an oft-mentioned example in the ongoing criticism of how police officers interact with members of the black and Latino communities in Los Angeles.
Ford was killed just days after a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and more than two years later, activists still chant his name and lament the injustice of his killing at meetings of the Los Angeles Police Commission.
L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey has faced harsh criticism over her handling of the case and the amount of time it took for her office to reach a decision about whether or not the officers would be charged.
Just over 18 months ago, the police commission faulted one of the officers in the shooting, saying that his handling of the encounter was flawed and led to the fatal shooting, but Lacey’s office has determined that the physical evidence corroborated the officers’ accounts that Ford knocked one of them to the ground and tried to grab his gun. The commission also criticized both officers’ decisions to pull their guns when they did.
According to prosecutors, Ford posed an “immediate threat” to the officers, and therefore they acted lawfully when they responded with deadly force.
Tritobia Ford, Ezell’s mother, spoke to reporters Tuesday afternoon and expressed her disappointment with the prosecutor’s decision.
“The last bit of hope that we had is crushed,” Tritobia Ford said. These officers are going scot-free. They’re getting away with murder. There’s no justice for Ezell.”
According to the police commission’s incident summary, Ford was walking near his South L.A. home when Officers Wampler and Villegas tried to stop him for a “consensual encounter.” As Wampler called out to Ford, Ford kept walking toward his home and away from the group of alleged gang members with whom he had been sitting.
Because Wampler felt that Ford was trying to get away from the officers, and because of the “high narcotics activity” on that street, Wampler believed that Ford might be in possession of contraband. Since Ford had his hands in his pockets, Wampler also suspected that Ford might have a dangerous weapon.
Wampler reportedly asked Ford to take his hands out of his pockets, and Ford reportedly ignored him and kept walking away from the officers toward his home. Villegas then exited his vehicle, “unholstered his service pistol and held it at a two-handed, low-ready position with his finger on the frame.”
Wampler grabbed Ford because he thought he was attempting to discard drugs, and Ford allegedly tackled him and knocked him to the ground. The officers said that Ford tried to grab Wampler’s gun during a scuffle, prompting them to shoot him.
As the Times reports, the police commission found that Wampler violated department policy when he fired at Ford, and Villegas was criticized for drawing his weapon early in the confrontation.
Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Josh Rubenstein declined to say whether the officers had been disciplined for the shooting. Greg Smith, an attorney representing the officers, said that no disciplinary action had been taken as of Tuesday, but the LAPD could still choose to initiate a disciplinary proceeding.
In the meantime, we are left with another extrajudicial shooting of an unarmed black man by police going unpunished. Despite the police commission’s findings over 18 months ago, the LAPD has not taken any action other than putting the officers on desk duty, which means that they still have their jobs and are still getting paid.
Meanwhile, a mother has lost her son, and a community has lost their brother and friend, and nothing is being done about it. With the Trump administration’s focus on “Standing Up for Our Law Enforcement Community,” it is likely that we only have more of the same to look forward to.