LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — The Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday found that one officer acted within policy but another violated it in the fatal close-range shooting of a 25-year-old black man last year.
Steve Soboroff, the president of the commission, announced its findings in the shooting of Ezell Ford after deliberating for more than 3 ½ hours and listening public comment in a closed-door session. The commissioners at one point walked out after members of the public began chanting, but reconvened soon after.
“Our review of this evidence has been intense and intensive,” Soboroff said, adding that the decision was the result of a unanimous vote.
The findings were issued in three specific areas: tactics of the involved officers, drawing of the firearm, and use of deadly force.
“Our analysis has been deliberate, thoughtful and compassionate based on our best understanding of the facts,” Soboroff said before issuing the commission’s decision. “We also appreciated the public comments.”
Soboroff said one of the two officers identified as Police Officer III was found to have acted out of policy in all categories in connection with the fatal shooting of the 25-year-old Ford. That officer was identified by CBS2 as Sharlton Wampler.
The second officer, identified as Police Officer II, was found to have been within policy in the category of tactics, the second drawing of the weapon, use of nonlethal force, and use of deadly force. That officer was identified by the news station as Antonio Villegas. Villegas was found in violation in only one area — an earlier drawing of a gun before the final use of deadly force.
“The determination as to criminal culpability for the involved officers is the responsibility of the Los Angeles County D.A. and not within the authority of the chief of police or this commission,” Soboroff added.
The decision took into account a recommendation by Police Chief Charlie Beck that found that both officers acted within policy in all categories, while independent Inspector General Alex Bustamante found that one of the officers acted out of policy as it relates to tactics. Police had contended they shot Ford because he was trying to grab an officer’s gun.
In a statement, Beck said in part: “I respect the process and the decision made.”
Wampler and Villegas had been assigned to nonfield administrative duties before the decision. It was unclear whether that will now change.
Ford’s mother, Tritobia Ford, pleaded to commissioners amid hours of sometimes tense public comment to find the officers’ actions improper.
“I’m asking you … I’m begging you … please, please. My son would never grabbed for no gun. He wanted to live,” she said.
Ford also said her son was mentally ill and questioned how bad tactics prior to the shooting made it justified.
“Because he walked away … they killed him,” Ford said. “They got mad, they got angry. Ezell did not understand. Ezell had the thought process of an 8- or a 10-year-old. He was a baby, he was my baby.”
The commission’s finding means the case now goes to the Police Department’s internal affairs group. The group’s findings, which will likely take months, will then be forwarded to Beck, who determines what discipline the officers would face. Any decision on criminal charges would come from the district attorney.
After the meeting, commission members were surrounded by questioning protesters, who expressed their views politely but loudly.
Since Sunday, a handful of demonstrators had been camped out outside of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s home in Windsor Square.
“Ezell’s life mattered. Black lives matter. All lives matter,” Garcetti said at an evening news conference.
Garcetti declared the Police Commission decision — which some observers feel was a repudiation of Police Chief Beck — followed a fair analysis by an independent police commission.
“I fully expect this chief will enact appropriate discipline based on what the commission has rendered today,” he said.
The Ford case last August followed a string of deadly police shootings of black men across the country and led to protests and tension in the streets of Los Angeles. Ford’s family has filed a $75 million civil lawsuit against the city.
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