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Los Angeles police panel: 1 officer unjustified in death

LOS ANGELES (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.

The commission’s vote Tuesday was unanimous involving both officers, finding that Officer Sharlton Wampler was unjustified in the August shooting of Ezell Ford but Officer Antonio Villegas was justified.

The commission found that the Wampler violated policy in every aspect they examined, from the initial contact with Ford to the use of lethal and nonlethal force. Villegas was found in violation in only one area — an earlier drawing of a gun before the final use of deadly force.

The panel’s report with further details of each officer’s actions was expected to be released late Tuesday.

The commission’s decision goes against the findings of Police Chief Charlie Beck and the Police Department’s independent watchdog. Both recommended the officers’ use of deadly force be found within department policy.

Beck said in a statement late Tuesday, “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.

She 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.

Commission members were surrounded by questioning protesters after the meeting. One commissioner, Paula Madison, told them, “What you were looking for, you got.”

Attorney Steven Lerman, who represents Ford’s family, said afterward that he believed both officers acted outside policy. For Wampler, the officer who initiated the contact, the decision was a “no-brainer,” he said.

Lerman said he believes both officers were complicit and the other officer could have stopped his partner any time.

“It is a pitiful example of police gone wrong,” Lerman said. “They never should have stopped the guy.”

Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said the decision would make officers less likely to engage in aggressive police work or proactive policing.

“I’m shocked that they came up with that decision,” Lally said. “Ford attempted to take the gun away from Officer Wampler, and once he made that decision to try to get that, he escalated (it). The officers have every right to defend themselves.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti met with the Ford family for 45 minutes after the decision and spoke with Ford’s mother about her loss.

“Ezell’s life mattered. Black lives matter. All lives matter,” Garcetti said at a news conference after the meeting.

He said Tuesday’s decision shows that “we have a system that can work. Every life matters, but due process matters as well.”

Beck and the watchdog found that evidence supported the officers’ contention that Ford was shot after trying to grab an officer’s gun. That evidence included Ford’s DNA on the gun. A previously released autopsy report appeared to support the officers’ account.

According to the LAPD, Ford was acting suspiciously when he caught officers’ attention in August, but the department hasn’t specified exactly why Ford was stopped. Ford was accused of knocking Wampler to the ground and grappling for his holstered weapon when Villegas fired two shots.

Wampler pulled out a backup gun and shot Ford in the back.


Associated Press writer Andrew Dalton contributed to this story.

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