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New Ezell Ford wrongful-death suit alleges race as a motivation

Ezell Ford's parents' state lawsuit is similar to the federal but alleges racial prejudice as a motivation

The parents of a mentally ill man fatally shot by Los Angeles police officers last summer in South L.A. filed a new wrongful-death lawsuit, this time in state court.

The allegations outlined in Friday's lawsuit mirror those Edsell and Tritobia Ford made in a federal lawsuit they filed last fall in connection with the Aug. 11 death of their son, Ezell Ford.

The state suit, however, also alleges that the actions of the two officers who shot Ford were "motivated" by the fact that Ford was black and by their "prejudice, disdain and contempt for African Americans or persons of black skin tone."

The federal suit alleges the Los Angeles Police Department maintained policies and practices that allowed racial profiling and the use of excessive force against African Americans. Attorneys representing the two officers denied those claims in a response filed with the court, as did lawyers for the city of Los Angeles.

The attorneys for the officers — identified by the LAPD as Sharlton Wampler, who is Asian American, and Antonio Villegas, who is Latino — did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Ford's death came amid a wave of nationwide protests over the high-profile deaths of black men at the hands of police and was frequently invoked during local demonstrations that stemmed from the killings. Ford died only two days after a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

The state lawsuit filed Friday alleges that the two officers involved in Ford's death used excessive force, were negligent and violated his civil rights when they shot and killed him. Like the federal suit, the state case also names the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD, alleging that the department was also negligent in "hiring, training or failing to supervise" the officers.

Attorney Steven Lerman, who is representing Ford's family, said the goal of filing both lawsuits was "covering all the bases" and allowing a jury to consider several potential violations by the officers. For example, he said, jurors could decide whether the officers intentionally violated Ford's civil rights, as alleged in the federal lawsuit, or that they were negligent, as alleged in the state case.

Ford, 25, was walking to the family's home on West 65th Street shortly after 8 p.m. on Aug. 11, when the two LAPD gang officers got out of their car to speak with him, according to the LAPD's account of the incident. He looked at the officers, walked away and attempted to conceal his hands, police said.

The officers followed Ford to a driveway, where, police said, Ford crouched between a car and a row of bushes. As one of the officers reached for him, Ford forced him to the ground and grabbed his gun, according to police.

The officer yelled to his partner that Ford had his gun, and the partner fired two rounds at Ford, police said. The first officer used a backup weapon to reach around Ford's body and shoot him in the back, leaving a muzzle imprint.

One woman, who said she was a friend of Ford's family, told The Times that she witnessed part of the encounter and saw no struggle between Ford and the officers.

kate.mather@latimes.com

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