Mother of Ezell Ford still hopes for justice in his killing by LAPD

The mother of Ezell Ford still hopes for justice in his fatal shooting by LAPD officers in August

Nearly 10 months after Ezell Ford was shot and killed by two Los Angeles police officers, his mother said the same questions repeatedly run through her mind:

Why did police stop her eldest son if he hadn't committed a crime? Why didn't they use a Taser instead of shooting him? Why hasn't more information been released? Doesn't she deserve to know more?

Tritobia Ford said she constantly scours the Internet for articles, potential witnesses and anything new about the investigation into her son's death. Her family sometimes hides her phone, just so she'll stop looking.

In an interview with The Times, her first since the days after her son's Aug. 11 death, Ford said she was frustrated by the lack of information from the LAPD. She said she felt disrespected by the secrecy, like her family's grief didn't matter to police.

"I've been nice. I'm trying to wait," she said. "I'm tired of waiting."

The fatal shooting of Ezell Ford, 25, in South L.A. became a local rallying cry against police killings, particularly those of black men. Ford, who was black and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, died two days after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., prompting nationwide demonstrations and a heated conversation about race and policing.

Tritobia Ford said she now pays attention to other deadly shootings by officers across the country. She said she prays her son's death will result in some sort of change — in policies, police accountability, the way investigations are conducted. She cried as she described her hope that her six younger children would grow up without fearing the police.

"I just believe that God won't allow Ezell's life to be just taken like this in vain. There will be some justice for Ezell," she said. "I've been told I'm crazy. But I have to hold on to that."

Ford's comments come as authorities continue to investigate the shooting. Separate reviews are being conducted by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, the LAPD and the Police Commission's inspector general.

LAPD officials said their use-of-force investigations often take seven or eight months to complete, then several more weeks to be reviewed and presented to the Police Commission. The department generally doesn't update relatives of people shot or the officers who shot them during such investigations, the officials said.

Cmdr. Andrew Smith, a department spokesman, said the LAPD hoped to present its investigation to the Police Commission "as quickly as possible" but declined to say when that might be. He said LAPD officials have spoken with the Ford family but did not elaborate, citing the family's right to privacy.

Tritobia Ford said her family wants answers, or at least an apology, from the LAPD. She and her husband have sued the department, alleging the officers used excessive force in their son's death.

She acknowledged that her son had run afoul of the law in the past — court records show he had convictions for marijuana possession and illegally possessing a loaded firearm. But she said she did not believe the account the LAPD has so far provided about the shooting.

Last year, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said the officers told investigators they shot Ezell Ford during a violent struggle in which he forced one officer to the ground and grabbed his gun. The department has not said why the officers stopped Ford.

"He feared the police, he knew they had power," Tritobia Ford said. "There's no way that anyone could ever convince me that my son grabbed their gun."

Others have questioned the police account. Soon after the incident, one unidentified man told KTLA-TV Channel 5 that Ford was shot in the back while lying down, an account that contributed to a backlash on social media against the LAPD.

An attorney for the officers has said they feel terrible about Ford's death but acted appropriately.

Tritobia Ford said she was upset to learn from an official within the LAPD's Force Investigation Division that she probably would never know if any discipline is imposed on the officers. Under California law, police discipline is confidential.

"Why don't I have the right to know?" Ford said.

A few days after her son died, Ford said, she called the coroner about her son's autopsy. She was told it was under a security hold, meaning police had asked coroner's officials not to disclose their findings.

The Fords spent their Christmas holiday wondering when the report would be released.

"It was a living hell to have to wait that long," Ford said.

The report wasn't made public until late December, after South L.A. residents criticized the LAPD over the delay and Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the department to lift its hold. The autopsy said Ford had been shot three times, including once so closely in the back that the muzzle of the officer's gun left an imprint.

Until then, Tritobia Ford said, she didn't want to believe the rumors that the officers had shot her son in the back.

Ford said she hasn't said much publicly about her son's death because she didn't want others to see her anger or sadness. She said she wishes she had spoken out earlier and joined some of the protests.

Ford has trouble sleeping and eating now. She misses her son's laugh, his smile, his smell. She misses the way he would come up and hug her as she cooked dinner, or simply touch her arm. Her other sons don't do that, she said.

Some days she drives down the street and sees young men who remind her of Ezell.

"I think, 'Damn,'" she said. "'Why is my boy gone?'"

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