The atmosphere in a South Los Angeles church was at times tense Tuesday night as residents and activists peppered Los Angeles police officials with questions about two officers' fatal shooting of a mentally ill man.
Pictures of Ezell Ford dotted the Paradise Baptist Church, where a crowd of more than 200 people often shouted and interrupted Police Chief Charlie Beck as he tried to address concerns surrounding the investigation into Ford's death.
Beck emphasized that the investigation was only a week old, saying that officials had not yet gathered all the facts. But the crowd grew frustrated when he declined to share information such as the names of the officers involved or why they had stopped Ford.
"Of course that is important to us," he said when asked why the officers approached Ford. "And that will be revealed in the investigation."
The crowd groaned.
"Wait, wait. Stop, please," Beck said. "I will not give you half a story.… We have to find out all the facts."
The meeting came amid continuing questions about the Aug. 11 killing of Ford, 25, who according to his parents was diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Beck was joined at the meeting by rank-and-file officers and top brass, along with Police Commission President Steve Soboroff and Inspector General Alex Bustamante.
Conflicting accounts about Ford's death have emerged. An LAPD statement, citing a preliminary investigation, said Ford tackled one of two gang officers who approached him on West 65th Street and reached for the officer's gun, prompting both officers to open fire. But a friend of Ford's family told The Times that she witnessed part of the incident and saw no struggle between the officers and Ford.
The killing occurred days after another police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., that left an 18-year-old, unarmed black man dead and sparked violent protests that have intensified national scrutiny of police conduct. By contrast, the Los Angeles protests following Ford's death have been peaceful.
The LAPD has pledged a thorough and transparent investigation into Ford's death, which will also be reviewed by an independent inspector general and the district attorney's office. But the LAPD has drawn criticism for not releasing more information, including the names of the two gang officers who shot Ford.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a civil rights advocate who met with top LAPD officials last week to discuss the shooting, said that releasing the officers' names is an essential part of being transparent.
"We want to know if there's a prior history of complaints or misconduct, if this officer has been written up, if this officer has been disciplined," said Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. "You then determine if this is truly an isolated event, unfortunate and tragic, or if there may be a history for one or more of the officers involved."
The California Supreme Court recently ruled that police departments must generally provide the names of officers involved in shootings, unless they can demonstrate there are credible threats to their safety.
LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said Tuesday that the department was continuing its "threat assessment" in the Ford case. In general, he said, investigators will look at "any kind of threats against the officer," including any made via social media.
Smith said he did not know whether any threats had been made against the officers who shot Ford, or how long the department's inquiry would take. The officers involved in the shooting were assigned to home as of Tuesday, he said.
Police have also placed a security hold on Ford's autopsy so that coroner's officials will not publicly release information about the procedure. Beck defended that decision Tuesday, saying that details of Ford's wounds could "taint" potential witness statements.
Beck told reporters that the investigation would be completed "in an accelerated manner," but he acknowledged that investigators were still trying to find witnesses to the shooting. "We certainly don't have as many as we would like," he said.
An attorney for Ford's family said police have told them only that the investigation is ongoing. Steven A. Lerman said his clients are arranging for an independent autopsy, citing concerns that the LAPD will not conduct an open investigation.
"They're skeptical," Lerman said.
Beck's comments about the case came after he met with the city's Police Commission, the civilian board that oversees the LAPD. He emphasized that the shooting would go through "multiple levels of review."
"Of course I am very concerned about this issue — as is the media, as is the public, as is the entire Los Angeles Police Department," he said. "And we want to get to the truth of the matter as best we are able."
Times staff writer Ruben Vives contributed to this report.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times