Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti made a surprise appearance at an LAPD news conference Thursday to say he had ordered police to release an autopsy on a mentally ill man fatally shot by officers in South L.A. three months ago.
Garcetti's announcement came after The Times reported on growing frustration among some residents over how little information has been disclosed since the controversial Aug. 11 shooting of Ezell Ford Jr. Garcetti said he had given the LAPD until the end of the year to lift a security hold the department placed on the autopsy to prevent the coroner's office from publicly releasing its findings.
"I am ordering the results of this autopsy be released," Garcetti said. "I think that is important for the family, that is important for the community, that is important for our city as well as our department."
Garcetti's decision to impose a deadline amounted to an unusual intervention in what is typically a strictly internal LAPD matter.
In winning office last year, Garcetti won handily across the city except in the most heavily African American neighborhoods of South L.A., where residents are most concerned about the Ford shooting. The killing drew protests and exposed continuing tensions between some of the area's African American residents and the LAPD.
Fernando J. Guerra, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University, said Garcetti's actions suggested he had concerns beyond Ford's shooting. The 25-year-old's death occurred at a time of growing national criticism of police shootings, including demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., after police shot and killed an unarmed young black man there.
"He doesn't want to be associated with the kind of mishandling of this issue we have seen in other cities," Guerra said.
LAPD officials have defended the security hold on Ford's autopsy, citing difficulties in tracking down witnesses to the shooting. A department spokesman said officials wanted to ensure that anyone who speaks with investigators is relaying information seen firsthand, not what was read in news reports or heard on the street.
Chief Charlie Beck said Thursday that the autopsy contained "significant evidence that could add tremendous credibility" to what witnesses may say.
"We want the truth," Beck said. "We want witnesses' statements to be as untainted as possible. That is why we have held the autopsy. But we have no intention of denying the family or this community access to that autopsy forever."
Beck declined to answer another key question about the shooting: Why his officers approached Ford as he walked home on West 65th Street near Broadway.
Police allege that Ford tackled one of the two gang officers and reached for his gun, prompting both officers to open fire. But a witness who said she saw part of the incident told The Times she saw no struggle.
Beck said other details about the shooting would be made public once the investigation is complete. A department spokesman said investigations involving officer shootings typically last seven to eight months, though the Ford case has been fast-tracked.
L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey and Alex Bustamante, the independent inspector general who monitors the LAPD, said Thursday that witnesses could also contact their offices directly.
But some community leaders questioned the level of cooperation authorities are likely to encounter.
"Nobody in those neighborhoods is going to talk to the LAPD," said Cliff Smith, a member of the nine-person South Central Neighborhood Council. The neighborhood council unanimously passed a resolution last month urging City Councilman Curren Price to take action to make Ford's autopsy public.
Smith said the mayor was giving the LAPD too long a deadline for the autopsy's release. By the end of the year, more than four months will have passed since the shooting, he noted.
"Four and a half months after the fact?" Smith said. "It's just pathetic."