The Los Angeles Police Commission issued a mixed ruling Tuesday in last year’s killing of a mentally ill black man, finding that one officer was wrong to use deadly force but clearing another in the fatal shooting.
The board also faulted both officers for their decisions to draw their weapons at different points during the confrontation with Ezell Ford and disapproved of the tactics used by one of the officers.
Earlier in the day, Ford's mother implored the city's Police Commission to consider her son's life as they decided whether his fatal shooting was justified.
Nearly the entire audience in the crowded meeting room stood as Tritobia Ford approached the podium to address commissioners shortly after noon. The crowd, which had previously shouted at commissioners during a raucous meeting, fell silent as she spoke.
Ford cried as she told commissioners how her 25-year-old son, Ezell, had the mental capacity of an 8- or 10-year-old and enjoyed taking long walks.
"He was a baby. He was my baby," she said tearfully.
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After listening to Ford and other members of the public address them about the Ford shooting for nearly three hours, commissioners left the meeting room shortly before 12:30 p.m. to begin discussing the killing.
The meeting had been punctuated by disruptions that at one point prompted the entire panel to abruptly walk out as audience members demanded more time to speak about the shooting.
A line of police officers moved to the front of the room. Angry demonstrators stood on chairs, chanting, "Shame on you, shame on you," to the officers.
The commission's executive director told audience members that people being disruptive had five minutes to leave the room so that the meeting could continue. Soon afterward, the crowd settled down and the commissioners returned.
An LAPD spokesman said that one man was detained on suspicion of disturbing the peace after he allegedly ran back and forth between two meeting rooms and did not comply with officers' requests to enter one of the rooms.
Outside the LAPD's headquarters, officers held a man by his arms, dragging him down a ramp. The man growled and screamed for television news cameras to film him, saying he'd been kicked out of the meeting for speaking his mind.
The man kept screaming and soon more than a dozen officers in riot gear -- and protesters -- swarmed to the area. As protesters screamed "No justice, no peace!" officers carried the man off and into a back entrance of police headquarters.
Through screams, protesters demanded officers tell them what the man had done. An officer told protesters he wanted to work with them, but asked them to back up.
"Listen to me," the officer said. "I'm going to listen to you."
The crowd of 30 or protesters fell to 10, who peppered questions at the officers.
The dramatic scenes came as activists and other members of the public questioned the shooting. With some carrying pictures of Ford, dozens of people gathered at the Los Angeles Police Department's headquarters to address the commission.
Barricades set up around the downtown police headquarters were decorated with pictures of Ford and small cut-out hearts with his name. Drizzle fell on the pictures and a bouquet of white flowers attached to the waist-high fence.
About 25 people signed up to address the commission, with many questioning the decision by LAPD officers to stop Ford before the shooting. The department has never publicly explained why the officers decided to stop him as he was walking home.
Jasmine Richards, a member of the Black Lives Matter movement, held a photograph of Ford for the commissioners to see.
"I want you to sit here and look at his face," she told the panel.
Another speaker, Beverly Davis, said the explanation for the shooting -- that Ford had made a grab for a gun belonging to one of the officers -- had "worn thin."
The Police Commission’s decision will punctuate a nearly 10-month review of the fatal shooting of Ford, whose death became a local rallying cry against police killings of black men. The deadly Aug. 11 encounter strained tensions between South L.A. and the LAPD, which was criticized not only for the officers’ actions but for what some residents described as a lack of transparency in the department's investigation.
In an unusual move, police commissioners scheduled only public comments Tuesday morning at the weekly meeting before going into closed session to deliberate the Ford shooting.
Commissioners will weigh recommendations from LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and the department’s independent inspector general, who both found the officers were justified in shooting Ford after investigators turned up evidence indicating he grabbed for an officer's holstered gun during a struggle, according to sources familiar with the matter.
But the inspector general, Alex Bustamante, has raised concerns about whether the officers had a legal justification to make the stop and concluded that their tactics were inappropriate, the sources said.
Even if the commission finds that Ford posed a deadly threat, it will have to grapple with whether the officers’ decisions and actions beforehand were so flawed they led to a fatal confrontation that didn’t need to occur.
The demonstrators, part of the Black Lives Matter movement, have called on Garcetti to fire Beck and for the commission to make its decision in public. The commission deliberates behind closed doors when deciding whether shootings are justified.
Garcetti said in a statement that he was confident the commission would “conduct an impartial and fair-minded review” of the shooting.
Ford’s mother, Tritobia, has also criticized the LAPD for not releasing more information about her son’s death. She said she shared the same concerns as the inspector general about why the officers approached her son, and that she wanted the U.S. Justice Department to investigate her son’s death.
An FBI spokeswoman told The Times that federal officials "will await the outcome of the investigative process at the local level to determine if further action is warranted at the federal level."
Ford, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, was walking along West 65th Street near his family’s home when two officers, Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas, approached him. The LAPD has not publicly said why the officers stopped Ford.
12:51 p.m.: This post has been repeatedly updated with details from the meeting.Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times