Los Angeles police officials will meet with community leaders Thursday evening to discuss the fatal shooting of a mentally ill man in South Los Angeles, a death that has sparked anger, but differing accounts of what happened.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, said he and others have a 5 p.m. meeting scheduled at the department's Newton Division to discuss Ezell Ford's death. Hutchinson said he would reiterate calls for a "fast-track," transparent investigation into the shooting, and would urge the LAPD to talk to all potential witnesses in order to better understand the chain of events.
"We've got a 'he said, she said,'" Hutchinson said. "That's why it's important -- because you have these two conflicting versions of what happened."
The president of the union representing rank-and-file LAPD officers called for patience during the department's ongoing investigation into the incident, criticizing what he called "inaccurate reports."
“While waiting for the facts to be determined, I feel the need to restate the obvious," Tyler Izen told The Times. "When a person attempts to take an officer’s gun from them, no matter their physical or mental condition, we should expect an officer to respond accordingly to save their life -- and that likely includes the use of deadly force."
The shooting occurred Monday night as Ford, 25, was walking home along 65thStreet in the Florence area of the city, according to witnesses and police.
LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said two veteran gang officers were driving down the same street when they spotted Ford. An LAPD statement, citing a preliminary investigation, said officers got out of their car and tried to talk to Ford but he “continued walking and made suspicious movements, including attempting to conceal his hands.”
When the officers got closer, Smith said, Ford “whirled around and basically tackled the lead officer.” Ford reached for the officer’s gun, Smith said, prompting his partner to open fire. The officer on the ground reached for his back-up weapon and also fired.
Ford was handcuffed -- as is routine in such shootings, according to the LAPD -- and paramedics were called to the scene. He died later at a hospital.
But some who lived in the area questioned the police account. A friend of Ford’s family told The Times she witnessed a part of the incident, and saw no struggle between the officers and Ford.
Dorene Henderson, 57, said she had crossed the street in front of Ford when she heard someone yell, “Get down, get down.”
One officer was out of the car when Henderson said she heard a gunshot. She said neighbors began yelling at the officers, “He’s got mental problems.”
Henderson said she saw the other officer get out of the driver’s side of the police car, and she heard two more shots.
A man interviewed by KTLA-TV said Ford was complying with officers or had been subdued at the time of the shooting. These accounts prompted a backlash on social media against the LAPD, with some comparing Ford’s death to the shooting of Michael Brown, a young, unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo., which has led to ongoing protests and national headlines.
Rallies for Ford were planned for Thursday evening in South L.A., and on Sunday outside LAPD's downtown headquarters.
Hutchinson acknowledged that the anger surrounding Ford's death was amplified by the situation in Missouri.
"I knew there was going to be tension because it's coming against the backdrop of Ferguson," he said.
Smith cautioned the LAPD’s investigation into the incident was ongoing, as are separate reviews by the department’s inspector general and the district attorney’s office. But, he said, “there is a lot of misinformation out there.”
“He didn’t comply with any of the officers’ instructions,” Smith said. “He was grabbing the officer’s gun with the officer underneath him.”
Coroner’s officials have yet to release details about Ford’s wounds.
Ford's family has hired a former attorney for Rodney King, whose videotaped beating by LAPD officers more than 20 years ago set off a period of racial unrest in Los Angeles. Attorney Steven A. Lerman said he plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the LAPD.
Lerman said the differing accounts pose some challenges to the case.
“Unfortunately, this isn’t a tape where you can freeze like Rodney King,” he said.
Instead, he said the lawsuit will rely on witnesses from the neighborhood and experts, such as in the field of ballistics and use of force. He said his firm also plans to review dispatch tapes to determine why the police officers were in the neighborhood.
“The truth will come out in court,” Lerman said. “And I’m going to make sure of that.”