L.A. Now

L.A. councilman to hold forum to ease tensions over LAPD shooting

Police, community members schedule a public meeting over Ezell Ford shooting

A Los Angeles city councilman has organized a public meeting for Tuesday evening to ease tensions over the controversial shooting of a mentally ill man in South Los Angeles last week.

Councilman Curren Price said he organized the 7 p.m. meeting at Paradise Baptist Church in South Los Angeles to "ensure our residents that they are being heard and that local leadership is taking action" following last week's shooting of Ezell Ford, according to a statement his office released to The Times.

Price's office said the meeting will include presentations from LAPD and city officials. The Police Commission's inspector general said he would also attend.

"Loss of life is a very serious matter, and I have called on our Police Department to act with urgency and transparency during the investigative process so that we can bring answers to the affected families and our residents, as well as peace to our community," Price said.

Ford, 25, was shot and killed Aug. 11 as he was walking home along West 65th Street near Broadway, according to witnesses and police. 

An LAPD statement, citing a preliminary investigation, said Ford tackled one of two gang officers who approached him and reached for the officer's gun, prompting both officers to open fire. 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.

Ford's parents said he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression, and that his mental illness was well-known by residents and police in the neighborhood.

Ford's death came two days after an 18-year-old, unarmed black man was fatally shot by police in Ferguson, Mo. The shooting of Michael Brown triggered violence in the town and protests nationwide as well as heightened scrutiny of police behavior.

Peaceful demonstrations have been held in Los Angeles in support of both Brown and Ford. 

LAPD officials have vowed a thorough and transparent investigation into Ford's death, which will also be reviewed by the independent inspector general and district attorney's office. But some have questioned the department's decision not to provide more information about the shooting to the public, including the names of the officers who shot Ford.

An attorney for Ford's family said police have only told them 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.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, said he urged a fast-tracked, transparent investigation during a meeting with top LAPD officials last week. Providing the officers' names, he said, is a "centerpiece" of that transparency.

"There's a reason for disclosure. We're not just asking," he said. "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. ... 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 on social media.

Smith said he did not know whether any threats had been made against the officers involved in the shooting of Ford or how long the department's threat assessment 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. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck defended that decision Tuesday, saying sharing details of his injuries could "taint" potential witness statements. 

"That witness pool is very shallow at this point and we want to make sure that we can get folks and that we can get their unvarnished statements before we release those," he said.

Beck said the investigation would be completed "in an accelerated manner," but acknowledged that his department was still trying to find witnesses to the shooting. "We certainly don't have as many as we would like," he said.

Beck's comments to reporters came after Tuesday's meeting with the Police Commission, the civilian board that oversees the department. During the meeting, some commissioners raised concerns about Ford's shooting.

"Police work is about controversy. Police work is about conflict. We will never have a police force that is free of those two things -- it's just not possible in the society like the one that we police," Beck told the commission. "So you have to have systems in place that give people faith in your ability not only to generally do the right thing, but to investigate incidents where you may not have done the right thing, and be frank about those results."

After the meeting, Beck stressed 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."

Follow @katemather and @LATvives for more Southern California news.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
80°