The president of the union that represents rank-and-file Los Angeles police officers said Wednesday that his members were frustrated and worried after the city's Police Commission this week found that an officer who shot Ezell Ford was at fault.
Lt. Craig Lally said he had received messages and calls from officers complaining about the commission's determination that the shooting was unjustified even though Ford was wrestling for control of the officer's gun.
"They feel that the Police Commission abandoned them for a suspect who basically tried to take an officer's gun," he said. "They're as flabbergasted as I am."
Lally said the commission's ruling would probably make officers hesitant to patrol proactively. He said the decision, along with the impending department-wide rollout of body cameras, has prompted concerns that officers will be unfairly scrutinized for doing even routine police work.
"It's going to be a different way of life," he said. "They're scared. They're worried. What is an officer supposed to do?"
Although Officer Sharlton Wampler may have been in a fight for his life with Ford, the commission decided Tuesday that he did not have a reason to stop and detain Ford in the first place. His handling of the encounter, the commission concluded, was so flawed that it led to the fatal confrontation.
The decision marked a significant departure for the commission, which for decades when evaluating police shootings has looked only at whether an officer faced a threat at the moment deadly forced was used.
The commission instead relied for the first time on a small but significant change it made last year to its policy on shootings, requiring the panel to take a broader view of incidents. On Tuesday, the commission said it based its ruling on "the totality of the circumstances, and not just the moment in which the force was used."
The finding on Wampler, a 13-year veteran of the LAPD, was part of a mixed ruling handed down by the commission in the controversial killing of Ford, which has fanned public anger and debate over the use of deadly force by police.
The death of Ford, who was African American, became a local touchstone in a year when a string of controversial killings of black men by police around the country spurred a national debate about race and policing. Ford, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, died two days after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., which set off the latest outcry.
Wampler, who is Asian American, was working with a partner that night, Antonio Villegas, who is Latino. The commission found that Villegas was far less culpable.
The panel disapproved only of Villegas' initial decision to draw his weapon early on in the confrontation, but said he ultimately was right to fire at Ford in an effort to protect Wampler.