Family of possible witness in LAPD shooting sues, claims officials failed to protect him

The family of a man shot to death in South Los Angeles is suing officials for wrongful death, claiming he should have been provided police protection for being a witness in a case involving the fatal shooting of a mentally disabled man by the Los Angeles Police Department.

Leroy Hill told lawyers for the family of Ezell Ford, the mentally disabled man, that he saw two officers shoot Ford in August 2014, according to a lawsuit filed Monday. Months after the shooting, however, Hill was gunned down by two men near 65th Street and Broadway.

His wife, Alice Hill, has filed suit against Police Chief Charlie Beck, Mayor Eric Garcetti and other officials. The defendants in the suit had appeared at a news conference in November 2014 asking for witnesses to the Ford shooting to step forward. At the time, officials pledged to ensure the safety of any witnesses, the suit says. 

Leroy Hill, according to the suit, provided a statement to attorneys for the Ford family that LAPD Newton Division Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas shot Ford without justification. A few days before his deposition in a civil rights suit, Hill was shot dead by two gunmen as he drove in a car with his wife and two other women. The shooting occurred shortly after midnight on March 13.

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The suit was filed after the city of Los Angeles denied a claim from the Hill family. The claim also named the district attorney and several other LAPD officials.

Ford's death became a local touchstone in the heated national conversation about police officers and their use of force, particularly against black men.

Ford, who was black and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, died two days after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. 

In June, the Los Angeles police commission found that one of the officers who shot Ford was not justified in doing so under LAPD rules.

The officer had been in a struggle with Ford over the lawman's holstered handgun when the shooting took place, Beck concluded. Although the officer may have been in a fight for his life, the commission decided 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.

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The officer's partner was found far less culpable. The panel disapproved of that officer's decision to draw his weapon early in the confrontation, but said he was right to fire at Ford to protect his partner.

At least one man, Javier Aginiga, 21, has been charged with one count of murder in the fatal shooting of Hill.

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