The family of the mentally ill man who was fatally shot by Los Angeles police officers earlier this week has hired Rodney King’s former attorney, who said Thursday that he plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the department.
Attorney Steven A. Lerman said the family of Ezell Ford is in desperate need of justice.
“This is clearly a shooting that’s out of policy,” Lerman said. “They couldn’t wrestle a mentally ill man to the ground, restrain and handcuff him?
“There were less lethal options,” he added.
The shooting occurred Monday night as Ford 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 a young, unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo., that has sparked ongoing protests and national headlines. Some called on Facebook for a rally outside LAPD headquarters Sunday.
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 where in the neighborhood.
“The truth will come out in court,” Lerman said. “And I’m going to make sure of that.”
Video footage of King being beaten by LAPD officers more than 20 years ago set off a period of racial unrest in Los Angeles. The video played a central role in the criminal trial of four officers, whose not-guilty verdicts in 1992 triggered days of rioting in which more than 50 people died.