Following L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey’s decision this week not to file charges against two officers in the fatal shooting of a mentally ill black man, a group of civil rights activists Wednesday announced an effort to recall her.
“This is a last-ditch measure,” author and activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson, said at a Los Angeles news conference. “Ezell Ford was not the only one. That was the tipping point, but you have a pattern here.”
Ford, 25, was killed by police when he was stopped while walking home in South L.A. in the summer of 2014. His death became a rallying point for local civil rights activists and is included in the national conversation about policing in black and Latino neighborhoods.
Lacey announced Tuesday she wouldn’t charge the officers, finding that Ford tried to grab one of the officer’s guns during the encounter and posed “an immediate threat.” Lacey concluded the officers acted lawfully when they responded with deadly force.
During the news event held at the L.A. headquarters of the National Action Network, Hutchinson, several clergymen and other activists acknowledged that launching a successful recall was a “gigantic task,” but they said it wasn’t unprecedented.
They noted that Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican former bodybuilder and movie star, became governor during a historic recall election in 2003, following a wave of anti-government sentiment that ousted then-Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.
Lacey, however, is a largely popular figure. She was elected to a second term last year after running unopposed. It was the first time in 60 years a top prosecutor had gone unchallenged in L.A. County.
Asked about the proposed recall, Lacey said in a statement that she understands the community’s frustration.
“However, as District Attorney,” she said, “I took an oath to follow the law. The physical evidence and the law support my decision in this case.”
She came under fierce criticism from many civil rights advocates, as well as Ford’s family, for taking more than two years to announce her decision in the prominent case.
In a 28-page report published Tuesday, prosecutors detailed their decision not to file charges, as well as the officers’ account of what happened on August 11, 2014.
Just after 8 p.m. that night, Officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas — assigned at the time to an anti-gang unit — cruised through South L.A. on patrol.
They first spotted Ford sitting on a couch near a house that was known for gang activity. As Ford, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, walked toward his home, Wampler told his partner, “Let’s at least talk to him.”
According to the report, Ford made eye contact and walked away, which Wampler said gave him reasonable suspicion to detain Ford. The officer said the 25-year-old then tackled him around the waist, adding that he “definitely could not see [Ford’s] hands.” Villegas, however, initially told police investigators that he believed Ford had his hands above his head as Wampler made contact with him.
Wampler said that during a tussle he felt Ford grip his hand and assumed he was trying to grab his gun, so he yelled out, “Partner, he’s getting my gun!” After Villegas shot Ford twice, Wampler fired as well.
The Police Commission concluded in 2015 that Wampler had violated department policy when he shot Ford. The commissioners also faulted the officer’s decision to approach and physically contact Ford.
Peter Bibring, director of police practices for the ACLU of Southern California, said in a statement that the prosecutors’ report about the Ford case “raises more questions about whether the Los Angeles district attorney’s office provides any meaningful check on police shootings.”
“Since 2000,” he said, “only a single police officer in Southern California has faced criminal charges for shooting a member of the public.”
At the news conference Wednesday, activists said they have drafted a statement detailing the recall, which they plan to deliver to Lacey, and said they will begin gathering signatures Thursday.
The Rev. Oliver Buie of Holman United Methodist Church said Lacey “seems to close her eyes at these shootings and tends to basically stand with the police no matter what happens.”
For more news from the Los Angeles County courts, follow me on Twitter: @marisagerber
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