Los Angeles police on Wednesday defended an officer-involved shooting that left a 25-year-old man dead, saying he tackled one of two officers, forcing him to use a backup gun.
The account differs from what family members of the man, Ezell Ford, told KTLA-TV. They said he was complying with police orders and was on the ground when he was shot Monday night about 8:10 p.m.
Ford succumbed to his wounds after undergoing surgery at a hospital.
Concerns about the shooting were amplified Wednesday on social media by recent events in Ferguson, Mo., where a police officer’s fatal shooting of an unarmed young black man has prompted days of protests and national attention.
Ford was also black, and his family has described him publicly as "mentally challenged."
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, said Wednesday that he asked for a meeting with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck after he saw media reports about the shooting. Community concerns, he said, have been heightened by the shooting in Missouri.
“If in fact Ferguson hadn’t happened, if in fact we hadn’t seen what we’ve seen the last two days there ... I don’t know there would be the same sense of urgency,” he said. “I think coming on the heels of that, it does give it a sense of urgency.”
But LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith cautioned the public against rushing to conclusions.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there,” Smith said. “Mr. Ford basically tackled one of our officers and went for his gun.”
Smith said two veteran gang unit officers with the Newton Division were conducting an investigative stop after “observing Mr. Ford on the sidewalk at 65th Street.”
When the two officers got out of their cruiser and began walking toward him on the sidewalk, Smith said Ford "whirled around and basically tackled the lead officer."
A struggle then ensued for the officer’s weapon, he added.
“Ultimately, Mr. Ford was shot by the police officer’s partner and by the officer who was trying to maintain control of his gun,” Smith said.
The officer in the struggle was unable to get control of his regular weapon so he had to use his “backup weapon to shoot the suspect," Smith said, adding that the officer was on his back at the time.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Smith said officers did handcuff Ford, as is standard practice and training for LAPD officers in the wake of such an incident.
Smith said the shooting is being investigating by the LAPD's Force Investigation Division, the inspector general and the Los Angeles district attorney’s office, as is standard practice for police shootings.
Smith cautioned that the information is preliminary and investigators have yet to make their first report to the chief on their initial findings. The department is asking any eyewitnesses or anyone with video footage of the incident to come forward, Smith said.
Ford’s family, however, claimed he was not resisting at the time of the shooting.
“My heart is so heavy,” Ford's mother, Tritobia, said in an interview Tuesday evening with KTLA. “My son was a good kid. He didn’t deserve to die the way he did.”
She also told the station that her son was lying on the ground when he was shot three times.
A man who would only identify himself as a cousin of Ezell Ford told KTLA that the officers engaged him "knowing, mentally, he has complications. Every officer in this area, from the Newton Division, knows that — that this child has mental problems,” the man said.
Reacting to the shooting, some activists took to social media, calling for a rally at LAPD headquarters on Sunday.
Hutchinson, who said he had not been in touch with the Ford family or any attorneys they might have hired, planned to ask Beck to prioritize the investigation.
His focus, he said, is on what happened, whether proper policies were followed and whether anything should be changed moving forward.
“One of the things we wanted to make clear to the chief was you really want to get ahead of the situation,” he said.
Hutchinson also stressed the importance of eyewitness accounts, urging anyone who might have seen the incident to say so.
“Anyone that has information about it — given the fact that it is a priority item for the LAPD and for the community — they need to come forward,” he said.