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LAPD shooting of mentally ill man stirs criticism, questions

The LAPD says victim tackled one officer and went for his gun before police opened fire

The fatal shooting of a mentally ill man by Los Angeles police officers has stirred outrage in a South Los Angeles neighborhood amid differing accounts over what happened.

Facing questions over the incident, the LAPD released a detailed narrative of the confrontation, alleging that the man tackled one officer and went for his gun before police opened fire.

LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said two veteran gang officers were driving down West 65th Street on Monday night when they spotted Ezell Ford, 25, walking on the sidewalk. 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 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 on Sunday.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, said 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.

Smith cautioned that the LAPD’s investigation into the incident was ongoing, as are separate reviews by the department’s inspector general and the district attorney’s office. But, he said, “there is a lot of misinformation out there.”

“He didn’t comply with any of the officers’ instructions,” Smith said. “He was grabbing the officer’s gun with the officer underneath him.”

Coroner’s officials have yet to release details about Ford’s wounds.

On Wednesday afternoon, friends and family gathered at the site where Ford had been shot in the Florence area of the city. Blue and white candles marked the location.

The graffiti-pocked neighborhood has one of the highest rates of violent crime in Los Angeles County, according to crime reports analyzed by The Times crime database.

A portrait emerged of Ford as a troubled young man who was well known in the neighborhood as struggling with mental health problems.

Los Angeles County court records show Ford had convictions for marijuana possession and illegally possessing a loaded firearm. His most recent conviction came in January, when he was put on 3 years summary probation for trespassing in Long Beach.

Ford’s parents, who said they were still seeking information about their eldest son’s death, described him as an active, social boy who dreamed of becoming a basketball star but suffered from mental illness. When he was 18, they said, he began to withdraw, becoming less social.

“He constantly kept moving around and would look at you like he didn’t trust you,” Ford’s father, Ezell Ford Sr., said.

Ford was diagnosed with depression, his parents said, and later schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. As Ford got older, his father said, he began taking medication that made him less active.

“I was sad,” his father said. “Why was my son going through this?”

Most recently, Ford’s parents said they knew their son as a drifter. He’d go on long walks from his house, sometimes to his grandmother’s home in the West Adams area. Once, his parents said, he walked all the way to Long Beach for no apparent reason.

Residents in the area and police officers knew about Ford’s mental health, his parents said. “At the end of the day, he was a good kid,” his father said.

A woman who lived on the street where Ford was shot said he was a familiar face in the neighborhood, walking past her house daily to get cigarettes and meet friends. “I see him all the time, every day,” she said. “Kid simply walks and minds his own business.”

A worker at an Alcoholics Anonymous building at the corner of Broadway and 66th Street said Ford would stop in for coffee and often talked to himself. Identifying Ford from a photo of the fatally shot man, Oscar Hernandez said Ford sometimes locked himself in a bathroom in the building.

The fatal shooting is one of 16 LAPD officer-involved shootings this year, a department spokeswoman said. The agency had 30 such incidents during the same time period in 2013, she said.

ruben.vives@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

kate.mather@latimes.com

Times staff writer Armand Emamdjomeh contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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