USC
Follow our live coverage of the UCLA vs. Stanford game
L.A. Now

Officer who fatally shot Ezell Ford had arrested him 6 years earlier

One of LAPD officers who shot Ezell Ford arrested him for marijuana possession six years prior, report says

One of two Los Angeles police officers who fatally shot a mentally ill man in South L.A. last year had arrested him for marijuana possession six years earlier, according to a police report obtained by The Times.

The document shows that LAPD Officer Sharlton Wampler and a partner arrested Ezell Ford and two of his family members in April 2008 after noticing a smell of marijuana coming from a Dodge van registered to Ford. Inside the vehicle, the officers found marijuana, a small weighing scale and small plastic baggies, the arrest report said.

The report is the first indication that any of the officers involved in Ford's shooting had previous contact with the 25-year-old. 

But it remains unclear whether Wampler knew of Ford's mental illness or whether the officer recognized Ford from his 2008 arrest when the two men encountered each other again on Aug. 11. 

The 2008 report makes no mention of mental illness. Ford's parents say their son was diagnosed with depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith, a department spokesman, confirmed that investigators who are probing the shooting have examined the 2008 arrest report. He said both officers insist they did not recognize Ford when they approached him before the shooting.

"Our force investigation division detectives have seen it and have reviewed it," Smith said. "So far, nothing in our investigation indicates that the officers recognized the individual prior to the incident occurring."

The report appears to have several details redacted, including Ford's address and his date of birth. It is unclear who was responsible for a handwritten note at the top that says "66 East Coast Crip" and "Lil Easy" or whether the notes refer to Ford.

Ford's death came two days after a white Ferguson, Mo., police officer fatally shot an unarmed 18-year-old black man, setting off national protests over the police killings of African American men.

The shooting of Ford, who was African American, has also led to demonstrations in Los Angeles. The LAPD identified the officers as Wampler, who is Asian American, and Antonio Villegas, who is Latino.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said the two Newton Division gang officers told investigators that Ford tried to grab the gun of one of the officers, leading to a violent struggle over the weapon.

Beck said both officers opened fire, including one officer who was on the ground wrestling with Ford for the gun. That officer, Beck said, grabbed a backup weapon, reached around Ford's body and shot him in the back.

An autopsy made public last month shows that Ford was shot three times, including once so closely in the back that the muzzle of the gun left an imprint. 

The chief cautioned that the investigations were continuing and that no eyewitnesses had spoken to police. The shooting is under investigation by the LAPD, the department's inspector general and the district attorney's office.

The officers are no longer in the field but remain on duty. Beck said he has seen nothing that would justify assigning them to their homes during the investigations of the shooting. An attorney representing the officers said they did nothing wrong.

The 2008 arrest occurred on 66th Street near where Ford was later shot.

Wampler, then a patrol officer, and his partner, Officer Todd Bracht, detained Ford in a Dodge Ram van after discovering it parked in a red zone in front of a fire hydrant, according to the arrest report.

The report, written by Bracht, said the officers approached the van and smelled a strong odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle's open windows.

Ford, his father and another man were inside, the report said. When the officers discovered the marijuana and scales, one of Ford's brothers who had been leaning into the van when the officers approached told police the drugs belonged to him, Bracht wrote.

The officers patted down Ford's father, Edsell, and found a bundle of cash worth $3,502 in his pants pocket, according to the report.

Ezell Ford, one of his brothers and his father were arrested on suspicion of possessing marijuana for sale, the report said. Ezell Ford was subsequently convicted of drug possession and sentenced to 180 days in jail and three years' probation.

His father, Edsell, was convicted of possession of narcotics and sentenced to three years' probation and 90 days of Caltrans work. Records do not show any conviction for Ford’s brother.

For more Southern California crime news, follow @lacrimes.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
74°