With demonstrations still taking place across the country over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the Los Angeles Police Department this week is expected to release the autopsy report in the officer-involved shooting of Ezell Ford.
Ford, a 25-year-old mentally ill black man, was shot by LAPD officers on Aug. 11. According to the LAPD, Ford reached for an officer’s gun, prompting his partner to open fire. A friend of Ford’s family who said she saw part of the incident, however, told The Times she didn’t see any struggle between the officers and Ford.
At a news conference Sunday, held down the street from where Ford was killed, community advocates gathered to discuss the report’s release.
“We want to put the pressure on the LAPD,” said Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. “To remind them that we’re here. We must hold feet to the fire and hope the right thing is done.”
Looking forward to the release of the report, Hutchinson said that he is looking for an objective and scientific account of Ford’s death.
“We’re asking for two things,” said Hutchinson, standing Sunday in front of a mural of Ford painted on the side of a corner mini-mart. “We want to make sure that this is an autopsy report without opinion, and if the report shows a discrepancy in how officers explain Ford was killed, then it has to be turned over to L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey for possible prosecution of these officers.”
Hutchinson was joined by Pedro Baez, who writes a weekly blog called Voice of the People, and Waymon Baker, with the gang intervention program Cease Fire. Standing to the side were family members of Ford.
“We are issuing a call for peace,” Baker said. “We are calling for peace — and let the killing cease.”
Meanwhile, in front of the Los Angeles Police Administration Building, demonstrators gathered in solidarity with law enforcement.
“Because of all the recent negative support from the media, we’re out here to support them [law enforcement] today,” said Petros Frangos, one of the event’s organizers.
Ford, who according to family members was diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression, was a familiar presence in his South Los Angeles neighborhood and often wandered the streets cadging cigarettes.
His death comes at a time when tensions are high between local communities and their police departments. The shooting of Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and choking death of Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., have led to numerous, sometimes violent, protests across the country.
Hundreds of marchers gathered for a peaceful demonstration Saturday in the Fairfax area. Holding signs proclaiming that “Black Lives Matter,” they demanded justice for Ford.
Hutchinson has been particularly concerned by the delay in the release of the report, which has raised his suspicions — and the suspicions of others in the community — that the findings will not be entirely accurate.
“If you continue to hold it and hold it and hold it,” he said, “people will suspect something is not right. And if the report supports your view, why wouldn’t you release it?”
Speaking to The Times last month, an LAPD spokesman said that investigations involving officer shootings typically last seven to eight months. In the Ford case, the department argued that releasing information would affect the ongoing investigation.
But the chief of investigations at the coroner’s office told The Times that it was unusual to see a months-long security hold on an autopsy involving a police shooting. Such holds generally last only a few weeks.
The delay prompted Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in November to order the LAPD to release the report. Since then, demonstrations have continued to occur on the streets of the city. The protests have been mostly peaceful, but last month a march resulted in the injury of one police officer.
Hutchinson supports continued demonstrations as long as they are nonviolent and focused on the issue. “Anyone can get into the street, and that’s chaos and we oppose that,” he said. “We need a clear focus. Any misconduct on the behalf of the police must result in disciplinary action against the officers. That is the end game. That is the message.”
The release of the report — and the LAPD’s handling of the findings — is a litmus test for the department, Hutchinson said.
“If these officers engaged in an abuse of force out of the color of the law,” he said, “then there must be real discipline imposed upon them, including legal action.”